One of the concomitants of the Cold War has been the increased concern with which the Government has treated the loyalty of its civil servants. The efficacy of the Truman Administration's security program was the subject of a bitter campaign battle in 1952. When President Eisenhower took office, he immediately ordered that Federal loyalty programs be strengthened, empowering individual Department and Agency heads to remove subversives from Government service. Despite this revision of the security setup, the loyalty of government workers remains a controversial issue.
Proof of this came last week, when Eisenhower, Vice-President Nixon, and Speaker Sam Rayburn appointed a twelve man, bi-partisan commission to study the entire Federal security setup. The American Civil Liberties Union immediately protested that the Commission was loaded with members who wanted little change in the existing system.
Whether or not the charges against the Commission's membership are true, it can do much to mitigate the present confusion about security in the Federal service. There are many abuses in the present loyalty program which make it difficult, if not impossible, for the program to achieve its dual aim: insuring complete loyalty within the Civil Service while protecting the reputations of innocent employees.
The great issue before the Commission is that inexperienced and frightened administrators have made security at any price--even at the risk of dealing unfairly with loyal public servants--the guiding principle of many loyalty programs. Among the worst of these malpractices is the unpaid suspension of accused employees until their cases come up for a hearing. This places a severe financial handicap on individuals in low-paid positions, for they must, without income, pay the costs of defending themselves. To alleviate this inequity the Commission should recommend that employees accused of disloyalty be suspended with pay or that the Government itself undertake their defense as it does now in cases of courts martial.
Another inequity of the present system is the regulation that all employees, regardless of the sensitivity of their jobs, must be investigated. Certainly there are non-sensitive positions whose occupants need not undergo a full investigation; the danger of subversion by curators of the National Zoo is small indeed.
More necessary than any of the specific reforms, however, is a revision of the investigating method itself. Individual Department and Agency heads have not had the experience in dealing with loyalty investigations to make their procedures thoroughly fair and judicious. All too often, an employee is adjudged guilty until he can prove his innocence. As a result, frightened administrators often resolve doubts about a worker's character by firing him.
From the program's decentralization have sprung many of its worst features. The Commission should recommend that a central board or agency be established to handle all investigations of Government employees. Staffed by experts in such cases, a central agency would be in a far better position to make judicious decisions than are the separate administrators now in charge of these matters.
But the Commission should not limit its scope merely to these few recommendations. In making the first complete study of the federal loyalty program, the group can be of great value to the nation only if its evaluation proceeds beyond the specific kinks in the Eisenhower program to the larger question of the type of security system that will protect against subversion and, at the same time, guard the integrity of loyal employees.