Franklin D. Roosevelt photo

The Seven Hundred and Eighth Press Conference

January 07, 1941

THE PRESIDENT: I have only two things I can think of; one is, I am putting in Minton as Administrative Assistant, to act as legs for me—with a "passion for anonymity" and one or two other things. I suggest to you that he is not going to be liaison officer with the Hill. He does know a lot about all kinds of things in the Government. He has been on the Military Affairs Committee, but his work will not be confined to military affairs. He will act as legs, eyes, ears, et cetera, as one of the Administrative Assistants.

Q. Not specifically assigned to the Hill?'

THE PRESIDENT: No, certainly not.

Then the other thing is the Executive Orders that have gone out today; and again I will have to talk to you a little so you will not write stories saying, "It is learned on good authority," or jump to conclusions. (Laughter) I will give you better authority, if you will follow it.

This [holding a copy of the Executive Order dated today] sets up the Office of Production Management, which I told you about the other day—an Executive Order and an Administrative Order. The Executive Order—I'll try to eliminate the formalities in here—is to increase production, and so forth and so on—

". . .it is hereby ordered,"

First, to be in the Office for Emergency Management of the Executive Office of the President, which is merely conforming to existing law, an Office of Production Management which will consist of a Director General, and an Associate Director General, Secretary of War, Secretary of the Navy. "With such advice and assistance as—"

may be required"

". . .from other departments and agencies". . . "and subject to such regulations"—"as the President may from time to time prescribe"

—all these things carry out wordings of law—

"and subject further to the general policy that the Departments of War and Navy and other departments and agencies of the Government will be utilized to the maximum extent compatible with efficiency."

That doesn't mean anything at all except, when it comes to getting a filing clerk, instead of going to some other place and bringing down a filing clerk, let's say, from somebody's law office in New York, they will take him off the civil service lists which are already in existence in the Government of the United States, and everybody, of course, is agreeable to that.

And when it comes to purchases of—Oh, what shall I say—a piece of blotting paper, a desk light, a donkey for the desk—they will buy it through the regular Government purchase sources instead of going on the outside.

It shall: [reading]

"a. Formulate and execute in the public interest all measures needful and appropriate in order"—

get that,

"formulate and execute—"

in order, first,

"to increase, accelerate, and regulate the production and supply of materials, articles and equipment and the provision of emergency plant facilities and services required for the national defense, and—"


"to insure . . . coordination of those activities of the several departments, corporations, and other agencies of the Government which are directly concerned therewith."

You can't make it much broader than that in giving powers.



"survey, analyze, and summarize for purposes of coordination the stated requirements of the War and Navy and other departments and agencies . . . and of foreign governments."

get that; that's in line with what we said yesterday and what we said this morning on the Budget—

"for materials, articles, and equipment needed for defense."

—so that you won't have any conflicts between the foreign program and the domestic program. Equipment for defense:"

c. Advise with respect to the plans and schedules of the various departments and agencies for the purchase—"

that is, planning them, all these purchases of-—

"materials, articles, and equipment . . . major defense orders and contracts . . . keep informed of the progress of various programs of production and supply."

That's the planning end of it."

d. Plan and take all lawful steps necessary to assure the provision of an adequate supply of raw materials essential to the production of finished products needed for defense. "e. Formulate plans for the mobilization for defense of the production facilities of the Nation, and to take all lawful action necessary to carry out such plans.

"f."I am reading all these because you would not have time to read them yourselves. (Laughter) Am I right? I can say things like that in the family; it's all right.

"Determine the adequacy of existing production facilities and to assure their maximum use; and, when necessary, to stimulate and plan the creation of such additional facilities and sources of production and supply as may be essential to increase and expedite defense production. "g. Determine when, to what extent, and in what manner priorities shall be accorded to deliveries of material as provided in Section . . ."

something or other of an act.

"Deliveries of material shall take priority. . . .in accordance with such determinations and the orders issued , . . .by the Office of Production Management."

Now, right on that, so that the thing is clear: they will issue the final priority orders; but that will be done after they have gone through one of three sections under them. Under these four there are three divisions—Production, Purchases, and Priorities. Now, when it comes to a question of priorities, this Division of Priorities, with a director of its own, will make the studies on it and make recommendation to this office of four people. Of course nine times out of ten, or more, the recommendation of the Division of Priorities, which has done all the special work on it, will be carried out and issued as an order by the Office of Production Management.

