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Reorganization Act of 1939


The Reorganization Act of 1939 restructured the executive branch in the wake of the New Deal. From March 1936, Louis Brownlow, director of the Public Administration Clearing House (PACH) at the University of Chicago and head of the Public Administration Committee of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) led the President's Committee on Administrative Management, known as the Brownlow Committee. Political scientist Charles E. Merriam and public administration expert Luther Gulick assisted Brownlow in recommending ways to streamline federal agencies. They used policy ideas developed by the Brookings Institution, the PACH, the SSRC, and the New Deal planning agency (the National Resources Planning Board) to model public institutions along the lines of private firms. In January 1937 they sent recommendations to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

When Roosevelt introduced reorganization bills in Congress, he met a storm of opposition. Conservative Republicans and southern Democrats let liberal Democrats lead the fight to amend the reorganization bills. The Reorganization Act of 1939 included a series of compromises that watered down the original bills. Even so, the act encompassed the most far-reaching changes in the executive branch to that point in U.S. history. The president could hire six assistants, propose reorganization plans subject to congressional veto, and make economy in government a priority. On April 25, 1939, President Roosevelt submitted Reorganization Plan No. 1, which moved the Bureau of the Budget and the National Resources Planning Board into a newly created Executive Office of the President. Reorganization Plan No. 2, introduced on May 9, 1939, transferred other agencies within existing departments to allay fears of radical restructuring.

The Reorganization Act of 1939 remade the executive branch by making government operations more efficient in terms of structure, process, and cost. Investigations under presidents Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton would continue the ongoing attempt to streamline executive branch organization.



Arnold, Peri E. Making the Managerial Presidency: Comprehensive Reorganization Planning, 1905–1996, 2nd edition. 1998.

Berman, Larry. The Office of Management and Budget and the Presidency, 1921–1969. 1979.

Karl, Barry Dean. Executive Reorganization and Reform in the New Deal: The Genesis of Administrative Management, 1900–1939. 1963.

Polenberg, Richard. Reorganizing Roosevelt's Government: The Controversy over Executive Reorganization, 1936–1939. 1966.

Reagan, Patrick D. Designing a New America: The Origins of New Deal Planning, 1890–1943. 2000.

Patrick D. Reagan

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