Pre-1960s Attempts to Create a U.S. Department of Transportation – Part 5 – Truman Moves Public Roads and Maritime to Commerce

Pre-1960s Attempts to Create a U.S. Department of Transportation – Part 5 – Truman Moves Public Roads and Maritime to Commerce

August 27, 2020  | Jeff Davis

Last week, part four of this long-running series told the story of how the Hoover Commission in 1948 and 1949 reached its final conclusions – not to recommend the creation of a Cabinet-level Department of Transportation, as the Brookings Institution had advised, but instead to centralize as much of the various federal responsibilities for transportation as possible under the Commerce Department.

But the Truman Administration was not bound to take the advice of the Hoover Commission, nor was Congress bound to allow reorganization to move forward.

The Hoover Commission had finished filing its reports and recommendations with Congress by May 1949. But while the Commission had been working, transportation reorganization was on the minds of some on Capitol Hill and in the White House.

The Department of Transportation Act of 1947

During the special session of Congress called by President Truman in November 1947, Sen. Homer Capehart (R-IN) introduced a bill (S. 1812, 80th Congress), creating a Cabinet-level Department of Transportation. Two days later, Rep. Karl Stefan (R-NE) introduced an identical bill in the House as H.R. 4595 (80th Congress). The bills called for a DOT with a Secretary, an Under Secretary, three Assistant Secretaries, and a General Counsel. And the following would be transferred to the new Department:

  1. The Interstate Commerce Commission and its functions;
  2. The United States Maritime Commission and its functions;
  3. The Civil Aeronautics Authority, the Civil Aeronautics Board, the Civil Aeronautics Administration, the Office of Civil Aeronautics, the Weather Bureau, and the Inland Waterways Corporation, all in the Department of Commerce, together with their respective functions; and
  4. The Office of Defense Transportation in the Office for Emergency Management and its functions.

The bills called for the ICC, CAB and USMC to remain distinct entities within the DOT and for their rule-making (including rates), adjudication, and investigation functions to be carried out independently from the Secretary of Transportation, but the “budgeting, accounting, personnel, procurement and related routine management functions” of the three regulatory panels would be administered by the Secretary.

Notably, neither the Public Roads Administration nor the navigation functions of the Army Corps of Engineers were to be included in the DOT by these bills. This is probably because the drafter of the first bill, Senator Capehart, was a junior majority member of the Senate Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee. Had he included Public Roads and the Corps in the bill, there was a good chance that the Public Works Committee would have fought for primary jurisdiction over the bill. But by leaving them out, Capehart was able to get the Senate Parliamentarian to refer the bill to Interstate and Foreign Commerce, where the chairman appointed Capehart to lead an ad hoc subcommittee to consider the bill (as was the practice in those days).

The House bill was referred to the Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments.

Nothing happened to the bills in 1947 before Congress adjourned for the year, but at the start of the following session, the House committee asked the Bureau of the Budget for the Administration’s position on the legislation. This put the Bureau in an interesting position. Factions within the Bureau had continued to advocate for creation of a DOT even after President Truman declined to pursue a DOT via reorganization plan in May 1946. (Draft memos as late as March 28, 1947 to President Truman called for “Establishment of a Transportation Agency.”)

On February 25, 1948, Donald C. Stone, the Assistant Director for Administrative Management at the Bureau at that time, sent a memo to Director James Webb suggesting that the Bureau delay providing an opinion on the bills until after the Commerce Department had been consulted, since they stood to lose the most from DOT creation. Stone noted that “As a practical matter S. 1812 or H.R. 4595 will not get through this session. With respect to the issue raised by the current bills, I would be inclined to favor the consolidation of transportation activities and point to the harmful effects on Commerce Department of the establishment of a Transportation Department, without committing ourselves one way or the other.”[1] But he did suggest that if a DOT was created, agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Tariff Commission, the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department, or the Export-Import Bank might be moved under Commerce to make it whole and convert it into more of a Department of Commerce and Industry.