"Perform the functions and exercise the authorities vested in the President by Section 9 of the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940."

That's under the draft law which allows me to take over a plant in case the plant gets rambunctious; and then I tell the Office of Production Management, "You go ahead and take over the rambunctious plant and don't bother me with it."

"i. Serve as . . . liaison and channel of communication between the Advisory Commission to the Council of National Defense and the Departments of War and Navy with respect to the duties imposed . . . on the Commission by the following named acts."

And then follow one, two, three, four, five acts. That is a purely technical provision.

"3. The Director General, in association with the Associate Director General, and serving under the direction and supervision of the President, shall discharge and perform the administrative responsibilities and duties required to carry out the functions specified—"

those a to j functions

"subject to and in conformity with the policies and regulations (not inconsistent with such regulations as may be issued by the President)—"

that is only put in as part of the legal language

"—prescribed by the Office of Production Management."

I suppose the easiest way to put it is that these four people—the Office of Production Management, Knudsen, Hillman, and the two Secretaries—fix the policy, and then Knudsen and Hillman carry it out, just like a law firm that has a case; say there are two partners, and they carry it out as a law firm. Anybody that knows anything about management will realize that that is the practical way to handle that kind of a matter, just like a law firm with two main partners.

Q. Are they equals?

THE PRESIDENT: That's not the point; they're a firm. Is a firm equals? I don't know. See what I mean? Roosevelt & O'Connor was a law firm in New York; there were just two partners. I don't know whether we were equal or not. Probably we might have disagreed in regard to a catch question of that kind; but we never had a dispute or an argument.

Q. Everybody in town is wondering about that.

THE PRESIDENT: It's a silly thing to wonder about; it's a firm. In other words, if you had had an important case—I would not say what kind of case—and you had hired Roosevelt & O'Connor in the early days, you would not have asked that question.

Q. Mr. President, is this the firm of Roosevelt, Hillman & Knudsen?

THE PRESIDENT: I have nothing to do with this.

Q. What about the clause, "under direction of the President"?

THE PRESIDENT: That's only to conform with the law. I have nothing to do with it, whatsoever. There may be a question of policy, and they may say, What does the President think of this question with a pro and con on it? They may come in and ask me what I think of it. That will happen very rarely.

Q. Does the term "execute" apply to all their functions?


Q. Take a question of a contract for the Ford Motor Company; and suppose Mr. Knudsen believes Ford should get the contract because of speed reasons, and Mr. Hillman thinks Ford should not get the contract because of labor reasons; in your view, what should be done?

THE PRESIDENT: The answer is, Suppose that question did not arise, what would you say?

Q. You would expect agreement.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, of course.

Q. Why is it you don't want a single, responsible head?

THE PRESIDENT: I have a single, responsible head; his name is Knudsen &: Hillman.

Q. Two heads.

THE PRESIDENT: No, that's one head. In other words, aren't you looking for trouble? Would you rather come to one law firm, or two?

Q. I don't think that's comparable.

THE PRESIDENT: Just the same thing, exactly. Wait until you run into trouble.

Q. I would rather avoid trouble.

THE PRESIDENT: I think they will. They think they will—that's an interesting thing.

Q. Mr. President, as I understood the reading of your order, you said this agency—these two men—would fix policy; does that mean that in fixing policy they will decide what the Army and Navy, under the defense program, need?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, no; the Army and Navy are military things. The Army and Navy naturally would decide.

Q. I mean about fixing the policy—they will fix policy about the execution of the program?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, that's right. . . .

Q. When policy isn't involved, would Knudsen have Production and Hillman Labor?

THE PRESIDENT: You can't do it that way. Go back to the analogy of the law firm; suppose there are two partners; one may specialize in contract cases and the other in tort cases, of the two main divisions. That doesn't mean that they won't talk things over; and sometimes it may be a tort case that the contract fellow will take charge of, or it may be a contract case that the tort specialist will take charge of, if it happens to be something he is interested in, or down his alley. They will work on the case together.

Let's say that in any given contract or proposal to create a new plant, or something of that kind, there will be certain problems of materials, transportation, the setting up of the floor, the providing of the tools; and there will be other problems that will be concerned with various kinds of labor questions; I don't mean questions of strikes or hours or things like that—that's terribly narrow—but the problem, Are there enough riveters in that particular area? There is no hard-and-fast division; it is perfectly possible that Knudsen might happen to know more about the riveters in that area than Hillman happened to know. They will work together on it. That's a situation that is terribly difficult for some minds to get, but it's the way all good business is run.

