Franklin D. Roosevelt

Letter to Each Federal Department and Agency on Public Disagreements Between Federal Officials.

August 21, 1942

In dealing with the many complex war problems which we face today, it is unavoidable that there be wide differences of opinion between agencies of the Federal Government—opinions sincerely and honestly held. However, too often in recent months, responsible officials of the Government have made public criticism of other agencies of the Government; and have made public statements based either on inadequate information or on failure to appreciate all the aspects of a complex subject which is only partially within their jurisdiction.

This is inadvisable at any time. But in times of war it is particularly contrary to public policy. It contributes only to the confusion of the public, which naturally does not know what to believe on an involved issue when it gets different stories on successive days from officials of equal standing, though not necessarily of equal understanding.

Such divergencies, especially when coupled, as they often are, with express or implied criticisms of other officials, are a direct and serious handicap to the prosecution of the war. Officials divert to quarrels with each other the time and energy they ought to be devoting to fighting the enemy. The people, confused by these contradictory voices, are apt to obtain the false impression that the Government as a whole is uncertain as to its objectives and general method and that it does not know its job.

This feeling is of course pounced upon, exploited, and intensified by opponents of our war effort. Our enemies use this raw material of discord provided for them by men who ought to be making trouble for the enemy and not for one another.

One of the duties prescribed for the Office of War Information is the coordination of war informational activities of all Federal departments and agencies, for the purpose of assuring an accurate and consistent flow of war information to the public and the world at large and for the added purpose of eliminating conflict and confusion among the departments and agencies of the Government in the matter of their public relations. Elmer Davis, Director of this Office, tells me that so far as written statements from departments and agencies are concerned, very satisfactory progress toward this objective is being made. But he points out .that the attainment of the objective is being gravely hampered by verbal statements dealing with matters touching more than one department or agency made by high officials in press conferences and elsewhere—statements which do not contribute either to the accuracy or the consistency of public information.

ln a recent report to me on this situation Mr. Davis makes a statement which should be emphasized: "The enemy is constantly at work trying to undermine public confidence in the Government; why should members of that Government help him along by undermining it themselves?"

Where honest differences of opinion exist no one would propose to suppress them. Nor would anyone attempt to interfere with the free use by every public official of the normal processes of information to the public and press. But it is no solution to a controverted question to argue it out in public. If the agencies would refrain from resorting to public debate of this kind they would have a good deal more time to attend to their business, and the Nation would have a good deal more assurance that that business was being done right.

These differences between agencies often deal with matters of fact which can be harmonized by fuller investigation, or questions of policy which should be adjusted by conference between the agencies or by reference to me as the responsible head of the Government. Disagreements either as to fact or policy should not be publicly aired, but are to be submitted to me by the appropriate heads of the conflicting agencies. The policy of the Government should be announced by me, as the responsible head thereof. Disagreements as to facts can be resolved, if necessary, by investigations and surveys directed by me.

Will you please see to it that your particular department and its various bureaus and divisions comply with these instructions.

I am sending an identical letter to the responsible head of each department and agency of the Federal Government.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Letter to Each Federal Department and Agency on Public Disagreements Between Federal Officials. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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