Reorganizing the Executive Branch in the 20th Century: Landmark Commissions
Report for Congress
Reorganizing the Executive Branch
in the 20 Century:
June 10, 2002
Ronald C. Moe
Specialist in Government Organization and Management
Government and Finance Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Reorganizing the Executive Branch in the 20 Century:
This report studies the work and results of a number of 20th century commissions and
other similar bodies that have had executive organization and reorganization as
central to their mandate. For purposes of this report, these reorganization exercises
are referred to as “landmark commissions.”
Context for discussion of landmark commissions is provided by a review and
analysis of six crucial historical periods, such as the Progressive Era, in the evolution
of the executive branch. The selected landmark commissions, beginning with the
Keep Commission in 1905 and concluding with the National Performance Review
(1993-2000) are described and analyzed in chronological order.
Each commission and its work is founded on philosophical principles of
management, some of which are made explicit while others have to be interpreted
from texts and actions. The prevailing consensus on organizational managementth
principles changed considerably during the course of the 20 century and these
changing principles and assumptions are analyzed.
Highlighted is the current debate over which set of principles should form the
basis for future organizational design and management in the executive branch. The
debate, in its essence, is between those believing that the governmental and private
sectors are distinctive in their characteristics, based on legal theory, and ought to
kept separate (“constitutionalists”), and those who believe that the governmental and
private sectors are essentially alike and ought to be organized and managed
according to generic principles with an economic foundation (“entrepreneurs”).
The report concludes with a discussion of the future, if any, for the landmark
commission approach to organizational management in the executive branch.
Evolving Theoretical Foundations
Of the Executive Branch........................................4
The Federalist Creation.........................................4
Organizational Management in the 19th Century......................7
Progressivism and Its Values....................................10
Rise and Decline of Orthodoxy..................................13
Heterodoxy: Deconstructing the State.............................15
New Public Management: Entrepreneurs Versus Constitutionalists......16
Keep Commission (1905-1909)..................................21
Organization, Support Staff, and Financing....................23
Reports and Recommendations..............................23
Results and Assessment....................................24
President’s Commission on Economy and Efficiency (1910-1913)......25
Organization, Staff Support, and Funding......................27
Reports and Recommendations..............................27
Results and Assessment....................................28
Joint Committee on Reorganization (1921-1924)....................29
Organization, Staff Support, and Funding......................33
Reports and Recommendations..............................34
Results and Assessment....................................35
Reorganization Authority (1930-1933)............................35
President’s Committee on Administrative Management (Brownlow
Organization, Support Staff, and Financing....................40
Reports and Recommendations..............................41
Results and Assessment....................................42
Reorganization Authority: 1939, 1945 Acts........................43
First Hoover Commission (1947-1949)............................45
Organization, Staff Support, and Finances.....................49
Reports and Recommendations..............................50
Results and Assessment....................................52
Reorganization Act of 1949.....................................55
Second Hoover Commission (1953-1955)..........................57
Organization, Staff Support, and Finances.....................60
Reports and Recommendations..............................61
Results and Assessment....................................62
Study Task Forces on Executive Reorganization (1953-1968)..........64
President’s Advisory Council on Executive Organization(Ash Council)
Organization, Staff Support, and Finances.....................69
Reports and Recommendations..............................69
Results and Assessment....................................71
President’s Reorganization Project (1977-1979).....................73
Organization, Staff Support, and Finances.....................76
Reports and Recommendations..............................77
Results and Assessment....................................78
Reorganization Act of 1977.....................................79
President’s Private Sector Survey on Cost Control(Grace Commission)
Organization, Staff Support, and Finances.....................85
Reports and Recommendations..............................85
Results and Assessment....................................86
Reorganization Act of 1984.....................................88
National Performance Review (1993-1997) National Partnership for
Reinventing Government (1997-2000)....................90
Organization, Staff Support, and Finances.....................95
Results and Assessment....................................97
The Future of Reorganization Commissions...........................101
Reorganizing the Executive Branch in the
20 Century: Landmark Commissions
The 20th century was rich in changes to the institutions and processes that together
comprise the American administrative state. This very richness of subject matter,
however, calls for some generalizations to help explain the events and trends that
occupied the attention of successive Congresses, scholars, and generations of
practitioners. In its effort to develop such statements of generality this report will
study the work and results of a number of commissions and other similar bodies that
have had executive organization and reorganization as part of their mandate. For
purposes of this report, these reorganization exercises are referred to collectively as
Viewing landmark commissions sequentially and exploring the philosophical
norms and values guiding their work is only one of several possible approaches to
the extensive subject of executive branch organization in the recently completed
century. The landmark commission approach clearly emphasizes institutional issues
and will concentrate on structural changes resulting from the commissions’
recommendations and subsequent implementation. It is recognized, however, that
the term “reorganization” covers much more than structural changes. Laws may be
passed to achieve policy or enforcement objectives and indirectly reorganize internal
department and agency structure in the process. This was certainly the case when
Congress passed the Inspectors General Act of 1978, an act that altered the internal
structure of agencies and the behavior of agency officials. This broad definition of
the term reorganization, however, will be largely avoided to facilitate attention to the
successive landmark commissions as guideposts through this century of
Context for discussion of landmark commissions in the 20th century is provided
by a review and analysis of six crucial periods in the evolution of the organization
of the executive branch of government:
!the Founders and the political theory that informed their
organizational decisions in 1789;
!the interplay of the President and Congress in executiveth
organizational management during the 19 century;
!the Progressive Movement of the 20th century’s first decades and its
!the rise and decline of “orthodoxy” in organizational management
of the executive branch;
!the interregnum period (1972-1992) with its doctrinal heterodoxy;
!the emergence of a New Public Management paradigm and its
The selected landmark commissions of the recently completed century,
beginning with the Keep Commission in 1905, are described and analyzed in
chronological order.1 In tracing the history of these commissions, the interplay of
conflicting values appear with regularity. Should the principal supervisor of the
administrative agencies be the President, or Congress, or should the President and
Congress be co-managers? Should commission recommendations serve to encourage
administrative integration and centralization or the values of agency particularity and
decentralization? Should commission recommendations seek to give a greater or
lesser role for government in the social and economic life of the Nation? Successive
commission reports and recommendations provide evidence of the recurring nature
of these and other related value issues.
With the advent of the 21st century, the question reasonably arises: Has the age
of reorganizational commissions passed? Or, is there a continuing need for periodic
reviews and realignments of the basic organizational structure of government?
