Franklin D. Roosevelt

Message to Congress Recommending Reorganization of the Executive Branch.

January 12, 1937

To the Congress:I address this Message to the Congress as one who has had experience as a legislator, as a subordinate in an executive department, as the chief executive of a State and as one on whom, as President, the constitutional responsibility for the whole of the Executive Branch of the Government has lain for four years.

Now that we are out of the trough of the depression, the time has come to set our house in order. The administrative management of the Government needs overhauling. We are confronted not alone by new activities, some of them temporary in character, but also by the growth of the work of the Government watching the growth of the nation over more than a generation.

Except for the enactment of the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, no extensive change in management has occurred since 1913, when the Department of Labor was established. The Executive structure of the Government is sadly out of date. I am not the first President to report to the Congress that antiquated machinery stands in the way of effective administration and of adequate control by the Congress. Theodore Roosevelt, William H. Taft, Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Hoover made repeated but not wholly successful efforts to deal with the problem. Committees of the Congress have also rendered distinguished service to the nation through their efforts from time to time to point the way to improvement of governmental management and organization.

The opportunity and the need for action now come to you and to me. If we have faith in our republican form of government, and in the ideals upon which it has rested for 150 years, we must devote ourselves energetically and courageously to the task of making that government efficient. The great stake in efficient democracy is the stake of the common man.

In these troubled years of world history, a self-government cannot long survive unless that government is an effective and efficient agency to serve mankind and carry out the will of the Nation. A government without good management is a house builded on sand.

In striving together to make our Government more efficient, you and I are taking up in our generation the battle to preserve that freedom of self-government which our forefathers fought to establish and hand down to us. They struggled against tyranny, against non-representative controls, against government by birth, wealth or class, against sectionalism. Our struggle now is against confusion, against ineffectiveness, against waste, against inefficiency. This battle, too, must be won, unless it is to be said that in our generation national self-government broke down and was frittered away in bad management.

Will it be said "Democracy was a great dream, but it could not do the job?" Or shall we here and now, without further delay, make it our business to see that our American democracy is made efficient so that it will do the job that is required of it by the events of our time?

I know your answer, and the answer of the Nation, because after all, we are a practical people. We know good management in the home, on the farm, and in business, big and little. If any nation can find the way to effective government it should be the American people through their own democratic institutions.

Over a year ago it seemed to me that this problem of administrative management of the Executive Branch of the Government should be a major order of business of this session of the Congress. Accordingly, after extended discussions and negotiations, I appointed a Committee on Administrative Management, to examine the whole problem broadly and to suggest for my guidance and your consideration a comprehensive and balanced program for dealing with the overhead organization and management of the Executive Branch as it is established under the Constitution.

The Committee has now completed its work, and I transmit to you its report, "Administrative Management in the Government of the United States." I have examined this report carefully and thoughtfully, and am convinced that it is a great document of permanent importance. I think that the general program presented by the Committee is adequate, reasonable and practical, and that it furnishes the basis for immediate action. The broad facts are known; the need is clear; what is now required is action.

The Committee on Administrative Management points out· that no enterprise can operate effectively if set up as is the Government today. There are over 100 separate departments, boards, commissions, corporations, authorities, agencies, and activities through which the work of the Government is being carried on. Neither the President nor the Congress can exercise effective supervision and direction over such a chaos of establishments, nor can overlapping, duplication, and contradictory policies be avoided.

The Committee has not spared me; they say, what has been common knowledge for twenty years, that the President cannot adequately handle his responsibilities; that he is overworked; that it is humanly impossible, under the system which we have, for him fully to carry out his Constitutional duty as Chief Executive because he is overwhelmed with minor details and needless contacts arising directly from the bad organization and equipment of the Government. I can testify to this. With my predecessors who have said the same thing over and over again, I plead guilty.

The plain fact is that the present organization and equipment of the Executive Branch of the Government defeat the Constitutional intent that there be a single responsible Chief Executive to coordinate and manage the departments and activities in accordance with the laws enacted by the Congress. Under these conditions the Government cannot be thoroughly effective in working, under popular control, for the common good.

The Committee does not spare the Comptroller General for his failure to give the Congress a prompt and complete audit each year, totally independent of administration, as a means of holding the Executive truly to account; or for his unconstitutional assumption of Executive power; or for the failure to keep the accounting system of the Government up to date to serve as the basis of information, management and control.

The Committee criticizes the use of boards and commissions in administration, condemns the careless use of "corporations" as governmental instrumentalities, and points out that the practice of creating independent regulatory commissions, who perform administrative work in addition to judicial work, threatens to develop a "fourth branch" of the Government for which there is no sanction in the Constitution. Nor does the Committee spare the inadequacy of the Civil Service system.

