Harry Truman pushed several good-government efforts in his nearly eight years as president.
As a senator, he had seen problems at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, and the Truman Committee rooted out waste and abuse in military spending during World War II, saving taxpayer money and probably saving lives on the battlefield.
After the war, he signed the bill that created the General Services Administration. The idea was that agencies could focus on their work “and GSA could be the back office,” says the agency’s new administrator, Emily Murphy.
That’s its function still today.
“How do we help agencies better serve their customers?” Murphy said during a recent visit to Independence that included a walk through the Truman Home. The historic property is in the hands of the National Park Service, and the GSA plays its behind-the-scenes role for that agency, too.
The GSA is eager to stress the Truman connection and to point out that the federal government accounts for 50,000 jobs in the Kansas City area.
“This area has a high concentration of federal employees,” Murphy said.
Murphy and her team took a quick tour of the Truman Home during their recent visit. Not all 14 rooms of the 9,000-square-foot home are open to the public, but a walk through much of the main floor with Chief of Interpretation and Visitor Services Doug Richardson gives a sense of how Harry and Bess Truman lived, from the simple kitchen to the study full of books.
The Trumans came home to Independence in 1953, when he left office, and spent the rest of their lives here. He died in 1972, and she died in 1982. Richardson said the aim is to show the house in 1982 condition, down to the calendar still hanging in the kitchen and the new TV that Margaret had given her parents for Christmas.
And there’s the study, still full of books.
“Now he loved history and biography and the occasional whodunit,” Richardson said.
For years, residents would spot Harry Truman out for his daily walk.
“We walked every day that he could, 120 steps a minute, for half and hour to 45 minutes,” Richardson said.
Of course, when he was in office and visited Independence, the home would in effect become a White House too. The nation’s business never stops, and crises come up. One of the biggest for Truman was in 1950. He sent American troops to defend South Korea after North Korea invaded it.
“He called that the hardest decision of his presidency,” Richardson said, “and he received that call here.”