In nearly every Congress, legislation is introduced to establish a commission
with a broad mandate. The 106th Congress, the last Congress of the 20st century,
proved to be no exception in this respect. Senator Fred Thompson, then chairman
of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, introduced the “Government for the
21st Century Act” (S. 2306). The legislation, which did not receive congressional
action, sought to establish a nine-member Commission on Government Restructuring
and Reform appointed jointly by the President and congressional leadership. The
purpose of the Commission was to study the entire government and make
recommendations “to reduce the cost and increase the effectiveness of the Executive
Branch.” The Commission was to submit its recommendations on restructuring by
December 1, 2002. A period of public comment was to follow. Then, the
Commission was to prepare a final report to Congress in a form that would permit
its recommendations to have been included in a single implementation bill and
1 Two definitional caveats are necessary at the outset. The term “landmark commission” is
intended to be generic in application. That is, many of the comprehensive efforts to
reorganize the executive branch have not been proposed or implemented by “commissions”
per se. In some instances, the President has simply appointed a committee to advise him, as
with the Brownlow Committee in 1937, and in other instances no official commission or
committee was appointed, as with the recent National Performance Review (NPR), headed
by Vice President Al Gore, that rejected the commission option. Nonetheless, in the absence
of a more comprehensive and understandable term, landmark commissions will be used to
generalize about the behavior of successive comprehensive efforts to reorganize part or all
of the executive branch. Second, the term “reform” will be used sparingly. In a scholarly
context, the term has little value as it immediately evokes a normative interpretative and
evaluative meaning. Presumably, reforms are good and opposition to these reforms is bad.
Such normative judgments contribute to the difficulties encountered in generalizing about
major trends in governmental administration.
referred to the appropriate committees for consideration. An “expedited procedures”
process for floor consideration and mandatory voting was included. As indicated,
Congress chose not to act on the proposal.
Are reorganization panels now passé? Or, is the time approaching when a new
comprehensive commission will be viewed as essential? Have the events since
September 11, 2001 changed the playing field for government organization and
management? Is organizational management a separate field of study and endeavor,
or should it be viewed as properly tied and subordinate to the budgetary process, as
some argue is presently the case? To what degree should departments and agencies
be able to initiate organizational changes on their own authority or take the lead with
their oversight committees in Congress? Should organizational management be
ultimately placed under the purview of a central management agency which applies
certain principles and general management laws across the board, with the burden
of proof for exception resting on the appealing agency? In short, what political,
legal, and administrative values should prevail in the 21st century? What can theth
experience of the landmark commissions of the 20 century tell us about what to
expect as the nation continues down the path of democratic governance in the new
Evolving Theoretical Foundations
Of the Executive Branch
The commissions studied in this report contributed to the evolution of the
executive branch of the federal government. Each was concerned principally, if not
exclusively, with the organization and management of the executive branch. The
commissions were temporary bodies, normally unassociated with the legislative
institutions of government. They did not conduct their proceedings in an apolitical
environment, however, nor were they able to ignore the work and ideas of those who
had trod this path before. Most especially, these commissions were beholden to the
Framers of the Constitution and to an early 20th century political movement,
Progressivism. It is therefore necessary to begin by studying the evolving theoretical
foundations of the executive branch to fully understand the role of landmark
The Federalist Creation
While the classical works on political theory and government were useful to the
Framers in developing a coherent political philosophy upon which to construct a
“democratic republic,”2 the reading of Montesquieu, Locke, and Blackstone was of
little assistance or guidance in the weighty matters of organizing and administering
the executive powers of a new government. The Founders turned away from the
books for guidance in organizational matters, and reflected instead upon their own
experience in trying to wage the Revolutionary War against a global power, and in
attempting to manage the national confederation of states after the close of hostilities
in 1781.3 Their personal experiences became the crucible for political thought. This
was particularly true for Alexander Hamilton, who had found his administrative4
experiences during the Confederational period to be extremely frustrating.
It should be noted that while questions regarding how best to organize the
executive branch were raised at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the
Constitution itself is nearly silent on organizational matters.5 The paucity of
language in the Constitution respecting organizational matters should not be
2 Martin Diamond, The Founding of the Democratic Republic, (Itasca, IL: F.E. Peacock
3 Ralph Clark Chandler, “Public Administration Under the Articles of Confederation,” Public
Administration Quarterly, vol. 13, Winter 1990, pp. 433-50.
4 Henry Cabot Lodge, Alexander Hamilton, (New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 1917), chapter
5 There are only two indirect references to the question of administrative organization in the
Constitution; namely, that the President “...may require the Opinion, in writing, of the
principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any subject relating to the
duties of their respective Offices,” and that “the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment
of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law,
or in the Heads of Departments.” Article II, sec. 2, cl. 1 and 2.
interpreted, however, as either lack of interest or concern. Quite the contrary, there
was a lively concern for organizational matters. There was recognition that the new
government would fail if it was unable to generate energy in the executive branch.
In Federalist #70, Hamilton asserted:
Energy in the Executive is a leading character... of good government.... A
feeble Executive implies a feeble execution of government. A feeble execution
is but another phrase for a bad execution.... All men of sense will agree in the
necessity of an energetic Executive.
The Framers, in defending the Constitution, emphasized both its innovative
character and its institutional continuity. Pre-eminent among the many innovative
provisions of the Constitution was the creation of an independent presidency, the
term independent meaning in this instance not being dependent for selection or
maintenance upon the legislature. The President was given a different electoral base
from Congress and also several specific powers, such as the power to veto
legislation, to protect itself from an overbearing Congress. It should not be forgotten
that their fear was less about a too powerful President than about a too-dependent
President, one who would be dominated by Congress which controlled the money.
As for continuity, not only were the states kept intact geographically, but their
authorities remained in large part unaltered. Even most laws of the Confederation,
such as the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, were retained. As one student of early
administrative history observed: “The continuity between the old and new systems
was made plain by the fact both [John] Jay and [Henry] Knox, secretaries of Foreign
Affairs and War, respectively, continued in their offices, with modifications, under6
the new government.”
Reflecting upon the writings and decisions of the Framers with respect to the
administrative elements of the new government, one is struck by their willingness to
break new ground.7 Rarely in their discourse is there reference to the prevailing
administrative systems in Great Britain or France, the two major nation-states of the
period. This is explained in part because the new government of the United States
was created before (although just before) the French Revolution, and thus tended to
reflect the values of the 18th century Enlightenment, rather than the values of the 19th
century social revolutionaries. More to the point, however, neither Great Britain nor
France had “modern” administrative systems at the time. For the most part, their
administrative systems were poorly organized and managed, and to a large extent
6 Jennings B. Sanders, Evolution of Executive Departments of the Continental Congress,
7 Leonard D. White, The Federalists: A Study in Administrative History (New York:
Macmillan, 1948), pp. 513-15.
corrupted by the widespread selling of offices of state.8 In the case of France, the9
largely feudal administrative structure would be swept away by the Revolution.
Enlightenment philosophy stressed reason, and reason embraced scientific
methodology. Alexander Hamilton, held by many to be the “father of public
administration,” was articulate in his arguments that public administration was a
“science” and that the United States could organize a government that was at once10
efficient and representative. Writing in Federalist #9, Hamilton states:
The science of politics, however, like most other sciences, has received
great improvement. The efficacy of various principles is now well understood,
which were either not known at all or imperfectly known to the ancients. The
regular distribution of power into distinct departments; the introduction of
legislative balances and checks; the institution of courts composed of judges
holding their office during good behavior; the representation of the people in the
legislature by deputies of their election: these are wholly new discoveries, or have
made their principal progress toward perfection during modern times.
