Statement by the President Upon Signing the Small Reclamation Projects Act of 1956.
I HAVE APPROVED H. R. 5881, "To supplement the Federal reclamation laws by providing for Federal cooperation in non-Federal projects and for participation by non-Federal agencies in Federal projects."
The bill authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to contract with States, irrigation districts, water users' associations and other eligible organizations within the seventeen western reclamation States for the purpose of assisting such organizations in the construction of small reclamation projects. The Federal assistance would be in the form of grants and loans within the limitations prescribed by the bill.
I have approved this bill only because the Congress is not in session to receive and act upon a veto message and because I have been assured that the committees which handled the bill in the Congress will take action to correct its deficiencies early in the next session. Specifically, a provision found in Section 4 (c) is seriously faulty. The section provides that:
"... no such contract shall be executed by the Secretary prior to sixty calendar days . . . from the date on which the project proposal has been submitted to both branches of the Congress for consideration by the appropriate committees thereof, and then only if neither such committee, by committee resolution and notification in writing to the Secretary, disapproves the project proposal within such period: Provided, That if both such committees, in the same manner and prior to the expiration of such period, approve the project proposal, then the Secretary may proceed to execute the contract: Provided further, That in the event either committee disapproves the project proposal, the Secretary shall not proceed further unless the Congress has approved the same."
This language would thus require, before a project negotiated under the Act is allowed finality, a further act by the legislature. The action required can be viewed as either a legislative act or an executive act. However construed, constitutional defects are inherent. Viewed as requiring a further legislative act, the section is open to the objection that it involves an unlawful delegation by the Congress to its committees of a legislative function which the constitution contemplates the Congress itself, as an entity, should exercise.
If the further act is considered as not legislative in nature, then there is involved what appears to be an unconstitutional infringement of the separation of powers prescribed in Articles I and II of the Constitution. I do not believe that the Congress can validly delegate to one of its committees the power to prevent executive actions taken pursuant to law. To do so in this case would be to divide the responsibility for administering the program between the Secretary of the Interior and the designated committees. Such a procedure would be a clear violation of the separation of powers within the Government and would destroy the lines of responsibility which the Constitution provides.
Furthermore, the negotiation and execution of a contract is a purely executive function. Although the Congress may prescribe the standards and conditions under which executive officials may enter into contracts, it may not lodge in its committees or members the power to make such contracts, either directly or by giving them the power to approve or disapprove a contract which an executive officer proposes to make.
I believe it to be my duty to uphold the Constitutional principle that only the Congress can make the laws and only the executive branch can administer them. I am certain that there is little disagreement with this proposition and I have been assured that the purpose of the Congress in approving Section 4 (c) was to facilitate legislative oversight of a new program. Fortunately, that objective can be attained through well tested procedures fully compatible with our system of Government; for example, the Congress may require the Secretary of the Interior to submit such reports as it may find of value in carrying on its legislative functions.
Because of the general merit of this measure, I am approving it. The Secretary of the Interior will review project proposals received by the Department and will prepare to take action as soon as appropriations are made to implement the bill and Section 4 (c) has been removed or revised. If the Congress will act promptly after it convenes in January, there need be no delay in starting this program.
Note: As enacted, H. R. 5881 is Public Law 984, 84th Congress (70 Stat. 1044).
Dwight D. Eisenhower, Statement by the President Upon Signing the Small Reclamation Projects Act of 1956. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/233014