By April 22, the Bureau was ready to respond to the Hill, after sounding out other agencies (Office of Defense Transportation strongly supportive of the bill; Commerce urging further study and analysis; ICC, CAB and Maritime Commission opposed). The letter to the House committee chairman was noncommittal – it said that the goal of “greater administrative coordination of Federal transportation policies and programs” was “highly desirable” compared to “the presently scattered and fragmented distribution of responsibilities.”[2]

The Bureau also sent the chairman a seven-page staff memo (written by Ernie Williams, author of the draft 1946 reorganization plan creating a Federal Transportation Agency, who was on temporary loan from the Columbia University faculty), which the letter said “sets forth staff thinking on the various conflicting considerations to be resolved in achieving the objectives of H.R. 4595.”[3] In the memo, Williams pointed out that “The present system of partial compartmentation deprives the President and the Congress of an agency from which they can seek an over-all picture, produces special interest orientation in many of the individual agencies, and gives rise to competition between government agencies in lieu of the coordination that is so much to be desired.”[4]

In the Senate, Capehart did not bother to solicit Administration views by letter – he went ahead and held four days of hearing on his bill. Representatives of the Commerce Department, the CAB, the Maritime Commission, and the head of the Office of Defense Transportation (who was also an ICC member) all testified, as did a variety of rail, bus, air carrier, trucking, and waterway stakeholders. As indicated by the Bureau of the Budget, the regulatory commissions were all opposed, but ODT was a strong supporter. Amongst stakeholders, both major and short line railroads opposed the bill because they wanted the ICC to remain independent, and the airlines wanted intermodal coordination to be “brought about through voluntary action on the part of the carriers,” not by creation of a new Department.[5]

As predicted, neither panel took any action on the DOT bills in 1948. In the House, action would have been difficult because two of the members of the committee (ranking minority member Carter Manasco (D-AL) and Clarence Brown (R-OH)) were also members of the Hoover Commission and would have had to recuse themselves. In the Senate, the chairman of the full committee Wallace White (R-ME), was also Majority Leader, and may have been receptive to entreaties from Herbert Hoover not to take actions that would impinge on Hoover Commission work.

Extending the Reorganization Act

Implicit in the whole scheme of the Hoover Commission was that Congress would pass another Reorganization Act that would allow the President to implement many of the Commission’s recommendations without having to enact new laws. Reorganization Acts allowed Presidents to submit reorganization plans to Congress, which would automatically take effect within a certain time frame (usually 60 days), subject to “legislative veto” (one or both chambers, depending on the Act, could pass a resolution within that time period to prevent a particular reorganization plan from taking effect).

Authority under the Reorganization Act of 1945 had expired on March 31, 1948. As the new 81st Congress convened in January 1949 (with its new Democratic majorities), and as the Hoover Commission reports were coming in, President Truman sent a special message to Congress on January 17 requesting a new Reorganization Act, this time with permanent authority. Truman wrote that “the new reorganization act should be comprehensive in scope; no agency or function of the Executive Branch should be exempted from its operation. Such exemptions prevent the President and the Congress from deriving the full benefit of the reorganization plan procedure, primarily by precluding action on major organizational problems.”[6]

Truman also asked for Congress to move quickly, and the House of Representatives certainly did. On February 7, a new Reorganization Act was introduced in the House (H.R. 2361, 81st Congress), the House Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments held a markup and reported the bill, and the House of Representatives debated, amended and passed the bill – all in one day.

Crucially, Hoover Commission member Rep. Carter Manasco (D-AL), who was in line to be chairman of the House Expenditures panel, had lost his primary election in 1948 and was therefore not a member of the new 81st Congress. Instead, the new Reorganization Act was drafted and shepherded by William Dawson (D-IL), who had no particular reason to defer to the Hoover Commission. The bill that Dawson brought to the floor would have granted permanent Presidential reorganization authority, and required both Houses (not just one chamber) to vote to prevent any reorganization plan from taking effect, but it would have prevented any reorganization plan from creating or abolishing any Cabinet-level agencies, and it would have prevented any plan from having any effect on the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Interstate Commerce Commission, or the “National Military Establishment” (which would be renamed the Defense Department later that year).

Excluding the Pentagon from the Reorganization Act meant excluding the Army Corps of Engineers, which was undoubtedly the goal of the provision. In fall 1948, the various Hoover Commission task force reports that called for moving the Corps water program out of the Army had leaked to the media quickly, and water stakeholder groups were already pressuring Congress to protect the Corps. Hoover had gotten wind of Dawson’s likely action a few days beforehand, and during a telephone call with President Truman on February 6, Hoover “suggested that [Truman] take up the matter with the House and Senate leaders to see if such an exception [for the Pentagon] could be withdrawn before the bill came to the floor. He said again that he was in agreement with me and that he would do so at once.”[7]

If Truman did act, it was too late to affect the House bill. During debate, the House rejected a Hoffman (R-MI) amendment to sunset reorganization authority after Truman left office, a Halleck (R-IN) amendment to add every other independent regulatory commission or board to the list of entities exempt from the reach of reorganization plans, a Rogers (D-FL) amendment to make extra-clear that both chambers of Congress had to affirmatively approve any reorganization plan affecting the Corps of Engineers. A Tackett (D-AR) amendment to strike the exempt list from the bill failed, 58 yeas to 149 nays.

