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Special Message to the Congress on the Reorganization of the Executive Branch.

February 17, 1932

To the Senate and House of Representatives:

Because of its direct relation to the cost of Government, I desire again to bring to the attention of the Congress the necessity of more effective organization of the Executive branch of the Government, the importance of which I have referred to in previous messages. This subject has been considered many times by the Executive and by the Congress, but without substantial results. Various projects are now before the Congress.

The need for reorganization is obvious. There has been with the years a gradual growth of the Government by the accretion in its departments and by independent executive establishments, boards, and commissions as problems requiring solution confront the President and the Congress. Today the Government embraces from 150 to 200 separate units, dependent on the method of notation used. Governmental units when once set up have a tendency to grow independently of other units. This leads to overlapping and waste. Moreover, there is a marked tendency to find new occupations when the initial duties are completed. The overlap and the number of agencies can be reduced.

A few consolidations, notably in law enforcement and the veterans' services have been effected. Both of these reorganized agencies have been able to discharge the very greatly increased burdens imposed upon them without such an increase in administrative expense as would otherwise have been the case.

In the present crisis the absolute necessity for the most drastic economy makes the problem of governmental reorganization one of paramount importance. The amount of saving in public funds to be effected by a thoroughgoing reorganization, while difficult to estimate accurately, will be material, amounting to many millions of dollars annually. Not only will the Government's business be conducted more efficiently and economically but the great body of citizens who have business relations with their Government will be relieved of the burden and expense of dealing with a multitude of unnecessary and sometimes widely separated public agencies.

We may frankly admit the practical difficulties of such reorganization. Not only do different fractions of the Government fear such reorganization, but many associations and agencies throughout the country will be alarmed that the particular function to which they are devoted may in some fashion be curtailed. Proposals to the Congress of detailed plans for the reorganization of the many different bureaus and independent agencies have always proved in the past to be a signal for the mobilization of opposition from all quarters which has destroyed the possibility of constructive action.

There is little hope for success in this task unless it is placed in the hands of some one responsible for it, with authority and direction to act. Moreover, the consummation of a comprehensive reorganization at one moment is not in the best public interest. Such reorganization should be undertaken gradually and systematically, predicated on a sound and definite theory of government and effectuated as the result of study and experience gained in the actual processes of reorganization.

I recommend, therefore, that the Congress provide for--

(a) Consolidation and grouping of the various executive and administrative activities according to their major purposes under single-headed responsibility, the Congress designating the title of the officer to be placed in immediate charge of such groups as are not now possible under existing organization.

(b) Adoption of the general principle that executive and administrative functions should have single-headed responsibility and that advisory, regulatory, and quasi judicial functions should be performed by boards and commissions, thus permitting the transfer of certain regulatory functions from executive officials to existing boards or commissions and executive functions from boards and commissions to executive officials.

(c) Authority under proper safeguards to be lodged in the President to effect these transfers and consolidations and authority to redistribute executive groups in the 10 executive departments of the Government or in the independent establishments, as the President may determine, by Executive order, such Executive order to lie before the Congress for 60 days during sessions thereof before becoming effective, but becoming effective at the end of such period unless the Congress shall request suspension of action.

The 10 major executive departments and the major regulatory and financial boards and commissions should of course be maintained. Some of these existing agencies are already organized upon the basis of their major purpose, but functions of the same major purpose now outside of these groups should be transferred to them.

It will be necessary also to authorize changes in titles of some officials and to create a few new positions in order to permit grouping and consolidation not now possible. With the enormous growth of governmental business there has been great expansion and diffusion of authority amongst minor officials. At the same time, there is an insufficient number of officials of definite and concentrated responsibility to the public. The additional expense of such officers over and above the salaries now paid to officials who would be displaced would be less than $40,000 per annum. The saving in cost of administration would be many times this sum. The most important of the posts of this character are the following:

Public Works Administrator (new office).

Personnel Administrator (change from chairman of Civil Service Commission).

Assistant Secretary for Public Health (new).

Assistant Secretary for Education (change from commissioner).

Assistant Secretary for Merchant Marine (new office).

Assistant Secretary for Conservation (new office).

Assistant Secretary for Agricultural Research (change from present Assistant Secretary).

Assistant Secretary for Agricultural Economics (change from director).

The establishment of an Assistant Secretary for Merchant Marine would enable the consummation of the proposals in my message of December 8 in respect to the Shipping Board.

The public works administration should be partially a service agency to the other departments of the Government, executing certain construction work, the subsequent operation of which should be carried on by those departments. It should be also partially an agency administering certain contract work which can not be delegated to any one department. Naval, military, and some other highly specialized construction work should not be transferred to this agency. The supervision and construction of rivers and harbors work should be continued under direction of the Army engineers, who should be delegated by the Secretary of War to the service of the Administrator of Public Works for this Purpose.

The personnel administration should comprise various agencies relating to the personnel of the Government as a service agency to all departments of the Government. I recommend that the Civil Service Commission should be maintained as an advisory body to the Personnel Administrator, and the approval of this body should be required in all regulatory questions. The Personnel Administrator should be the chairman of the commission. Other functions relating to the personnel of the Government should be transferred to the personnel administration as may be deemed wise from time to time.


With respect to certain agencies in the Government, I recommend a separate legislative reorganization of policy. The first of these is the Reclamation Service. Reclamation should have a broader import than that of bringing unproductive land under cultivation. We do not need further additions to our agricultural land at present. Additional agricultural production except such marginal expansion as present projects warrant is inadvisable.

The conservation of water by storage is required, not alone in the West, but in all parts of the country.

The effective development of water conservation through storage is largely an interstate question in the aid of domestic and industrial water supply, transportation, irrigation, and flood control. Where construction work for storage relates to these larger issues, it is properly the work of the Federal Government. Where water power is developed as a by-product, it should be disposed of in advance by contracts which will fairly reimburse the Government for its outlay. The Reclamation Service should be extended to cover these broad purposes of storage and conservation of water rather than the narrow purpose of irrigation. Such important projects as the dam at Boulder Canyon, the dam at Cove Creek, and the development of the Columbia, should ultimately be undertaken when there is need for such service and when contracts can be made for the sale of power to amortize the cost of construction to the Government. The actual construction work under this plan should be carried out by the Public Works Administrator and the completed projects administered by the Reclamation Service.


There should be a change in policy in dealing with public lands if we are to preserve their value for grazing and other purposes. The Committee on Conservation and Administration of the Public Domain, authorized by act of the Congress approved April 10, 1930, completed the task assigned to it a year ago. Its report has been transmitted to Members of the Congress. Legislation carrying into effect the recommendations of the committee also is before the Congress. These proposals are the result of painstaking study and earnest deliberation. They offer a solution of the problems, connected with this remnant of our public domain, which have persisted for the past 25 years. I commend the report' to the attention of the congress, deeming the legislation of sufficient importance to justify early action.


In conclusion, I can not recommend too strongly that the Congress give the subject of effective organization of the executive branch of the Government its early and serious attention. It is an essential part of a sound reconstruction and economy program. A patchwork organization compels inefficiency, waste, and extravagance. Economy and efficiency can come only through modernization. A proper reorganization of our departments, commissions, and bureaus will result, not only in much greater efficiency and public convenience, but in the saving of many millions of dollars now extracted annually from our overburdened taxpayers.


The White House,

February 17, 1932.

Note: The "Economy Act," Part II of the act of June 30, 1932 (Public, No. 212, 47 Stat. 399) authorized Presidential reorganization of executive agencies. See also Item 212.

Herbert Hoover, Special Message to the Congress on the Reorganization of the Executive Branch. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/208222

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