The important point to recognize is that the Framers believed that it was
possible to create a rational and democratically accountable administrative structure.
They believed that there were principles of organization that ought to be followed
and that deviation from these principles should require the promoters to meet a
higher standard of proof. The role of historical and legal precedent in the evolution
of the federal executive establishment came into play during the very first Congress.
Much that takes place today in the field of organizational management can be traced
back in origin to the first years of the Republic.
One of the first orders of business for the new Congress in 1789 was the
establishment of executive departments. Three “organic” statutes were passed11
creating three great departments; Treasury, State, and War. A fourth department,
a Department of Home Affairs, was considered and abandoned with the functions
likely to have resided in that department being assigned to the other three
departments. All the particular functions of the newly created executive branch, save
8 The British administrative system, so idealized in the latter 19th century, and even today by
some, was non-existent during the formative years of the American Republic. Appointments
to public offices, for instance, tended to be in the hands of the landed gentry. J. Donaldth
Kingsley notes: The civil list of the late 18 century “was a roster of the politically active
aristocracy, together with their illegitimate children, cast-off employees, mistresses, and poor
relations.” Representative Bureaucracy: An Interpretation of the British Civil Service
(Yellow Springs, OH: Antioch Press, 1944), p. 28.
9 Alexis de Tocqueville, On the State of Society in France Before the Revolution of 1789, 2nd
ed. (London: John Murray, 1873), chapter 3.
10 Leonard D. White assigns pre-eminent status to Alexander Hamilton: “Writing in the field
of public administration, in fact, began in the United States. It was Alexander Hamilton who
first defined the term in its modern usage and who first worked out the philosophy of public
administration.” The Federalists, p. 478.
11 Discussion of the Acts creating the three “great departments” may be found in James Hart,
The American Presidency in Action, 1789: A Study in Constitutional History (New York:
Macmillan Co., 1948), chapter 7.
that of managing the federal government’s legal affairs, and delivering the mails
were entrusted to these departments.
The decision to establish a unitary administrative structure under the President,
a much admired innovation at the time, was intended by the Federalists to
complement their more comprehensive theory of government. Leonard D. White,
an administrative historian, commented on this theory:
The Federalists did not fear administrative power. To the contrary, they had
a deadly fear of governmental impotence. The interests which they cherished had
suffered deeply from lack of a government which could govern, and the need for
power was, in their minds, not subject to debate. The Federalists were not,
however, in favor of irresponsible power; they did not propose an American copy12
of an arbitrary kind from whose control they had recently won independence.
The first potential challenge to the Federalist theory of organization
management arose from the election of Thomas Jefferson, a man suspicious of
energetic government. Jefferson’s theory of organization began at the local level
with emphasis on the citizen as participant in governmental affairs. There was a
romantic element in Jefferson’s political thought that tended to view good
government as utilitarian and minimalist. He believed in rotation-in-office to guard
against the “degeneracy of public servants” and that governmental service should be
“drudgery and for subsistence only.” For Hamilton, on the other hand, government
should be a catalyst for great things. Freedom required strength and national
purpose. As Lynton K. Caldwell would observe: “Hamilton is our great teacher of
the organization and administration of public power; Jefferson our chief expositor
of its control.”13 As it turned out, Jefferson was not inclined to dismantle what
organization was in place, nor to alter its fundamental character.
Organizational Management in the 19th Century
Although the main lines of Federalist organization and managerial philosophy
remained generally in place through 1829, the institutional presidency gradually
declined vis-a-vis the Congress.14 Congress began to assert its authority over
executive agencies more energetically with each passing decade, although this had
minimal consequences in terms of organizational structure.
The Federalist concept of an integrated executive branch under the Presidentth
retained its persuasiveness throughout the 19 century. Prior to 1860, only four
permanent “detached agencies” were created: the Library of Congress, the
12 Leonard D. White, “Public Administration Under the Federalists,” Boston University Law
Review, vol. 24, June 1944, p. 180.
13 Lynton K. Caldwell, The Administrative Theories of Hamilton and Jefferson, 2nd ed. (New
York: Holmes and Meier, 1988 [c.1944] ), p. 241.
14 Leonard D. White, The Jeffersonians: A Study in Administrative History, 1801-1829.
(New York: Macmillan Co., 1951). See also: S.E. Finer, “Patronage and the Public Service:
Jeffersonian Bureaucracy and the British Tradition,” Public Administration, vol. 30, Oct.
Smithsonian Institution, the Botanic Garden, and the Government Printing Office.
When the federal government assumed additional functions, these functions were
usually assigned to existing departments, or to new departments created for that
purpose, such as the Department of the Interior in 1849.
The first substantial break with Federalist departmentalism did not occur until
the creation of the Civil Service Commission in 1883 and the Interstate Commerce15
Commission in 1887. This break from departmentalism was associated in many
respects with the newly triumphant civil service reform movement, which sought to
cleanse administration of partisan politics by introducing the merit personnel16
The final two decades of the nineteenth century were years when rapid
industrialization was straining the capacity of the government, which still reflected
in many respects a simpler, more rural period of national life. Regulation was being
demanded for industries, transportation, and urban life. Government institutions
required new cadres of trained, professional personnel, not simply political patronage
appointees. In his review of this period, Stephen Skowronek suggests:
Generally speaking, the expansion of national capacity in America around
the turn of the century was a response to industrialism. The construction of a
centralized bureaucratic apparatus was championed as the best way to maintain
order during this period of upheaval in economic, social, and international affairs.
Viewed at this level, the American experience fits a general pattern of17
institutional development and rationalization in public administration.
Congress was able to exercise leverage over administrative affairs through its
control of the purse strings and through its authority to initiate investigations. With
respect to the latter authority, Congress had made official inquiries into events and
activities since 1789. In the final third of the 19th century, however, Congress
expanded its investigatory activities to include management issues.18 Two
congressional inquiries into the conduct and activities of executive departments stand
out as the century closed. A Select Committee of the Senate, chaired by Francis
15 From 1887 to 1889, the Interstate Commerce Commission was under the supervision of
the Secretary of the Interior. From 1889, it became independent of any department (25 Stat.
855). For a historical discussion of the early regulatory commissions, consult: Robert
Cushman, The Independent Regulatory Commissions (New York: Oxford University Press,
16 Carl Russell Fish, The Civil Service and Patronage (New York: Longmans, Green, 1905).
Paul Van Riper, History of the United States Civil Service (Evanston, IL: Row, Peterson and
17 Stephen Skowronek, Building a New American State: The Expansion of National
Administrative Capacities, 1877-1920 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982), p.
18 Oscar Kraines, Congress Against Big Government (New York: Bookman’s Associates,
1958). For a bibliography of congressional inquiries into the conduct of business of
executive departments other than by standing committees, 1789-1911, consult: Gustavus
Weber, Organized Efforts for the Improvement of Methods of Administration in the United
States. (Washington: Institute for Government Research, 1919).