The House agreed to a Bailey (D-WV) amendment to add railroad labor and retirement boards to the exempt list, and rejected a Hoffman amendment to allow either chamber to veto a reorganization plan on its own. The bill then passed the House by a resounding vote of 358 to 9.

Hoover met with Truman two days later, steaming about the House’s exclusion of the Pentagon from the reach of reorganization. In the meeting, Hoover said that he thought the “telegraphic barrage upon the Senators, which had originated with the Army Engineers, came from the contractors whose contracts were about to expire or had expired…I urged that if this ‘bureau barrage’ were as successful in the Senate as it had been in the House, we then might as well give up any thought of reorganization.”[8] Hoover also “mentioned to the President that it was our view that all of the transportation agencies should be placed in the Department of Commerce. We had some discussion of the wretched functioning of the Maritime Commission in the business field. The President was in complete agreement on this point.”[9]

In the Senate, jurisdiction over a Reorganization Act was also in the Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments, but fortunately for Hoover, his fellow Commissioner John McClellan (D-AR) was the new chairman of that committee, and he slowed the process down until all of the Commission reports were in and the waters could calm a bit. His committee didn’t even report a bill (S. 526, 81st Congress) until April 7.

At Truman’s May 5 news conference, he said of the reorganization bill, “Well, I can’t force the Senate to pass it. I have asked the ‘Big Four’ [Congressional leaders] every Monday morning how soon they are going to pass the reorganization bill, and they always say right away; but if they don’t pass it right away we won’t have any business to do, I can tell you that, because that-you have just 60 days for the Congress to act when the reorganization plan goes up. With less than 60 days now, and Congress hasn’t time to act, why of course it doesn’t apply and you have to do it all over again next year.”[10]

Four days later, Truman sent Congress another special message on the subject, endorsing the Hoover Commission’s recommendations and urging quick enactment of the bill, citing the same 60-day clock that he mentioned in his press conference.[11] This pressure from the White House finally got the Senate to take up the bill on May 16.

McClellan’s bill gave no exemptions to any agency or commission from the reach of a reorganization plan – but the bill made it much easier for Congress to stop any particular plan by allowing either chamber to veto a plan – the House bill’s requirement that both chambers act together to veto a plan was removed. McClellan said in a statement that:

During the hearings it became apparent that if any exemptions or special treatment in the way of so-called one package reorganization-plan restriction were included, many agencies might finally be placed in this category. It was the opinion of the committee that, under these circumstances, it would be far preferable to extend full authority to the President to recommend any desirable reorganization regardless of the agency or function affected, and reserved to both the House and the Senate the right of disapproval by simple resolution.[12]

The Senate bill also set a four-year sunset on Presidential reorganization authority. The Senate quickly passed the bill by voice and then went to conference with the House on its bill. Conferees finished their work on June 16, and the Senate won all the major disputes with the House. The final bill exempted no agencies or boards from the scope of reorganization, allowed either chamber to veto any reorganization plan without action by the other chamber, and sunset reorganization authority in 1953. The conference report passed both chambers by voice vote on that day, and President Truman eagerly signed the bill into law (63 Stat. 203) on June 20. The stage was set for Truman to start sending reorganization plans to Congress.

The first round of reorganization plans

However, the Hoover Commission made a lot of recommendations. Some could be accomplished by reorganization plan, and many others would still require legislation. While Congress had been dithering on the Reorganization Act, the Bureau of the Budget had been analyzing the Hoover Commission recommendations and trying to determine which to submit to Congress as-is, which to refine, and which to reject.

The Bureau had been sending Hoover some draft plans, and Hoover wrote to Truman the day before the Act was signed into law with some thoughts. Hoover noted that Budget was diverging from the Commission’s plans where the Maritime Commission was concerned – while Budget wanted to reform the Commission’s business activities, Budget did not want to split maritime business and maritime regulations into two separate entities, as the Commission did. Hoover wrote that “the Commission was also unanimous in the opinion that these business functions had no place in a regulatory commission and that they should be transferred to the Department of Commerce…I believe you could both centralize the authority and transfer it to Commerce under the authority of the ‘Reorganization Act of 1949’…”[13]

Minutes after signing the Reorganization Act into law, Truman submitted the first seven reorganization plans to Congress under the terms of the new law. In order, they were:

  1. Establishing a Department of Welfare (out of the existing Federal Security Agency).
  2. Moving the Bureau of Employment Security from the Federal Security Agency to the Department of Labor.
  3. Reorganizing the Post Office Department.
  4. Transferring the National Security Council and the National Security Resources Board to the Executive Office of the President.
  5. Reorganizing the Civil Service Commission.
  6. Centralizing the business activities of the U.S. Maritime Commission.
  7. Moving the Public Roads Administration from the Federal Works Agency to the Commerce Department.

