Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address at the Dedication of the New Department of Interior Building, Washington, D.C.

April 16, 1936

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Secretary and all of you who are gathered here today at this dedication of the first large, monumental building that was started in Washington in this Administration and is being completed in this Administration:

On behalf of the Government I want to extend my thanks and my appreciation to those who have taken part in the actual construction of the new Interior Department Building: to my old friend, Waddy Wood, the architect, to my old friend, Admiral Peoples, the head of the Procurement Division, and also to those who have been in charge of procuring the materials, of undertaking the contract and especially to the workmen who have done the job.

Every American who loves his country should take to heart the earnest and sensible plea of the Secretary of the Interior for a vigorous, continuing national policy of conservation. As for myself, I am dedicated to this cause. And the Department of Interior, as now constituted, is fully alive to the imperative necessity of protecting and preserving all of our natural resources.

Without a national policy of conservation, a Nation less bountifully endowed than ours would have ceased to exist long ago. The remarkable thing was that the people of the United States were so complacent for so long in the face of exploitation, waste and mismanagement, yes, and even larceny of the natural wealth that belongs to all the people.

But not everybody remained insensible to what was happening. On occasion there came as cries from the wilderness warnings against the ravaging of our forests, the waste of our topsoil and our water supplies, and the dissipation of our oil reserves and mineral deposits. Theodore Roosevelt, for one, when I was a very young man, rose up and battled against this squandering of our patrimony. He, for the first time, made the people as a whole conscious that the vast national domain and the natural resources of the country were the property of the Nation itself and not the property of any class, regardless of its privileged status.

Supported by an awakened country, which by now is beginning to realize the truth of the old warnings, we in these later days have devoted our thoughts and energies to the conservation of that God-given wealth. Employing every agency of Government to protect our birthright we have in the past several years made advances far beyond the hopes of earlier-day conservationists. But the battle goes on and must be carried forward with renewed vigor if future generations are to receive the full benefits that are their due.

This Department, the Department of the Interior, was first known as the Home Department, and it was a pretty good name. It was established four score and seven years ago, and since that time its activities have been intertwined with the internal development of the Nation itself. I found a few days ago the report of the Committee of the House of Representatives which favored creation of this Department over a century ago, and it gives us an interesting picture of the times. This report said:

"The general fact remains unaffected that war and preparations for war have been practically regarded as the chief duty and end of this Government, while the arts of peace and production, whereby Nations have subsisted, civilization advanced, and happiness secured, have been esteemed unworthy of the attention, or foreign to the objects of this Government. It seems to us that this should not always continue, but that we should, as a wise people, reorganize the Government so far as to fulfill these duties also, which are suggested by the nature, aspirations and wants of our race as physical, moral and intellectual beings; that it should do something toward protecting the people against those internal enemies—ignorance, destitution and vice—as well as against those foreign foes who may invade or who it is apprehended may assail us."

Think of the time when that was written, nearly a hundred years ago, and think of the progress that has occurred since those days.

And so, the Department of the Interior came into being with a Secretary in the President's Cabinet, a Secretary who had jurisdiction over four people, the Commissioner of the General Land Office, the Commissioner of Patents, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and the Commissioner of Pensions.

I am wrong, he had jurisdiction over one more person, the only employee, a chief clerk at $2,000 a year.

Mr. Secretary, we have grown up since 1849; you have more than five people under you today.

As the country expanded and the needs of the people grew, the activities of the Interior Department broadened to new fields of endeavor. I like to think that this building speaks for the progress we are making every year.

In the design for the building, architects have been guided by sound principles of utility and economy. Without sacrificing any of the dignity deserving of a great department of the Federal Government, they have conceived a useful building, a building of practical simplicity. They have been sparing in the application of rich ornament, but convenience, comfort, and sunlight have not been sacrificed.

I think that we have acted wisely in erecting this new building at this time. We have incorporated it in our public works program, which was established as a means of providing sorely needed employment in the building trades and the industries supplying them, and which has already been successful in aiding the return of the Nation to better times. This building rising above us is but a unit of our great public works program which is erecting thousands of schoolhouses, hospitals and other public buildings in every State of the Union.

Other factors in addition to the problem of relieving unemployment influenced our decision to erect this building without further delay. The great Federal family in Washington, like other large families, has its own serious housing problem. We have grown over a long period of years until governmental buildings have been taxed to capacity, and every available square foot of space put to necessary use.

Government departments have been forced to seek space in buildings other than those owned by the Federal Government. We are now leasing several million square feet of office space in over a hundred privately owned office buildings and have been obliged, in a few cases, even to find quarters in residences and apartment houses. We are eager to complete this building for the practical purpose of reducing the rent bill of the family. When this building is in use, many Government workers will be gathered back under a roof owned by the Government of the United States.

As I view this serviceable new structure I like to think of it as symbolical of the Nation's vast resources that we are sworn to protect;.and this stone that I am about to lay, as the cornerstone of a conservation policy that will guarantee to future Americans the richness of their heritage.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address at the Dedication of the New Department of Interior Building, Washington, D.C. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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