Cockrell of Missouri, conducted an investigation of executive agencies to determinethst
why they were so slow in acting and apparently costing so much. (50 Cong., 1
sess., S. Rept. 507, 1888). With a similar objective, a joint commission of both
Houses was established in 1893 (the Dockery-Cockrell Commission), chaired by
Senator Cockrell and Representative Alexander Dockery, which issued a report on
the laws managing each department (53rd Cong., 1st sess., H. Rept. 49, 1893). A
number of laws altering the “business methods” of agencies were enacted as a direct
result of the commission’s work.
The principal significance for administrative history of these two late 19th
century commissions, however, lies not in their substantive results, but rather in
their attitudes towards the institutionalized presidency and its relationship to the
departments and agencies. Neither inquiry discussed the presidential office, nor
what role that office might be expected to play in the improvement of the conduct of
the executive branch.
While the new governmental reform movement enjoyed its first major victories
at the municipal level, its ideals had an impact upon the national government as well,
in part because Congress was finding it more difficult and less rewarding to manage
federal agencies directly. As Peri Arnold suggests: “[C]ongressional leaders
assumed that only the legislature could impose changes in administrative practices.
But Congress was too unfocused for the task of administrative reform; there were
always more pressing issues for the members, and Congress’ interests in19
administration are necessarily episodic....” Thus, Congress was increasingly
sympathetic to the idea of delegating some of its managerial and regulatory authority
to the President and executive agencies.
The problem, however, was that the institutionalized presidency was unable to
substantially enhance either its political or managerial leverage over the executive
establishment. The President had virtually no staff, no budgetary authority over
agencies, and few general management laws through which the agencies could be
supervised collectively.20 The situation was ripe for change.
Progressivism and Its Values
The new century ushered in new opportunities for American Presidents to exert
their leadership skills. Governmental institutions were growing rapidly, not only in
size, but in their resource requirements. The executive branch needed new forms of
19 Peri Arnold, Making the Managerial Presidency: Comprehensive Reorganization
Planning, 1905-1996, 2nd rev. ed., (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 18.
20 John Hart, The Presidential Branch: From Washington to Clinton, 2nd ed. (Chatham, NJ:
Chatham House Publishers, 1995), chapter 2.
management and a skilled manager, and the President was looked upon to furnish
Progressives believed that progress was not only possible, but virtually
inevitable if certain sound principles were followed. The first of the two capstone
principles was that politics and administration could and should be separated.
Although some scholars attribute this intellectual concept to Woodrow Wilson,21
most writing cites a small book by Frank J. Goodnow, Politics and Administration
(1900), with bringing the purported distinction to scholarly consciousness. Goodnow
argued: “Politics has to do with the policies and expressions of state will,” whereas22
administration “has to do with the execution of these policies.” This dichotomy led
to the proposition that it is the function of the legislative branch to form policy (“will
of the state”) and of the executive branch to implement the policy. The executive
branch, properly organized and managed, would administer the policies in an23
impartial and apolitical manner.
The second capstone principle distinguishing the Progressive era was the belief
that the administration of government agencies and programs was subject to
principles of “scientific management.” The idea that public sector administration
could be made “scientific” was first and most notably promoted by Frederick W.
Taylor who wrote on the “one best way” to manage a manufacturing activity in his
1911 book, The Principles of Scientific Management.24 Although he was specifically
concerned with managing the work process in a private factory, he was convinced,
as were his followers, that the principles of scientific management were applicable
to public administration as well.25
Under the banner of Progressivism, the doctrines of “scientific management”
were promoted for application in the executive branch. With respect to
organizational management, Progressives, by and large, favored four “reforms”: (1)
reorganization of the executive branch into functional departments and agencies; (2)
promotion of the President’s authority to manage a unified executive branch; (3)
introduction of an executive budget; and (4) development of a “neutrally competent”
21 Woodrow Wilson, “The Study of Administration,” Political Science Quarterly, vol. 2,
June 1887, pp. 197-222.
22 Frank J. Goodnow, Politics and Administration (New York: Macmillan, 1900), pp. 10-11.
23 The politics/administration dichotomy has been attacked by some scholars as both naïve
and false, yet it retains much of its intellectual appeal. This appeal, Dwight Waldo observes,
is no doubt related to the dichotomy’s strength as both a tool for description and a normative
call for action. “Politics and Administration: On Thinking About a Complex Relationship,”
in A Centennial History of the American Administrative State, ed. Ralph Clark Chandler.
(New York: Free Press, 1987), chapter 3.
24 Frederick W. Taylor, The Principles of Scientific Management (New York: Harper and
25 Testimony of Frederick W. Taylor before the Special Committee of the House of
Representatives to Investigate the Taylor and Other Systems of Shop Management, Januarynd
2 sess., H. Rept. 403). Daniel Nelson, Frederick W. Taylor and the Rise of Scientific
Management (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1980).
management class for agency leadership. Given the particular focus of this study and
the limited space, we can discuss only elements (1) and (2) of the general Progressive
philosophy: the need for a functionally based, integrated executive branch structure
and the evolution of the managerial presidency.26
Scientific management was influential not so much because of its specialized
procedures as for the fundamental idea it fostered, namely, the perfectibility of27
human institutions. Properly constructed and managed institutions, it was believed,
could overcome many of the structural inadequacies of congressionally mandated
programs. There was a self-assurance among reformers and public administrationists
that they could administer anything. Managers could and would ultimately triumph
over the alleged ineptness and venality of politicians. Managers were to be the elite
in this scientifically ordered world of the future, and the President would be the
Chief Manager of a revitalized national government. The Chief Manager must base
his overall managerial strategy on a comprehensive plan, and for this plan to be
implemented there must be an integrated executive branch organization with strict
lines of responsibility and accountability to him. Thus, the struggle to increase the
President’s managerial capacity began.
Reorganization of executive agencies and functions as a systematic tool of
governance was a major component of the multi-faceted Progressive philosophy.
The first President to espouse the “reorganization” strategy for Progressivism was
Theodore Roosevelt. “President Theodore Roosevelt, unlike McKinley,” Herbert
Emmerich averred, “had firm views on presidential management. He was the
undoubted originator of the concept of reorganization as a continuing need for
administrative management and as an executive responsibility.”28
Theodore Roosevelt, the embodiment of Progressivism, believed that a corollary
of Scientific Management was the view that there was “one best way” to organize
the executive branch, and that the prerogative to reorganize should rest with the
President and his departmental secretaries. He was able to put this view into law
with the passage of the 1903 Act creating the Department of Commerce and Labor
which authorized the President “... by order in writing, to transfer to the new
department any unit engaged in statistical or scientific work, together with their
duties and authority” (32 Stat. 827). The authority to transfer would then be an
Executive Order rather than a statute. Roosevelt subsequently asked Congress,29
unsuccessfully, for broad reorganization authority. Later Presidents would press
with greater success for general reorganization authority.