(An eighth plan, renaming the National Military Establishment as the “Department of Defense,” was submitted on July 18.)

In his message transmitting Plan No. 7, Truman wrote that Public Roads could not stay within the Works Agency because Works was being abolished, via a bill pending in Congress, with the bulk of it to be transformed into a new General Services Administration, and “A careful review of the structure of the executive branch reveals no other department or agency in which the Public Roads Administration can so appropriately be located.”[14] With regards to the maritime plan, Truman’s message said “This will provide more businesslike administration and help to overcome the delays, backlogs, and operating difficulties which have hampered the agency. At the same time by freeing the members of the Commission of much detail, the plan will enable them to concentrate on major questions of policy and program and thereby will obtain earlier and better considered resolution of the basic problems of the agency.”[15]

On the Hill, the 60-day clock was ticking, after which the initial reorganization plans would take effect unless vetoed by either the House or Senate. With the first seven plans set to take effect on August 19, resolutions disapproving Plans Nos. 1, 2, and 7 were introduced in Congress. The Senate vetoed Plan No. 1 (Department of Welfare) on August 16 by a vote of 60 to 32.[16] The House and Senate failed to veto Plan No. 2 (Bureau of Employment Security), the House by voice vote on August 11[17] and the Senate by a vote of 32 to 57 on August 17.[18]

No one in Congress introduced a resolution disapproving Plan No. 6 (Maritime Commission), but Senator Carl Hayden (D-AZ) had introduced S. Res. 155 (81st Congress), disapproving Plan No. 7 (Public Roads Administration). Hayden’s resolution came to the Senate floor later on August 17, and Hayden pointed to the Hoover Commission’s conflicting task force reports and suggested that the Commission’s final report “is based on the fundamental fallacy that the Bureau of Public Roads is a transportation agency rather than a construction agency…It provides a surface over which transportation may be carried, but does not engage in transportation itself. It is an engineering organization which determines what kind of road should be had, where the road should be located, the degree of curvature, the kind of surface, and many kindred questions. That is construction. In my judgment Mr. Moses and his task force were correct in assigning that work to a proposed works agency.”[19]

Hayden also argued that Plan No. 7 was null and void on a technicality. The plan, submitted on June 20, called for moving Public Roads from the Federal Works Agency to the Commerce Department – but on June 30, Truman signed the new law (63 Stat. 377) abolishing the Federal Works Agency and creating the General Services Administration. The new law took effect on July 1, and if the Federal Works Agency no longer existed, could a reorganization plan move Public Roads out of a nonexistent entity?

The legal issue was of such importance that the Acting Attorney General had to issue a formal legal opinion for the President on August 13 stating that the Plan No. 7 was indeed valid, the subsequent abolition of the Works Agency notwithstanding, and would take effect unless vetoed by Congress.[20] Hayden disagreed with the Attorney General’s opinion and raised the specter of right-of-way condemnations across the country being nullified by courts across the land if Public Roads was moved.

However, after brief debate, the Senate voted against Hayden’s veto resolution, 40 yeas to 47 nays, allowing Plan No. 7 to take effect.[21] Ten of the thirteen members of the Public Works Committee, which had jurisdiction over Public Roads, voted to veto the plan. The plan took effect on August 20 and is still printed in the United State Code today.

The second round of reorganization plans

Hoover did not want Truman to stop at just eight reorganization plans in 1949. He wrote letters to Truman and Budget Director Frank Pace on July 4 urging Truman to implement the consolidation of all transportation agencies under Commerce via reorganization plan. He told Truman, “in order that the Congress should appreciate fully the objective, all these transfers should be submitted in one ‘plan.’”[22] He even had his staff draft a reorganization plan that would fully implement all of the remaining transportation-consolidation-in-Commerce recommendations of the Commission and sent it to Pace.[23]