To meet this situation and bring our administrative management up to date, the Committee presents an integrated five-point program which you will find set out in its Report. It includes these major recommendations:

1. Expand the White House staff so that the President may have a sufficient group of able assistants in his own office to keep him in closer and easier touch with the widespread affairs of administration, and to make speedier the clearance of the knowledge needed for Executive decision;

2. Strengthen and develop the managerial agencies of the Government, particularly those dealing with the budget and efficiency research, with personnel and with planning, as management arms of the Chief Executive;

3. Extend the merit system upward, outward, and downward to cover practically all non-policy-determining posts; reorganize the civil service system as a part of management under a single, responsible Administration; create a citizen board to serve as the watchdog of the merit system; and increase the salaries of key posts throughout the service so that the Government may attract and hold in a career service men and women of ability and character;

4. Overhaul the 100 independent agencies, administrations, authorities, boards, and commissions, and place them by Executive Order within one or the other of the following twelve major Executive departments: State, Treasury, War, Justice, Post Office, Navy, Conservation, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Social Welfare, and Public Works; and place upon the Executive continuing responsibility for the maintenance of effective organization;

5. Establish accountability of the Executive to the Congress by providing a genuine independent postaudit of all fiscal transactions by an Auditor General, and restore to the Executive complete responsibility for accounts and current transactions.

As you will see, this program rests solidly upon the Constitution and upon the American way of doing things. There is nothing in it which is revolutionary, as every element is drawn from our own experience either in government or large-scale business.

I endorse this program and feel confident that it will commend itself to you also with your knowledge of government, and to the vast majority of the citizens of the country who want and believe in efficient self-government.

No important advance can be made toward the major objectives of the program without the passage by the Congress of the necessary legislation.

It will be necessary to provide for the establishment of two new Departments, a Department of Social Welfare and a Department of Public Works, for the assignment by the President of all the miscellaneous activities to the 12 major departments thus provided, for reorganization of the civil service system, for modernizing and strengthening the managerial agencies of the Executive, and for making the Executive more strictly accountable to the Congress. By the creation of two new Departments nearly 100 agencies now not under regular Departments can be consolidated as to their administrative functions under a total of twelve regular Departments of the Government.

The remaining elements of the five-point program, though they must await your action on the basic legislation, may be initiated through appropriations and Executive Orders.

In placing this program before you I realize that it will be said that I am recommending the increase of the powers of the Presidency. This is not true. The Presidency as established in the Constitution of the United States has all of the powers that are required. In spite of timid souls in 1787 who feared effective government the Presidency was established as a single, strong Chief Executive office in which was vested the entire Executive power of the national Government, even as the legislative power was placed in the Congress and the judicial in the Supreme Court and inferior courts. What I am placing before you is the request not for more power, but for the tools of management and the authority to distribute the work so that the President can effectively discharge those powers which the Constitution now places upon him. Unless we are prepared to abandon this important part of the Constitution, we must equip the President with authority commensurate with his responsibilities under the Constitution.

The Committee on Administrative Management, after a careful examination of recent attempts to reorganize the Government and of State reorganizations carried out so ably by Governor Frank O. Lowden in Illinois, Governor Alfred E. Smith in New York, Governor Harry F. Byrd in Virginia, Governor William Tudor Gardiner in Maine, and by other Governors, accepts the view held by my distinguished predecessors that the detailed work of reorganization is, as President Theodore Roosevelt said over 30 years ago, "essentially executive in its nature." The Committee accordingly recommends that reorganization should be a continuing duty and authority of the Chief Executive on the basis of standards set by the Congress. To make this safe, the Committee insists, however, that the Congress keep a watchful eye upon reorganization both through the annual budget and through the maintenance of strict executive accountability to the Congress under the independent audit of all financial transactions by an Auditor General. Under the proposed plan the Congress must by law establish the major departments and determine in advance the general principles which shall guide the President in distributing the work of the Government among these departments, and in this task the President is to act on the basis of careful research by the Bureau of the Budget and after conference with those primarily affected. Reorganization is not a mechanical task, but a human task, because Government is not a machine, but a living organism. With these clear safeguards, and in view of our past muddling with reorganization, one cannot but accept the logic and wisdom of the recommendations.

I would not have you adopt this five-point program, however, without realizing that this represents an important step in American history. If we do this, we reduce from over 100 down to a dozen the operating executive agencies of the Government, and we bring many little bureaucracies under broad coordinated democratic authority.

But in so doing, we shall know that we are going back to the Constitution, and giving to the Executive Branch modern tools of management and an up-to-date organization which will enable the Government to go forward efficiently. We can prove to the world that American Government is both democratic and effective.

In this program I invite your cooperation, and pledge myself to deal energetically and promptly with the executive responsibilities of reorganization and administrative management, when you shall have made this possible by the necessary legislation.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Message to Congress Recommending Reorganization of the Executive Branch. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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