26 For a review of the political theory that motivated the Progressive Movement, see: Dwight
Waldo, The Administrative State, 2nd ed. (New York: Holmes and Meier Publishers, 1984
[c. 1948] ), chapters 1-3.
27 Leonard D. White, Introduction of Public Administration, 4th ed. (New York: Macmillan
and Co., 1951), p. 21.
28 Herbert Emmerich, Federal Organization and Administrative Management (University,
AL: University of Alabama Press, 1971), p. 38.
29 James D. Richardson, ed., “Seventh Annual Message of President Theodore Roosevelt to
Congress, Messages and Papers of the President, vol. XIV, (New York: Bureau of National
Literature, 1918), p. 7105.
Progressives believed in information, analysis and experts. There was a
working assumption in much of their writings and activities that if one could
somehow seat reasonable people around a table, give them plenty of information on
a problem or subject, there would be a high probability of agreement among the
participants. Thus, the idea of “commissions” came into vogue. Ideally,
commissions would consist of “experts” but, if necessary, include some political
leaders as well. The point was, however, that a commission was less likely to be
subject to political pressures and short-term perspectives than a regular legislative
committee. Commissions would meet, hire expert assistance, define the problem,
review the facts, and make recommendations for change to the President, to
Congress, or to both. The use of advisory commissions became popular during the
Progressive era and remains so to this day.
Progressives wanted the American political system and their government to
become both efficient and politically accountable. The leaders of American
commerce wanted a government that could support the emerging business culture
and thus a “good government” alliance was formed consisting of business leaders,
top academics, and social reformers. It was a fragile alliance at best which enjoyed
ascendency for less than two decades ending with America’s entry into World War30
I. But much was accomplished by this alliance and 80 years later its influence is
In the field of organizational design and management, the Progressive values
emphasized presidential administrative leadership, hierarchical structure and an
integrated executive branch. These values still have appeal as a philosophical norm,
even though the administrative history of the post World War II period is largely a
chronicle of rejection of these values in practice. Whereas, Presidents once viewed
organizational management as the key to administrative leadership, today the
tendency by Presidents is arguably to view the design and organizational structures
as simply a minor and negotiable element in the larger political equation. The
absence of a consensus as to the principles or doctrines that should guide the process
of organizational design and management, coupled with a decline in central31
management agencies of the U.S. government, has resulted in a highly fragmented
political environment. The present situation finds, in the view of some, that
agencies, their interest group constituencies, and relevant congressional committees
(the fabled “iron triangle”) have become the principal initiators and arbiters in32
organizational design and management.
30 Waldo, Administrative State, chapter 2.
31 Alan Dean, Dwight Ink, and Harold Seidman, “OMB’s ‘M’ Fading Away,” Government
Executive, vol. 26, June, 1994, pp. 62-64. Paul Light, “The Incredible Shrinking Budget
Office,” Government Executive, vol. 34, Jan. 2002, p. 66.
32 James R. Thompson, “The Clinton Reforms and the Administrative Ascendency of
Congress,” American Review of Public Administration, vol. 31, Sept. 2001, pp. 249-272.
Ronald C. Moe, “Traditional Organizational Principles and the Managerial Presidency: From
Phoenix to Ashes,” Public Administration Review, vol. 50, March/April 1990. pp. 129-40.
Rise and Decline of Orthodoxy
The study of landmark commissions is, in large measure, the story of the rise
and decline of an idea. The idea began with the Federalists, was reasserted by the
civil service reform movement of the 1880s, refined by the Progressives, and
culminated in the reports of the Brownlow Committee and Hoover Commissions in
the period immediately before and after World War II. The idea that generated all
this activity was the belief that management, particularly the organizational design
aspect of management, was subject to certain theoretical premises applicable
throughout the federal government and government in general.
Writing at mid-century, Wallace Sayre described the prevailing premises of
Organization theory was stated in ‘scientific management’ terms; that is, it
was seen largely as a problem in organization technology—the necessities of
hierarchy, the uses of staff agencies, a limited span of control, subdivision of
work by such ‘scientific’ principles as purpose, process, place, or clientele. The
executive budget was emphasized as an instrument of rationality, of coordination,
planning, and control.... A ‘neutral’ or ‘impartial’ career service was required to33
insure competence, expertise, rationality.
These principles acquired the status of received truth, thus becoming what is
referred to even today as the “orthodox theory” public administration. The most
refined statement of these principles is to be found in the 1937 essay by Luther
Gulick, “Notes on the Theory of Organization,” which was an edited work that
accompanied the Report of the President’s Committee on Administrative
Management (Brownlow Committee) submitted to President Franklin Roosevelt on
January 1, 1937.34 The Brownlow Committee report was described by Sayre “as the
high noon of orthodoxy in public administration theory in the United States.”35
Criticism of the orthodox principles of organization was heard from
academicians even during the period when the principles enjoyed their widest
support among political and governmental leaders. As early as 1946, behaviorists
were labeling the principles of organization as mere “proverbs.” The problem, they
alleged, was not so much that these proverbs were devoid of wisdom, but that the
prevailing doctrine was inadequate to help one pick the right proverb from the wrong36
one. What was needed to establish a proper theory of organizational and
administrative management was the development of precise language determined by
scientifically based research. Behaviorists, according to skeptics, have been trying
33 Wallace Sayre, “Premises of Public Administration: Past and Emerging,” Public
Administration Review, vol. 18, Spring 1958, pp. 102-03.
34 Luther Gulick, “Notes on the Theory of Organization,” in Luther Gulick and L. Urwick,
eds., Papers on the Science of Administration (New York: Institute of Public Administration,
35 Sayre, “Premises of Public Administration,” p. 103.
36 Herbert Simon, “The Proverbs of Administration,” Public Administration Review,
unsuccessfully for over half a century now to come up with a comprehensive theory37
of governmental organization to replace the “principles” they debunked.
The consequence of these assaults on traditional public administration
principles of organizing governmental institutions has been to de-legitimate them in
academic circles and to a lesser degree among practitioners. Public administrators
appear to be embarrassed to openly avow the “orthodox” organizational principles,
lest they be accused of political naïveté. The retreat from public law experience and
orthodox organizational principles proved to be an invitation to those promoting a
new, comprehensive management style, called “entrepreneurial management,” a
subject to be discussed more fully elsewhere in the report.