Truman sent Hoover an immediate and brief  I’ll-take-that-under-advisement letter on July 6, but on July 14, he responded more fully, saying that his top priority had been to get a GSA established, which necessitated moving Public Roads first, but that “I intend to give careful consideration to the other moves you have recommended in this area in formulating reorganization plans for submission in 1950.”[24]

As part of that careful consideration, on August 30, Truman wrote a letter to the Secretary of Commerce asking him to prepare a report “outlining the major policy issues which need to be resolved at this time in order to achieve maximum effectiveness and consistency of Federal programs in the transportation field” and to get the report to him by December 1, 1949.[25]

That report (for which Ernie Williams was, once again, a consultant), was sent to Truman on December 1, and hewed to Williams’ distinction between promotional activities and regulatory activities, but it shied away from discussing governmental reorganization matters (aside from a mention of possibly consolidating the three transportation regulatory commissions, as proposed by Brookings).[26]

Government reorganization was still the Budget Bureau’s bailiwick, and while Commerce was working on the policy study, they were working on a reorganization memo (which they again outsourced to Ernie Williams). An early draft was complete by December 5, and the final version that we could find in the Bureau’s files was dated January 3. The final memo, “Reorganization of Federal Transportation Activities,” made a lot of points that are still valid, to some extent, today:

The Federal Government is spending a lot of money on transportation. Much of this spending, however, is to promote one form of transportation without regard to others. Much of the money has been spent on a rescue or salvage basis to stave off economic collapse; it has not always been calculated to achieve a financially solvent, progressive and well-balanced transportation service. The result has been a steadily increasing Federal expenditure with the end not yet in sight.[27]

The memo concluded “Clearly what is needed is a consolidation of the promotional functions relating to transportation in a single agency where these strands of policy can be woven together into an integrated promotional policy which makes sense from the national point of view…The recent transfer of the Public Roads Administration to Commerce has brought together in that agency the responsibility for highway and aviation promotion, in addition to the more general transportation functions of the Weather Bureau and the Coast and Geodetic Survey. These functions provide a nucleus, around which a coordinated transportation agency could be developed.”[28]

The memo concluded that the Coast Guard, and the promotional activities of the Maritime Commission, should indeed be brought into the Commerce Department.

Truman concurred in the Maritime recommendation, but not that for the Coast Guard, and he also rejected Hoover’s pleas to move NACA and the non-regulatory functions of the ICC into Commerce. On March 13, 1950, Truman submitted 21 new reorganization plans to Congress, the last of which – Plan. No. 21 – broke up the Maritime Commission, creating a new Maritime Board (housed under Commerce but not answerable to the Secretary) to handle regulatory and subsidy concerns, and creating a new Maritime Administration (within Commerce) to handle everything else. Plan No. 21 also created the new office of Under Secretary of Commerce for Transportation, as Hoover recommended.

Truman’s message said “…with the addition of the functions of the Maritime Commission, the [Commerce] Department will have jurisdiction over the major portion of the operating aspects of the programs of the Government relating to air, highway, and water transportation, as well as over the development and coordination of policies affecting the Nation’s transportation system as a whole.”[29]

(Hoover was not happy in general with Truman’s 1950 plans. He told a friend on March 16 that “Truman, in presenting the Hoover plans to Congress, has so altered their contexts as to ruin the ultimate results.”[30] And as for the Hoover Commission’s most controversial proposal – to move the Army Corps of Engineers to the Interior Department and combine it with the Bureau of Reclamation – the Truman Administration never submitted it to Congress.)

Senator Ralph Brewster (R-ME) introduced a veto resolution for Plan No. 21 (S. Res. 265, 81st Congress) on April 27. McClellan’s committee held two days of hearings on the resolution, and on the underlying plan on May 8-9. In addition to Brewster, the Commerce Secretary, the head of the Bureau of the Budget, and the head of the Maritime Commission, and representatives of a dozen transportation stakeholder groups all testified.

A Commerce Committee staff memo dated May 5 explained where the opposition to Plan No. 21 was coming from:

At the hearing, Brewster argued “if you have this Commission relegated to a subordinate division in the Department of Commerce, its entire prestige, its direct contact with the President through the Chairman, is gone.”[31] Had Herbert Hoover been present, he probably would have responded “that is the whole point” – a major theme of the Hoover Commission’s work was to reduce the number of entities that reported directly to the President to a manageable level. The very first report of the Commission included this general recommendation: “The numerous agencies of the executive branch must be grouped into departments as nearly as possible by major purposes in order to give a coherent mission to each Department.”[32]

