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Special Message to the Congress on Executive Reorganization.

March 29, 1972

To the Congress of the United States:

The sand is running in the glass, and the hour is growing late, for enactment of a critically needed reform, one that merits the very best support which you as legislators for 508 Americans, and I as their Chief Executive, are able to give it.

That reform is reorganization of the executive branch of the Federal Government-the most comprehensive and carefully planned such reorganization since the executive was first constituted in George Washington's administration 183 years ago. Its purpose is to make American government a more effective servant to, and a more responsive instrument of, the American people. Its method is to organize departments around the ends which public policy seeks, rather than (as too often in the past) around the means employed in seeking them.

The broad outlines of the reorganization proposals which I presented to the Congress just over a year ago are now well known. The seven domestic departments which sprang into being under pressure of necessity one at a time since 1849 would be viewed as a single system for the first time, and their functions regrouped accordingly. The product would be four entirely new, goal-oriented departments concerned with our communities, our .earth, our economy, and our potential as individuals--plus a revitalized filth • department concerned with keeping America in food and fiber.

A Department of Community Development, a Department of Natural Resources, a Department of Economic Affairs, and a Department of Human Resources would be created to replace the present Departments of Interior, Commerce, Labor, Health, Education, and 'Welfare and Housing and Urban Development, and Transportation. And the Department of Agriculture--under our plans as I ordered them revised last fall-would be streamlined to increase its ability to serve the farmer and so to serve us all. Several independent Federal agencies would be drawn into the consolidation 'process as appropriate. Further management reforms would be instituted within :the new departments, to provide authority commensurate with responsibility at every level and to make form follow function intelligently.


I do not speak lightly or loosely in characterizing this measure as critically needed. To say that we must prepare government to perform satisfactorily in the years ahead is only another way of saying that we must provide for its very survival. This Republic, soon to begin its third century, will surely grow old unless we take wise and decisive action to keep it young. "Adapt or die"--the Darwinian choice is ours to make.

Hard evidence of this danger abounds--dismal statistics about the low effectiveness of Federal spending, case upon case of national problems stubbornly resisting national programs. "Most Americans today," as I put it in announcing these executive reorganization proposals in my 1971 State of the Union Message, and again in transmitting the detailed legislation for them, "are simply fed up with government at all levels."

For us here and now to make a strong beginning at making government work better for the ordinary citizen would hearten the Nation immensely; and it would do so honestly, by getting at the real roots of the fed-up feeling. Yet some may question whether this political year is a time when public men can afford to meet public frustrations head on. "Mollifying gestures, yes," they may say in effect, "but fundamental reform, no--at least not in 1972." Our reply should be that this is a most appropriate year to move ahead with reorganization.

For what is it, after all, that the people want and deserve from the public processes of any year, an election year especially? More effective government. One way they seek to get it is by calling the officials who run the government to account at the polls, as is being done in 1972. Another way is by regulating the Federal purse strings through their elected representatives in the Congress, as is also being done in 1972. Yet this necessary periodic scrutiny of men and money alone will not reach the heart of the problem. For it is axiomatic among those who know Washington best that, as I pointed out in my earlier message on this subject, "the major cause of the ineffectiveness of government is not a matter of men or of money (but) principally a matter of machinery." We cannot, therefore, in good conscience hold out to the people the hope that this will be a year of change for the better, if we fail to come to grips with reform of government's jerry-built mechanisms.

Institutional structure here in Washington tends to coast along all too comfortably under the protection of an inertia which does not shield elected officials and public expenditures. These last come up for renewal every one, two, four, or six years; not so the structure, which endures with little or no burden of proof for its own worthiness to continue. Now. though, the structure has been weighed in the balances and found wanting.

In less sweeping reorganizations than the one I am urging, of course, a President can institute changes through plans submitted under the Reorganization Act, whereby the burden of proof rests with defenders of the status quo. However such authority no longer extends to the creation, consolidation, or abolition of executive departments. In any event we would have felt it wise to submit so massive a reform as this one for regular statutory enactment, so as to permit consideration of amendments and to provide time for full hearings and review. Airy hope now is that the Congress will honor the best spirit of democratic change by electing now, in this election year, to modernize the executive structure and redeem the flagging public faith in our ability to order our national affairs effectively.


Considerations of practicality, equally with those of principle, make the present time the best time to move ahead on this reform. The efforts of the past several years have amassed significant momentum toward overcoming the inertia which protects obsolete institutions. My proposals of last March 25 have behind them the weight of two years' exhaustive study and analysis by my Advisory Council on Executive Organization, and behind that the substantially similar recommendations of President Johnson's Task Forces of 1964 and 1967 on Government Organization. Since I laid those proposals before the Congress, the Administration and the Government Operations Committees in both Houses have made further headway on perfecting the reform legislation. A spirit of cooperation has been established; good faith and constructive attitudes have been demonstrated on all sides. We must not let these gains go to waste.