On a practical level, a break occurred in the 1960s between the academics, who
tended to abandon orthodox organizational principles and language, and political
leaders who, although they felt little constraint against breaking orthodox
organizational principles in designing agencies and programs, still felt compelled to
use the orthodox rhetoric. Even today, most political leaders justify reorganization
proposals on the grounds of improving “economy and efficiency,” “streamlining
government,” “reducing overlap and duplication” and other such phrases which
suggest the savings of money as the primary motive for making organizational38
decisions. The last landmark commission study to reassert the orthodox principles,
albeit with reservations, was the Ash Council report of 1971 to President Nixon.39
Heterodoxy: Deconstructing the State
In the two decades following the Ash Council report, no one theory or doctrine
of public management gained consensus status. Whereas before 1970, most
37 Orthodox principles of organizational management enjoy a virtue that should not be
ignored; they are comprehensible and tend to conform to the experiences of lawmakers. As
Harold Seidman commented early in the 1980s:
Flawed and imperfect as they may be, the orthodox ‘principles’ remain the
only simple, readily understood, and comprehensive set of guidelines available
to the President and Congress for resolving problems of executive branch
structure. Individual members of Congress can relate them to their own
experience within the Congress or outside organizations. They have the virtue
of clarity, a virtue scorned by the new orthodoxies, especially the behaviorists
and social psychologists, who tend to write to each other in the arcane language
which is unintelligible to the lay public.rd
(Politics, Position and Power: The Dynamics of Federal Organization, 3 ed. (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1980), pp. 8-9).
38 In November 1991, for instance, the Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Leon
Panetta, proposed to consolidate the existing 14 Cabinet-level departments into six “super
departments” indicated that such a reorganization would result in eliminating 250,000 federal
jobs and a savings of between $3 and $5 billion a year. The likelihood of “savings” or
special efficiencies coming to pass by way of such a proposal was immediately challenged.
Eric Pianin, “Opposition Swamps Panetta’s Plan to Consolidate Cabinet,” Washington Post,
November 5, 1991, p. A-19.
39 U.S. Executive Office of the President, Papers Relating to the President’s Departmental
Reorganization Program (Washington: GPO, 1971).
reorganization proposals emanating from commissions reporting to the President, or
Congress, or both, emphasized the need for more presidential leadership, integrated
departments, hierarchical leadership, budgetary accountability, and personnel system
interchangeability, this ceased to be the case. The next two landmark commissions,
President Carter’s Presidential Reorganization Project (PRP)(1977-79) and President
Reagan’s Grace Commission (1984-85), specifically disavowed orthodox
organizational management principles, and by implication, government
organizational theory altogether. As Peri Arnold observed, they also shared an anti-
government, populist bias in their thinking.
Beginning with Carter, and continuing through the presidency of Ronald
Reagan and into the Clinton Administration, administrative reorganization and
reforms have become expressions of populist concerns about government’s size,
cost, and performance.... Now reform’s purpose was to make government fit the
expectations of the electorate that was increasingly hostile to big government.
In effect, administrative reform was abandoning one presidential political project
regarding administration for another. It is now a tool to negotiate the President’s
role vis-à-vis administration in an environment of discontent about government40
and skepticism about its activities.
With respect to the PRP (1977-79), President Carter’s chief reorganization
planner, Harrison Wellford, “forthrightly denied that any overall principles, theory,
or view of organization, administration, or the governmental system guided the
planning operation.”41 The PRP believed that the best management concepts came
“from the bottom up, not from the top down.” Good management was based on
pragmatism, not doctrine. Let a thousand ideas flourish.
The Administration of Ronald Reagan continued the populist thrust of the
Carter years with its Grace Commission that announced at the outset that its report
would not discuss “the origins, premises, or methodologies of their studies ... because
we do not want to risk losing even one reader who might be turned away from
having to wade through such preliminary material.”42 The Carter and Reagan
reorganization exercises rejected the orthodox concept of a strong institutional
presidency, opting instead for the stronger political presidency then in academic43
vogue. As the 1980s progressed, an intellectual vacuum emerged, with no
comprehensive organizational management counter theory being presented to replace
the orthodox principles now in disfavor. Insofar as there was coherence to the Carter
and Reagan reorganization exercises, it was a general movement toward
deconstructing the state.
40 Arnold, Making the Managerial Presidency, 2nd ed., p. 373. See also: Arnold, “Reforms
Changing Role,” Public Administration Review, vol. 55, Sept./Oct. 1995, pp. 407-17.
41 Ibid., p. 300.
42 President’s Private Sector Survey on Cost Control (Grace Commission), War on Waste
(New York: Macmillan Co., 1984), p. 1.
43 See: Terry M. Moe, “The Politicized Presidency,” in The New Direction in American
Politics, eds. John E. Chubb and Paul E. Peterson (Washington: The Brookings Institution,
New Public Management: Entrepreneurs Versus
While the Carter and Reagan Administrations were not subtle in their populist
distrust of government, and felt little need to posit a comprehensive administrative
theory upon which to base their actions, the new Clinton Administration (1993-2001)
decided to achieve similar ends with a new strategy. They would “reinvent
government” toward the end of making it both smaller and more concerned with44
“performance.” A bit of historical background is useful at this point.
Beginning in the immediate post World War II period, several strands of
economic literature emerged arguing a case for the superiority of the market over
governmentally planned and managed economies, then dominant throughout the
world. One strand consciously assumed the mantle of “public choice” theory. At its
heart, public choice theory rests on the premise that political as well as economic
behavior is based on rational, self-serving maximization of material income or the
satisfaction derived therefrom.45
The political impact of this premise has been extraordinary. By the mid-1980s,
it had swept many nations to varying degrees, including the United States, and
contributed its share to the collapse of the communist world and to centralized
government planning and management generally. Planned economies fell from
favor. Free market advocates pushed a variety of related concepts internationally,46
many with profound implications for government management. A New Public
Management (NPM) paradigm (model) emerged in the early 1990s and rapidly
gained international currency through its dissemination, if not uncritical support, by47
the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The
underlying premise of the NPM is that the governmental and private sectors are alike
in their essentials and subject to the same generic management principles. Promoters
of NPM (“entrepreneurs”) rely on literature, propositions, and practices that strive
44 The term “reinventing government” came from David Osborne’s and Ted Gaebler’s widely
read account, Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit is Transforming the
Public Sector (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co., 1992). This book strongly
influenced Vice President Al Gore.
45 “Public choice can be defined as the economic study of economics and political science.
The subject matter of public choice is the same as that of political science: The theory of the
state, voting rules, voting behavior, party policies, the bureaucracy, and so on. The
methodology of public choice is that of economics, however, the basic behavioral postulate
of public choice, as for economics, is that man is is an egoistic, rational, utility maximizer.”
Dennis Mueller, Bureaucracy and Representative Government (Chicago: Aldine Press,
see: Anthony Downs, Inside Bureaucracy (Boston, MA: Little Brown, 1967).