Brewster also said that he saw (correctly, as it turns out) that moving the USMC under Commerce was a stepping-stone to “the development of a Department of Transportation within the Department of Commerce, and it would result ultimately in the concentration of the whole transportation field,” which he said was of such importance that it should not be done piecemeal via a single-agency reorganization plan.[33]

The Director of the Budget Bureau then testified in favor of the plan, saying it “provides a bipartisan board to administer the regulatory and subsidy determination functions which need the deliberation of a multiple body, and it establishes an Administrator to have charge of the operating and business-type functions which call for administration by a single individual. At the same time, the plan reduces the number of agencies reporting directly to the President…”[34]

McClellan then honed in on what he said was the source of the “principal opposition”[35] to the plan – that while the plan left subsidy determinations with the Board, it called for those plans to be exercised under the “guided by the general polices of the Secretary of Commerce.” The Commerce Secretary, Charles Sawyer, then testified in favor of the plan, and pointed out that the plan said the Board was to give subsidies “guided by” his policies, not “subject to” – “In my opinion, the worded ‘guided’ is directory and not mandatory, if I may use those two words to interpret the language that is used. In other words, an effort is made here to see that the Board in their subsidy functions be guided by the policies of the Secretary. My interpretation is that they are not required to follow the policies of the Secretary.”[36]

The chairman of the Maritime Commission, Philip Fleming, testified in favor of the plan (though the Commission had not voted to give the plan any formal support), but Senator Brewster read into the record a copy of a letter that Fleming and three other Commission members had written to Truman’s chief of staff on February 8 in response to Commerce’s December 1949 transportation policy statement opposing some maritime proposals of that plan – proposals which wound up in Plan No. 21. In particular, the Commissioners said that the “distinction between regulatory and promotional activities is unrealistic and impractical.”[37] And the hearing record also included direct opposition by the USMC chairman to the Hoover Commission recommendations back in July 1949.[38]

Once the stakeholders started testifying, opposition to the whole concept of unifying transportation functions of government became apparent. The head of the Transportation Association of America said “We believe that if the transportation of this country is to be ruled by the executive branch of government, and if Congress is to delegate that power to a single individual, that the time has arrived for the people of this country to pass on such a move in a national election. It is that grave.”[39] Others expressing opposition to Plan. No. 21 included the National Industrial Traffic League, the Association of American Railroads, the American Short Line Railroad Association, the Shipbuilders Council of America, the American Waterways Operators, and the Freight Forwarders Institute.

On May 19, the privileged veto resolution came to the Senate floor. Brewster led debate in support of the resolution, while Warren Magnuson (D-WA) led the opposition. Magnuson let loose on the current Maritime Commission: “Other than the housekeeping matters, so-called, all other matters will be administered by the independent Maritime Board, to consist of three members, rather than five. Experience has proved that five members are too many, because the present Maritime Commission, composed of five members, has demonstrated that it is entirely incompetent to handle all the complex details relating to our maritime affairs. I have known of times when there would be so many personal feuds going on between the five members of the Maritime Commission that they could not even have a meeting at which to determine policy.”[40]

Magnuson also argued that “we are never going to reorganize the Government if we under- take to raise hobgoblins as to what might happen as a result of the one thing we propose to do. I think we can take those things into consideration, but if we consider the American merchant marine by itself and forget about the other things, I say this is a good plan. In general, it follows the Hoover report. The Hoover report did not specify many of the details, because naturally complex problems are involved…I hope that the Senate will not reject this plan. To those who give lip service to the Hoover Commission’s report, and who profess to believe in reorganization, I say here is a chance to do something toward a more efficient administration, not only of the subsidies which the taxpayers pay, but a more efficient administration of the basic concepts and basic approaches of the 1936 Maritime Act.”[41]

At the end of debate, despite all of the opposition expressed at the hearings, the veto resolution came up far short of passage, failing by a vote of just 14 yeas to 59 nays.[42] Reorganization Plan No. 21 took effect on May 24, 1950 (see here starting on p. 3178).

As a result, from mid-1950 through the end of the Truman Administration, the Commerce Department organization chart looked like this:

Filling the office of Under Secretary for Transportation, and fulfilling its promise, proved difficult. On the day that Plan No. 21 took effect, Truman nominated Philip B. Fleming, the chairman of the now-defunct Maritime Commission, to be Under Secretary. (This may explain why Fleming acted like the good soldier he was at the Senate hearing on the reorganization plan.) Fleming was confirmed on July 21, 1950, but resigned a little less than a year to be appointed Ambassador to Costa Rica. His successor was CAB chairman (and former CAA head) Delos Rentzel, who was confirmed in April 1951 but then resigned to take a job in the private sector in November 1951.