Q. Mr. President, will any of the functions of the Advisory Commission remain outside the scope of the Office of Production Management?

THE PRESIDENT: I shall come to that later, because there are a couple of other orders in here that really cover that. The Advisory Commission goes right ahead on certain functions that have to be done; for instance, the problem of retail 'prices for the housewife; it still is very definitely a Government function to see that the housewife doesn't get gypped. Miss Elliott will continue to give advice to protect the housewives against this firm of Knudsen & Hillman. And the question of the price of copper—Leon Henderson will continue to give advice to Knudsen & Hillman to keep the price of copper down to a reasonable level. See what I mean?

Q. I was wondering whether that would be routed to the Office of Production Management or to you.

THE PRESIDENT: It goes up to the Office of Production Management.

Q. Mr. President, in your recent conversation did you find them in substantial agreement?

THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. [Continues reading and paraphrasing.]

"4. There shall be within the—"


"—the following and such other operating divisions as may be necessary from time to time":

Division of Production, Division of Purchases, and Division of Priorities.

The Division of Production— Mr. Jack Biggets is going in as the Director, the Division of Purchases, Mr. Donald Nelson is going in as Director; and the Division of Priorities, Mr. Stettinius is going in as Director. So all the places are filled; they are all ready, to start.

"Each division . . . shall be in charge of a director appointed by the Office of Production Management with the approval of the President.

"5. There shall be within the Office of Production Management a Priorities Board—"

this sets up a new Priorities Board to take the place of the old one

"—composed of six members. A chairman and three other members shall be appointed or designated by the President";

The Director General and Associate Director General are members ex officio. And on that "chairman and three other members," Stettinius comes in as chairman; Leon Henderson comes in on Price Control; Donald Nelson comes in as a member. The Priorities Board serves as an advisory body "from time to time as may be required by the Office of Production Management" to—

"—make findings and submit recommendations with respect to the establishment of priorities, placing of mandatory orders, assignment of preference ratings, allocation of deliveries, and other related matters. In making its findings and recommendations the Priorities Board shall take into account general social and economic considerations and the effect the proposed actions would have upon the civilian population.

"6. Within the limits of such funds as may be allocated to it by the President on the recommendation of the Bureau of the Budget, the Office of Production Management may employ necessary personnel and make provision for . . ." pen and ink.

"However, the Office of Production Management shall use insofar as practicable such statistical, informational, fiscal, personnel and other general business services and facilities as may be made available through the Office for Emergency Management or other agencies. . . ."

[The President did not read No. 7.]

And with that goes an Administrative Order, which is purely routine, on the Office for Emergency Management. This merely further sets up and modifies the old order of last September, a year ago—September 8, 1939—and as I say, 'it is merely to carry out the law. This Office for Emergency Management advises and assists the President, serves as a division in the Office, as a channel of communication in the Emergency Offices, and assists the President on or before termination of an emergency with respect to measures "needful to facilitate a restoration of normal administrative relations and to ameliorate the consequences of the emergency"; to perform such other duties as the President directs; the work and activities of the following named agencies are under it:—and then it mentions the Council of National Defense, 'the Defense Communications Board, the Office of Production Management.

Then there is the order by the Council of National Defense, consisting of the Secretaries of War, Navy, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor, revoking the old order for the purchase group and putting it in with the new Office. That is just a legal transfer of what is set up; and the other abolishes the old Priorities Board and sets up the new one.

Then they got out the "Statement by the Members of the Office of Production Management" (which I said I would give to you over here because it will save you all time—otherwise it would be given out over there) signed by Stimson, Knox, Knudsen, and Hillman, which is quite an important statement because it does mention the seriousness and the urgency of this emergency and asks for the help of everybody. They want cooperation from—it doesn't say so—but they want cooperation from the Press! (Laughter) It's a very good statement. . . .

Q. Will their offices be in the Federal Reserve Building?

THE PRESIDENT: I think so; I don't know.

Q. Reuters is carrying a dispatch out of Stockholm that American troops are occupying Greenland, or have occupied it.

THE PRESIDENT: New one on me! Must have been while I was asleep. (Laughter)

Q. Do you think you will be able to appoint an Ambassador to Britain this week?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I am feeling quite happy over it.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, The Seven Hundred and Eighth Press Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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