46 Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press,
47 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Governance in
Transition: Public Management Reforms in OECD Countries (Paris: OECD, 1995).
for convergence of the governmental and private sectors.48 The acceptance of the
convergence model of public management worldwide has been both rapid and in
some instances disruptive.49
The American variation on the New Public Management (NPM) was the
“reinventing government” exercise, led principally by Vice President Al Gore. The
reinventors largely rejected the language of public choice, however, preferring
instead that of business schools: entrepreneurs accept the underlying premise that the
government and private sectors are fundamentally alike and subject to most of the
same economically derived behavioral norms.50 In the private sector the principal,
if not exclusive, objective is results, and this principle, in their view, should be
applied to the governmental sector as well. Thus, the first principle of the 1993
National Performance Review (NPR) Report reads: “Effective entrepreneurial
governments cast aside red tape, shifting from systems in which people are
accountable for following rules to systems in which they are accountable for
This shift toward results over legal process as the primary value in government
management is a statement about political power as well as administrative
management. Vice President Gore indicated as much in 1993 when he stated:
“CEOs—from the White House to agency heads—must ensure that everyone
understands that power will never flow through the old channels again.”52 The NPR
vision was to break down the barriers between the sectors and create a society of
government/private partnerships. The partnerships, ideally, would be largely
autonomous bodies run by managers under contract to meet negotiated performance
standards. The entrepreneurs argue that managers should be deregulated, given53
freedom from congressional “micro-management” and less supervision by the
President and his central managerial agencies. Since the goal is greater managerial
autonomy, there is relatively little interest in organization per se, or in the legal
theories that encourage political accountability for agencies and officers.
48 Barry Bozeman, All Organizations Are Public (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1987). L.J.
O’Toole, “The Implications for Democracy in a Networked Bureaucratic World,” Journal
of Public Administration Research and Theory, vol.7, July 1997, pp. 443-60.
49 Donald F. Kettl, The Global Public Management Revolution: A Report on the
Transformation of Governance (Washington: The Brookings Institution, 2000). B. Guy
Peters and John Pierre, “Governance Without Government? Rethinking Public
Administration,” Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, vol. 8, April 1998,
50 Mark Schneider, Paul Teske, and Michael Mintrom, Public Entrepreneurs: Agents for
Change in American Government (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995).
51 U.S. National Performance Review, From Red Tape to Results: Creating a Government
That Works Better and Costs Less (Washington: GPO, 1993), pp. 6-7.
52 Ibid., p. 68.
53 Donald F. Kettl notes: “First, ‘reinventing government’ seeks the transfer of power from
the legislative to the executive branch.” “Beyond the Rhetoric of Reinvention: Driving
Themes of the Clinton Administration’s Management Reforms,” Governance, vol. 7, July
Critics (often self-identified as constitutionalists) challenged the fundamental
philosophical basis of the entrepreneurial management paradigm arguing, among
other things, that it tends to subvert the intentions of the Constitution and is anti-
democratic in thrust, if not intention. Constitutionalists view the government and
private sectors as distinct in character, with the distinctions founded in law. The
distinguishing characteristic of governmental management, contrasted to private
management, is that government actions must have their basis in public law, not in
the financial interests of private entrepreneurs or in the fiduciary concerns of
corporate managers.54 The frequently criticized hierarchical structure found in the
executive branch is designed more to ensure accountability for managerial action;
promoting control over employee is secondary. In this view, the value of
accountability to political leadership and the importance of due process in
decisionmaking trumps the premium placed on performance and results. However,
it is less a question of pursuing one value at the expense of the other than it is a
matter of precedence in the event of conflict.
According to the constitutionalists, the fundamental purpose of governmental
management is to implement the laws passed by Congress, laws that may be wise or
less-wise, not necessarily to maximize performance (however it is defined and
measured) or to satisfy “customers.” While political accountability and effective
performance are generally compatible objectives, when these values come into
conflict, the democratic values of legal process and political accountability take
precedence over the unquestioned entrepreneurial values of efficiency and results.
The century closed with this debate between the entrepreneurs and
constitutionalists over the future direction of public administration. The debate is not
over arcane issues of little long-term consequence, but rather it concerns
fundamental issues of democratic governance.
This study of landmark commissions is intended to provide an overview of the
ideas, institutions, and people who shaped the contemporary organization of the
United States government. The executive branch is not the result of random political
actions. Nor is it a construct of a single moment, set in stone to last the ages.
Rather, it is a product of several basic theoretical concepts intended to create a
structure that permits and enhances the Founders’ goal of creating a democratic
republic. In the century recently ended, these theoretical concepts underwent
periodic reinterpretations to accommodate changing circumstances and
This study covers the period through 1999, but it is already clear in this new century
that new institutional questions and challenges are facing the President and Congress.
For instance, how best to reorganize the executive branch to pursue effective
counterterrorist measures without eroding democratic accountability and the proper
administration of other agencies and programs? Should Congress realign committee
jurisdictions to best oversee and co-manage the national counterterrorism strategy?
All of which leads to the question: What contribution, if any, might another landmark
commission provide towards addressing these questions?
54 Ronald C. Moe and Robert S. Gilmour, “Rediscovering Principles of Public
Administration: The Neglected Foundation of Public Law,” Public Administration Review,”
vol.55, March/April 1995, pp. 135-46.
Those commissions considered to be “landmark” in character, while they may
be studied individually or collectively, may also be viewed as part of a much larger
institutional category, the federal “advisory commission.” Advisory commissions,
or committees as they are often called, come in many sizes, lengths of service, and
are assigned remarkably diverse mandates. Indeed, categorizing the multitude of55
advisory commissions has proven to be a daunting task. One attempt was
undertaken by Hugh Davis Graham. Graham suggested that there were essentially
five categories of advisory commissions:
1.reorganization. The study of organizational structure generally with the
intent to realign authorities, organizations and personnel toward the end
of increasing rationality and accountability.
2.mega-commission. Intended to examine the existing status of national life
and offer recommendations for its betterment.
3.crisis-induced. In the turbulent 1960s, the practice began of establishing
high visibility commissions to make investigations into so-called national
crises (e.g., the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (1968),
generally referred to as the Kerner Commission).
4.technical. The great majority of advisory commissions perform technical
functions and give advice to agencies. Most such commissions are
permanent, staffed by technical experts, and form a basic method for the
inclusion of diverse views in the agency’s policies and management.
5.major policy. These commissions have been appointed to study and make
recommendations on policy issues. In the past, such commissions have
studied civil rights, elements of U.S. foreign policy, and more recently,
provided a study on the future of Social Security.56
In this study our attention will center on one of the subcategories of advisory
committees, the reorganization commissions, those that were assigned a
comprehensive mandate to study the organization and management of the executive
branch, broadly interpreted. It is also worth noting that the literature on both
advisory committees and reorganization generally focuses on advisory committees
created by, or related to, the executive branch. Much less attention has been paid to
55 There are a number of studies of advisory commissions and committees. See: Thomas R.
Wolanin, Presidential Advisory Commissions: Truman to Nixon (Madison, WI: University
of Wisconsin Press, 1975); Carl Marcy, Presidential Commissions (New York: King’s
Crown Press, 1945). Steven P. Croley, “Practice and Guidance on the Applicability of the
Federal Advisory Committee Act,” Administrative Law Journal, 10(Spring 1996): 111-78.
U.S. Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service, Federal Advisory Committees:
A Primer, by Stephanie Smith, RL30260 (Washington: July 16, 1999).