It took until May 1952 for another appointee, Jack Garrett Scott from the National Association of Bus Operators, to be confirmed (in the interim, the Deputy Under Secretary, a former railroad executive, served in an acting capacity). But, of course, Scott only served eight months before having to leave at the end of the Truman Administration. As a result, in two-and-a-half years, a maritime man, an aviation man, a railroad man, and a bus man took turns as Under Secretary, with none of them staying long enough to unify the culture of the various agencies or develop a long-range transportation policy.

This series will conclude at some point by examining the until-now-untold story of just how close the Eisenhower Administration came to creating a Department of Transportation in his second term.


[1] Memorandum from Donald C. Stone to Budget Director James Webb entitled “Bureau Position on Transportation Bill,” February 25, 1948 p. 2.

[2] Bureau of the Budget. “Suggested letter to chairman of House Committee re HR 4595.”

[3] Ibid.

[4] Bureau of the Budget. “Staff Memorandum – H.R. 4595, A Bill to Establish a Department of Transportation and For Other Purposes,” April 21, 1948 p. 2.

[5] U.S. Senate. Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce. Unpublished hearings on S. 1812, Department of Transportation, volume 3 (March 23, 1948) p. 193.

[6] Harry S. Truman, “Special Message to the Congress Requesting Permanent Reorganization Legislation – January 17, 1949.” Reprinted in Public Papers of the Presidents, 1949 as document no. 12 beginning on page 102.

[7] Herbert Hoover, “Hoover Notes on a Telephone Call With Truman, February 6, 1949.” Original in Hoover Library, reprinted in Timothy Walch and Dwight M. Miller, Herbert Hoover and Harry S. Truman: A Documentary History (Worland: Highway Plains Publishing, 1992) pp. 149-150.

[8] Herbert Hoover, “Hoover Notes of a Meeting with Truman, February 9, 1949.” Original in Hoover Library, reprinted in Walch and Miller, pp. 150-151.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Harry S. Truman, “The President’s News Conference of May 5, 1949.” Reprinted in Public Papers of the Presidents, 1949 as document no. 93 beginning on page 241.

[11] Harry S. Truman, “Special Message to the Congress on Reorganization of the Executive Branch of Government – May 9, 1949.” Reprinted in Public Papers of the Presidents, 1949 as document no.94 beginning on page 244.

[12] Congressional Record (bound edition), May 16, 1949 p. 6229.

[13] Letter from Herbert Hoover to Harry S. Truman, June 19, 1949. Original in Truman Library, reprinted in Walch and Miller, pp. 164-168.

[14] Harry S. Truman. “Message to Congress Transmitting Reorganization Plan 7 of 1949: Public Roads Administration – June 20, 1949.” Reprinted in Public Papers of the Presidents, 1949 as document no. 134 beginning on page 321.

[15] Harry S. Truman. “Message to Congress Transmitting Reorganization Plan 6 of 1959: United States Maritime Commission – June 20, 1949.” Reprinted in Public Papers of the Presidents, 1949 as document no. 133 beginning on page 319.

[16] Adoption of S. Res. 147 (81st Congress), Congressional Record (bound edition), August 16, 1949 p. 11560.

[17] Rejection of H. Res. 301 (81st Congress), Congressional Record (bound edition), August 11, 1949 p. 11314.

[18] Rejection of S. Res. 151 (82st Congress), Congressional Record (bound edition), August 17, 1949 p. 11625.

[19] Congressional Record (bound edition), August 17, 1949 p. 11626.

[20] Reprinted in the Congressional Record (bound edition), August 16, 1949 pp. 11565-11567.

[21] Rejection of S. Res. 155 (81st Congress), Congressional Record (bound edition), August 17, 1949 p. 11631.

[22] Letter from Herbert Hoover to Harry S. Truman, July 4, 1949. Original in Truman Library, reprinted in Walch and Miller, pp. 171-172.

[23] Attachment to a letter from Robert L.L. McCormick to Frank Pace, July 13, 1949, found in the Hoover Commission files in the National Archives at College Park, Maryland.

[24] Letter from Harry S. Truman to Herbert Hoover, July 14, 1949. Original in Hoover Library, reprinted in Walch and Miller, pp. 173-174.

[25] Letter from Harry S. Truman to the Secretary of Commerce, August 30, 1949. Reprinted in U.S. Department of Commerce, Issues Involved in a Unified and Coordinated Federal Program For Transportation – A Report to the President from the Secretary of Commerce, December 1, 1949.

