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Letter on the Reorganization Bill.

March 29, 1938

My dear_________

Many thanks for your letter telling me that you are concerned over the charges in several newspapers that the reorganization bill now before the Congress, would make me a Dictator.

1. As you well know I am as much opposed to American Dictatorship as you are, for three simple reasons.

A: I have no inclination to be a dictator.

B: I have none of the qualifications which would make me a successful dictator.

C: I have too much historical background and too much knowledge of existing dictatorships to make me desire any form of dictatorship for a democracy like the United States of America.

2. The reorganization bill now before the Congress is the culmination of an effort starting over forty years ago to make the business end, i.e., the Executive branch, of the Federal Government more business-like and more efficient. Seven or eight of my immediate predecessors in the Presidency have recommended similar reorganization measures.

There are two methods of effecting a business-like reorganization. It can be done by complex and detailed legislation by the Congress going into every one of the hundreds of bureaus in the executive departments and other agencies.

Or it can be done by giving to the President as Chief Executive authority to make certain adjustments and reorganizations by executive order, subject to overriding of these executive orders by the Congress itself.

I would have been wholly willing to go along with the first method, but attempts at detailed reorganization by the Congress itself have failed many times in the past, and every responsible member of the Senate or the House is in agreement that detailed reorganization by the Congress is a practicable impossibility.

We come then to the second alternative—reorganization by executive order subject to overriding by the Congress.

3. In any reorganization you will realize I am sure that if it changes existing administrative set-ups, consolidates jobs or makes other kinds of savings either from the point of view of cost or from the point of view of bureaucratic authority, such changes are bitterly fought by those who stand to lose some authority and by those who are so wedded to existing practices that they go to any length to prevent the slightest change which seeks greater efficiency.

Several states have put into effect reorganizations of their departments. The changes have resulted in some economy. But chiefly these reorganizations in state governments have increased the efficiency of these state governments to a very marked extent. That result is what we seek in the bill now before the Congress.

4. You know that when over a year ago I recommended a reorganization to the Congress all parties and all factions agreed on the need for such a measure. You know, too, that a year later a carefully manufactured partisan and political opposition to any reorganization has created a political issue—created it deliberately of whole cloth.

5. The opposition has planted bogies under every bed. It was said, for example, that the work of the army engineers was to be abolished in spite of the fact that the Congress, and the Congress alone, can determine who will do river and harbor dredging and build flood control levees. It is charged that the splendid work of the Forest Service is to be hamstrung—hamstrung, I suppose, by the best friend forestry ever had in the United States. It is charged that the extremely efficient Veterans Bureau or the excellent Railroad Mediation Board is to be damaged beyond repair. I cite these merely as example of a score of equally silly nightmares conjured up at the instigation either of those who would restore the government to those who owned it between 1921 and 1933, or of those who for one reason or another seek deliberately to wreck the present administration of the government of the United States.

6. One point remains:

There are those who honestly believe that every minor change, every minor detail of conducting the business of the administrative branch of the government, should receive in effect a positive Congressional approval before such changes go into effect. The bill in its present form makes the executive orders relating to such changes—and most of them are minor—subject to disapproval by the Congress within sixty days by joint resolution. Let me state to you categorically that if such a joint resolution were passed by the Congress disapproving an order, I would, in the overwhelming majority of cases, go along with carefully considered Congressional action.

I can think of no cases where the President would not gladly yield to a clear expression of Congressional opinion.

But there are two cogent reasons why the bill should go through as it is now drawn. The first is the constitutional question involved in the passage of a concurrent resolution, which is only an expression of Congressional sentiment. Such a resolution cannot repeal executive action taken in pursuance of a law. The second is the very remote possibility that some legislative situation might possibly arise in the future where the President would feel obligated to veto a joint resolution of the Congress and properly require a two-thirds vote to override his veto. I repeat that I visualize no such possibility between now and 1940, when the authority given is to end. Thus you will see that charges of dictatorship are made out of whole-cloth—even if I Wanted to be a dictator, which Heaven knows, I do not.

With every good wish, always sincerely,

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Letter on the Reorganization Bill. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/209571

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