The pace of progress so far has not been disappointing, for no measure this broad and this complex can or should be pushed through the Congress overnight. What would be deeply disappointing, though-to me, and far more importantly to millions of Americans who deserve better than their government is now organized to give them--is to lose, in this rapidly passing Second Session of the 92nd Congress, our opportunity to record some solid achievement by creating at the very least one, and hopefully two or more, of the four proposed new departments.

The men and women who begin a new Presidential term and a new Congress next January should not have to start over again on reorganization. They will not have to, if we push ahead now with the realism to see what is wrong with the old structures, the vision to see what benefits new forms can bring, and the courage to take the long step from old to new.



What is wrong, and what reorganization could do to set it right, is best illustrated with two actual examples. We cannot remind ourselves often enough that this matter of government organization is no mere shuffling of abstract blocks and lines on a wall chart--that it has to do with helping real people, building real communities, husbanding real resources.

The plethora of diverse and fragmented Federal activities aimed at assisting our communities is a glaring case in point. If there is any one social concept which has clearly come of age in recent years, that concept would certainly be the idea of balanced, comprehensively planned community development. Yet where do we find this reflected in government organization? We grope toward it, as with the well-intentioned and (at the time) fairly progressive formation of a Department of Housing and Urban Development; but even that step was premised on an unrealistic, artificial, and harmful distinction between urban and rural communities. In altogether too many instances the dollars and efforts earmarked for communities end up producing more derangement than development.

This is hardly surprising when we consider that:

--A city or town may now seek Federal grants or loans for sewer or sewage treatment facilities from three departments and one independent agency, each with different criteria, different procedures, and a separate bureaucracy.

--Responsibilities for housing assistance are also entrusted to different offices in some of the same departments, and to several other entities as well.

--Highway and mass transit programs have been isolated in a separate department with only partial consideration for what such programs do to our communities, large and small, forcing us to learn the hard way that highways and mass transit must be developed integrally with land use decisions, housing plans, and provisions for other essential community facilities.

Efforts have been made to clarify agency roles on the basis of urban/rural, type of facility, type of applicant, et cetera--but the real need is for unified authority, not artificial jurisdictional clarifications. In sum, it has become painfully clear that effective integration of all Federal activities relating to community development can be achieved only under a vigorous new Department of Community Development created expressly for that purpose.

The conservation and development of our rivers offers another pointed example. This important trust, where stakes are high and mistakes irretrievable, has at present so many guardians in Washington that in the crunch it sometimes seems to have none at all. The Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, together with several independent agencies, are all empowered to plan river basin development, to build dams and impound water, and to control water use. Elaborate interagency coordination efforts and all good intentions have not prevented waste and error from thriving under this crippling fragmentation of responsibility. Such costly fiascoes as the reservoir built by the Bureau of Reclamation for drinking water supply but severely polluted and depleted by conflicting Soil Conservation Service projects upstream have been repeated too frequently. The answer? A unified Department of Natural Resources, where comprehensive authority to develop and manage water resources would be concentrated under a single departmental secretary.

Additional examples of dispersed responsibility could be cited in such areas as consumer protection, manpower and job training programs, and economic development activities. In each case, obsolete departmental structures have made it difficult to move forward effectively.

Even the newest of our domestic departments, like Housing and Urban Development and Transportation, now see the challenges of the seventies and beyond outrunning their own relatively narrow mandates. Departmental missions long circumscribed by law or historical development are suddenly outgrown; departmental preoccupations with limited constituencies no longer serve the public interest as reliably as before. Too often the ability of one department to achieve an important goal proves dependent upon the authority and resources of other departments, departments which inevitably attach only secondary importance to that goal. The new Federal commitments undertaken year by year are increasingly difficult to locate in any one department-usually several can claim partial jurisdiction, but none can show full ability to follow through and get the job done.


The solution to this rapidly worsening snarl of problems is regrouping of related programs by major purpose in a smaller number of executive departments. Besides opening the way for sharp improvements in government performance, such a consolidation would make the executive branch more sensitive to national needs and more responsive to the will of the people, in two ways.

First, it would decentralize decision making. Far too many matters must now be handled above the department level by the Executive office of the President or within the White House itself---not because of the inherent importance of those matters, but because no single department or agency head has broad enough authority to make and enforce decisions on them. But the four new Secretaries created by my reorganization proposal would have such breadth of authority. Their resultant ability to conduct domestic policy on the President's behalf should speed, streamline, and strengthen the whole process significantly.