[26] U.S. Department of Commerce, Issues Involved in a Unified and Coordinated Federal Program For Transportation – A Report to the President from the Secretary of Commerce, December 1, 1949 pp. 41-42.

[27] Bureau of the Budget, “Reorganization of Federal Transportation Activities,” January 3, 1950, pp. 1-2.

[28] Ibid pp. 7-8.

[29] Harry S. Truman, “Special Message to Congress Summarizing the New Reorganization Plans – March 13, 1950.” Reprinted in Public Papers of the Presidents, 1950 as document no. 53 beginning on page 195.

[30] Edgar Rickard diary entry, March 16, 1950. Original in Hoover Library, reprinted in Walch and Miller, p. 177.

[31] U.S. Senate. Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments. Reorganization Plan No. 21 of 1950 (Hearings on S. Res. 265, Disapproving Reorganization Plan No. 21 (United States Maritime Commission)), May 8 and 9, 1950 p. 19.

[32] Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government. First Report of the Commission on the Executive Branch of the Government. Printed as House Document No. 55, 81st Congress, 1st Session, p. 34.

[33] Hearings on S. Res. 265, p. 20.

[34] Ibid p. 29.

[35] Ibid p. 30.

[36] Ibid p. 43.

[37] Ibid p. 62.

[38] Ibid p. 67.

[39] Ibid p. 73.

[40] Congressional Record (bound edition), May 19, 1950, p. 7314.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Congressional Record (bound edition), May 19, 1950, p. 7321.

Share

Related Articles

House Committee Asked to Propose New Improvements to USDOT Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program

House Committee Asked to Propose New Improvements to USDOT Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program

On Wednesday, September 23, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a hearing to discuss the impacts of – and...

Truman and Transportation

Truman and Transportation

August is the time for getting caught up on long-term projects, and this week marks the conclusion of my looks back at how Harry S....

Pre-1960s Attempts to Create a U.S. Department of Transportation – Part 5 - Truman Moves Public Roads and Maritime to Commerce

Pre-1960s Attempts to Create a U.S. Department of Transportation – Part 5 - Truman Moves Public Roads and Maritime to Commerce

Last week, part four of this long-running series told the story of how the Hoover Commission in 1948 and 1949 reached its final conclusions...

January 1950 BoB Transportation Reorganization Memo

January 1950 BoB Transportation Reorganization Memo

This is a PDF of a Bureau of the Budget internal memorandum dated January 3, 1950 entitled "Reorganization of Federal Transportation...

Bridging the Gap: Sustaining UAS Progress While Pursuing a Regulatory Framework

Bridging the Gap: Sustaining UAS Progress While Pursuing a Regulatory Framework

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) offer a stunning range of capabilities to connect people with goods and services that may normally be...

Webinar: Sustaining UAS Progress While Pursuing a Permanent Regulatory Framework

Webinar: Sustaining UAS Progress While Pursuing a Permanent Regulatory Framework

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) can potentially offer a wide range of capabilities and connect people with goods and services. They can...

Webinar: Ballots for Buses: Local Option Transportation Sales Taxes in California

Webinar: Ballots for Buses: Local Option Transportation Sales Taxes in California

California counties have held nearly 100 elections over four decades to consider imposing local option sales taxes (LOSTs) to fund...

Guest Op-Ed: Transportation and Health: America’s Longstanding Disconnect

Guest Op-Ed: Transportation and Health: America’s Longstanding Disconnect

Ross Peterson is a consultant and subject matter expert with over fifteen-years' experience in public and community transportation programs...

Guest Op-Ed: The Role of Transportation in Improving America's Health

Guest Op-Ed: The Role of Transportation in Improving America's Health

The Eno Center for Transportation’s publication of my white paper, Increasing Access to Essential Health Functions: The Role of...

Labor Unions Ask USDOT for Mandated Passenger Face Masks

Labor Unions Ask USDOT for Mandated Passenger Face Masks

On July 27, Larry Willis, the President of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), sent a letter on behalf of TTD’s 33...

The Role of Transportation in Improving America's Health

The Role of Transportation in Improving America's Health

Transportation access is one of the fundamental objectives of the public sector as a means to provide access to jobs, services, recreation,...

Administration Issues Final Changes to NEPA Implementing Regulations

Administration Issues Final Changes to NEPA Implementing Regulations

The Trump Administration has issued the final rule updating the regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for...

Be Part of the Conversation
Sign up to receive news, events, publications, and course notifications.
No thanks