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The President's News Conference

December 05, 1930

THE PRESIDENT. I have nothing of special moment today.

PUBLIC CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS

There is a little background to the emergency employment bill which may be helpful to some of you. I don't want to say anything for quotation. I have already expressed myself on the subject a time or two.

There does seem to be some misunderstanding of the fact that we cannot apply large sums of public money to construction work, or, rather, unlimited sums of money to construction work in times of depression. All construction work, no matter of what character, requires a large amount of technical preparation, either engineering work or architectural work, or design, or something of that kind. Most Government work requires something by which of acquirement of titles. Under the processes of Government 9 times out of 10 it requires condemnation because we are never able to buy property for the limitations set down by law; that on an average it is about 8 or 9 months at best before an authorized project can be brought into actual employment of labor. So that it gains nothing for employment during the next 6 months, and that is the critical emergency period, to undertake any sort of new projects that have not been under preparation.

The Director of the Budget, at my request, assembled every single atom of labor that could be applied in the Government by way of accelerating the program, from every department in the Government in which preparations had advanced to a point that would afford the payment of wages and actual labor during the next 6 months. That came out at approximately the sum which was sent up to Congress.

And one other point on it there seems to be some feeling that perhaps I am looking for an opportunity to dispense large sums of money in my personal capacity, but as the proposals sent to Congress reflectively to projects already authorized by Congress, and sifted out by the departments as those in which the preparatory work has been advanced to a stage which will permit the payment of labor, the President would have very little latitude in dispensing a program of that kind.

If we were to take up new projects at the present time, not only would we have all the delays of preparation and also the delays of legislation, but we would undoubtedly have another period of very active logrolling as to projects as between the different States, and would end up in a hopeless morass. So that we are proposing all of the assistance to labor that the Federal Government is capable of. It is a very considerable program. This is entirely in addition to the normal works in progress under recent legislation. It will aggregate for the calendar year probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $650 million, which is nearly three times any ordinary program of building construction. So that the Federal Government is certainly contributing its part.

There has been some suggestion that the Federal Government might borrow money and undertake new projects. Aside from the difficulty of new projects that I mentioned, for the Federal Government to take money from the investors of the country to put up in governmental works just shortens the amount of private construction that would be done with the same sum of money. That has no economic advantage whatever, and obviously for the Government to overspend itself and increase taxation for works of this character is even more vicious in its effect on employment in the country as a whole.

There have been a great many delays in some of the already authorized works--public buildings in particular--and some local communities have felt that they ought to move faster. A great many of those delays are due to the character of legislation which the Government works under, all of which is devised for precautionary purposes and is valuable enough in ordinary times. But it tends to delay construction when one wants to put additional pressure on it. For instance, in acquiring titles outside the District of Columbia, the Government, if it cannot make a bargain which is acceptable within the general outlines of the law, must proceed to condemnation, and that may at times require 2 or 3 years. In the District of Columbia we are able to make deposit in character of ratio of assessed values which the law defines, and take possession and go ahead. The Treasury is asking that that same provision should be made applicable to the country at large. Also there are a number of provisions, more or less obsolete in modern building practice, required in the law, such as advertising for the survey of the site and letting such a survey job by bid or contract, all of which are not necessary in protection of public interest in these days, but which make delays of months sometimes in undertaking construction. So that on the public buildings program the Treasury will have some suggestions to make to Congress which I think will expedite that.

There is one thing about our public buildings, and that is the selection of a site, which becomes a matter of great moment in practically every town of the country. There is always a division of opinion. There is almost universal war on the subject, and the Government has to make peace, and when it has made peace and finally agreed upon a site then has to begin all of the long delayed processes, all of which has held up public buildings in a great many cities more than we would wish. In any event, every agency of the Government is exerting itself to the utmost and has been engaged in a very extensive program ever since we received authority last June for expending the rivers and harbors and for the employment of architects and expedition of the public buildings program, so that we are rather fortunate in being able to do $100 million of additional work at the present time.

That is all I have on that subject.

Q. In figuring the deficit at $180 million, there was no consideration given to this $150 million ?

THE PRESIDENT. No, it will be aside from that, which makes this situation even more difficult.

Q. Mr. President, would you care to illuminate the matter of 100 percent advance of road funds to the States?

THE PRESIDENT. There isn't quite 100 percent. The normal amount now is $125 million a year, and the provisions are that $75 million to $80 million be advanced in the balance of this fiscal year, to be repaid by donations over the subsequent 5 years. That enables a number of States which have exhausted their 50 percent contribution to Federal aid roads to let contracts immediately and expand construction in that direction. That sum is apparently about all that can be employed in the Federal aid States as near as we can estimate, that is, within the 6 months. We are not wanting to enter into building that carries continuous expenditures over the end of this fiscal year. That is outside the emergency period, as we contemplate it. There have been a number of schemes, all the way from $200 million to $800 million, which would require several years for completion and a year for preparation. None of that would be practicable for this emergency. The only provision we are making is that it will produce employment during the next 6 months, and that is the sole object of relief legislation--not to further schemes that look to a general upbuilding of the Nation beyond our taxing policy.

Note: President Hoover's one hundred and fifty-eighth news conference was held in the White House at 4 p.m. on Friday, December 5, 1930.

Herbert Hoover, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/210932

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