Comparable decentralization could also be achieved within each department. At present, too many questions can be decided only in Washington, because of the multiplicity of field organizations and the limited authority of their regional directors. By enlarging the scope of responsibility of the departmental Secretaries and by giving them the tools they need, we could facilitate broad delegation of authority to appropriate field officials. And this in turn means that citizens across the country would receive faster and better service from their Federal Government.

Secondly, the new alignment of domestic departments would enhance the accountability of Federal officials to the people. It is easy to see how the new Secretaries, each with his or her own broad area of responsibility to discharge, would be useful to the President and the Congress in monitoring compliance with direction and accomplishment of objectives. Once scattered responsibility was concentrated, today's frequently used and often quite accurate excuse, "It was the other fellow's fault," would no longer apply.

More importantly, though, whatever slack and tangle can be taken out of the lines of control within the Federal establishment will then result in a tightening of those same lines between elected Federal officials and a democratic electorate. Notwithstanding the famous sign on President Truman's desk--"The buck stops here"--there will be no stopping of the buck, no ultimate clarification of blame and credit, and no assurance that voters will get what they contracted for in electing Presidents, Senators, and Congressmen, until the present convoluted and compartmentalized Washington bureaucracy can be formed anew and harnessed more directly to the people's purposes.


Where, then, does the reform effort stand today? I am pleased to note that the Congress, acting through its Committees on Government Operations, has held extensive hearings on my proposals; that testimony, most of it favorable, has been taken from a broad, bipartisan array of expert witnesses; and that committee work on the House side is nearly complete on the bill to establish a Department of Community Development.

For our part, we in the Administration have continued working to perfect the legislation and the management concepts set forth in my message of March 25, 1971. The office of Management and Budget has taken the lead in working with Members of the Congress, adopting a flexible and forthcoming approach which has led to refinements in our legislation: one to clarify responsibility for highway safety, another to remove doubts concerning the reform's impact on the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Title V regional planning and development commissions, another to guarantee Community Development participation in airport access and siting decisions, and several more. They have also clarified that the reorganization need not entail any shift in congressional committee jurisdiction.

I am confident that this refinement and clarification process has improved our bills. I pledge the fullest continuing cooperation of my Administration in seeing that the Congress has what it needs to move forward.



There is still much work to do. For all the excellent hearings conducted to date, action has yet to be completed on any of the departmental bills which were sent to the Congress 370 days ago. Yet their passage by this Congress is still possible-especially for the Departments of Community Development and Natural Resources.

I would call special attention to H.R. 6962, the legislation for a Department of Community Development, which has now undergone 15 days of hearings in the House Government Operations Committee. Prompt, favorable action on this bill would represent a much-needed victory for common sense and the public good. Its defeat or emasculation would serve no interest except entrenched privilege and private advantage, and would cruelly disserve the interest of literally thousands of urban and rural communities with millions of people who are tired of waiting for Washington to get itself together and help them.

I urge all those concerned with the cause of executive reorganization to redouble their efforts to bring H.R. 6962 to my desk for signature during 1972--and, further, to press ahead on enactment of H.R. 6959, the Department of Natural Resources bill, and of legislation for the other two new departments which we need to govern effectively in the seventies.


Twenty-five years ago, when the United States was realizing that World War II had marked not the end, but only the beginning, of its leadership responsibilities in the world, a reorganization of the executive machinery in the defense area was undertaken. That reform, which created the Department of Defense, marks the only major streamlining of the Cabinet and the only departmental consolidation in our history. The new structure thus established has served America and the free world well in the challenging period since.

Now the time has come to take a similar bold and visionary step on the domestic side of national affairs. The 1960s, troubled, eventful, and full of progress as they were, were only the prelude to a period of still faster change in American life. The peace which we find increasing reason to hope will prevail during the coming generation is already permitting us to turn somewhat from the formerly absorbing necessity to "provide for the common defence," the necessity which motivated the last major executive branch reorganization.

Other great purposes now move to the foreground: "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility,...promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." To serve these purposes, let us act decisively once again, and forge new institutions to serve a new America.


The White House,

March 29, 1972.

Note: The President's message, together with additional information on executive reorganization, is printed in "Papers Relating to the President's Departmental Reorganization Program: A Reference Compilation; Revised February 1972" (Government Printing office, 311 pp.).

On March 29, 1972, the White House released a fact sheet and the transcript of a news briefing on the message. Participants in the news briefing were George P. Shultz, Director, and Frank C. Carlucci, Associate Director, office of Management and Budget.

Richard Nixon, Special Message to the Congress on Executive Reorganization. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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