56 Hugh David Graham, “The Ambiguous Legacy of American Presidential Commissions,”
The Public Historian, 7(Spring 1985): 5-25.
the many advisory committees created by or related to the legislative branch.57 Many
of these advisory committees, such as the Base Closure and Realignment
Commission,58 while reporting to Congress, nonetheless ultimately impact the
organization and management of the executive branch.
Keep Commission (1905-1909)
As the new century dawned, the United States was fully involved in the age of
industrial and technological growth. The Spanish American War had established the
United States as an international power with the responsibilities of empire. What had
historically been a tax system resulting in surpluses was now producing recurrent
deficits. Calls were heard from “reformers” to revamp the federal government to
permit growth in the capacity of government to perform its basic functions and those
functions being added each year.
As Governor of New York, Theodore Roosevelt had been engaged in a number
of reorganization projects, such as reorganization of the state canal system and its
correctional institutions. At the national level, he supported Elihu Root’s campaign
to professionalize the military. Upon becoming President after William McKinley’s
death, Roosevelt set about to bring his Progressive values to play in reorganizing the
executive branch. He believed that problem areas should be first studied by an
advisory commission that would provide recommendations to the President. In his
view, the advisory commission should be composed of volunteers, typically unpaid
interdepartmental committees, drawn from the ranks of career civil servants.
Several advisory commissions offered recommendations for improvements in
specific agencies and programs (e.g., Gifford Pinchot’s Committee on the
Organization of Government Scientific Work) during 1903 and 1904. The President
was convinced that a similar advisory commission should be established to examine
the organization and operations of all executive branch departments and agencies.59
A preliminary outline for what such a commission should do was written by
Gifford Pinchot and James R. Garfield, Commissioner of the Bureau of Corporations.
57 This inattention to congressionally created advisory committee has been recently remedied
by Colton C. Campbell’s Discharging Congress: Government by Commission (Westport,
CT: Praeger, 2002).
58 Christopher J. Deering, “Congress, the President, and Automatic Government: The Case
of Military Base Closures,” in James A. Thurber, ed., Divided Democracy: Cooperation andnd
Conflict Between the President and Congress, 2 ed. (Washington: CQ Press, 1996).
59 Gifford Pinchot, Breaking New Ground (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1947), p. 296.
In 1905, on his own initiative, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed by letter
a Commission on Department Methods, and named Charles Hallem Keep, Assistant60
Secretary of the Treasury, as chairman. The commission (committee) became
known as the Keep Commission. The President’s practice of appointing
commissions to study and recommend changes in administrative practices without
consulting Congress or receiving its approval upset many in the legislative branch.
They believed that such oversight and management recommendations properly
belonged to Congress, as it had been in the 19th century.61
The commission, although its principal work was completed in 1907, remained
in operation until the close of the Roosevelt Administration in 1909.62
The Keep Commission consisted of five government executives of sub-cabinet
rank: Charles Hallem Keep, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury; Lawrence O.
Murray, Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Labor; James R. Garfield,
Commissioner of the Bureau of Corporations in the Department of Commerce and
Labor; Gifford Pinchot, Chief of the Forest Service in the Department of
Agriculture; and Frank H. Hitchcock, First Assistant Postmaster General.
The selection of sub-cabinet officers to the commission understandably upset
some cabinet secretaries since the commission’s analyses and recommendations
would tend to highlight deficiencies in the administration of departments and
agencies, thus presenting departmental secretaries in an unfavorable light. This
problem, for the most part, was never fully resolved but was mitigated by restraint
practiced by all parties.
President Roosevelt, in his 1905 Message to Congress, made clear the
philosophy on administrative management he wished to see come to fruition.
There is every reason why our executive governmental machinery should
be at least as well planned, economical, and efficient as the best machinery of the
60 During his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt appointed six advisory commissions to provide
him with a broadened view on the problems of administration. The first of the six
commissions was the Commission of Government Scientific Work, at suggestion of Gifford
Pinchot, head of the Forest Service, Progressive, and friend of the President. The second
advisory commission was the Commission on Department Methods (Keep Commission).
Theodore Roosevelt was not only the “father” of executive reorganization, but of advisory
commissions as well. Wolanin, Presidential Advisory Commissions, p. 5.
61 For a general history of the evolution of the executive branch through 1922, see: Lloyd M.
Short, The Development of National Administrative Organization in the United States
(Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press, 1923).
62 Oscar Kraines, “The President Versus Congress: The Keep Commission, 1905-1909,”
Western Political Quarterly, vol.23, March 1970, pp. 5-54.
great business organizations, which at present is not the case. To make it so is a
task of complex detail and essentially executive in nature; probably no legislative
body, no matter how wise and able, could undertake it with reasonable prospect
of success. I recommend that the Congress consider this subject with a view to
provide by legislation for the transfer, distribution, consolidation, and assignment
of duties and executive organizations or parts of organizations, for the changes
in business methods, within or between the several Departments, that will best63
promote the economy, efficiency, and high character of the Government’s work.
Organization, Support Staff, and Financing.
In performing its work, the Keep Commission in 1906 was aided by a group of
12 subcommittees (e.g., Subcommittee on Accounting and Personnel) composed of
approximately 70 persons from among full-time employees in the various executive
departments. In addition to longer range studies of cross-cutting administrative
issues, the commission was also used by the President to investigate specific
management problems that were actual or potential scandals.
In a message to Congress in 1906, Roosevelt requested an appropriations for
$25,000 “for the employment of specialists and experts to assist the special
Committee on Department Methods.” Congress, however, was not persuaded and
granted the President only $5,000 to be used for hiring private experts. (34 Stat.
635). As a consequence, few outside consultants were hired and the work was
performed almost completely by federal officers and employees on their own time,
in addition to their regular duties.
Congress was sufficiently upset at the Rooseveltian use of commissions, which
they correctly viewed as a tactic to bypass Congress, that it passed the Tawney
amendment to the 1909 supplemental appropriations act (32 Stat. 1027). The
Amendment prohibited the expenditure of public funds to support presidentially
created commissions unless appropriated for that express purpose.
Reports and Recommendations.
By December 1907, the major inquiries of the Keep Commission had been
completed; nonetheless the commission continued its work until the end of President
Roosevelt’s term on March 3, 1909. In all, it issued 19 formal reports to the
President, although they were never compiled and issued as a single report.
Gustavus Weber states: “It is much to be regretted that ... these reports of the Keep
Commission were never published as public documents. The result is that they are
exceedingly difficult to obtain. The set possessed by the Institute of Governmental
research [later to become The Brookings Institution] is, in fact, the only complete set
of which the author of the present volume has knowledge.”64
While there were hundreds of recommendations ranging from agency specific
to government-wide proposals, the “success” of the exercise was difficult to measure.
Most of the Keep Commission’s recommendations were not incorporated in
63 “Business Methods in Departments,” Congressional Record, vol. 40, Dec. 5, 1905, p. 96.
64 Weber, Organized Efforts for Improvement, p. 81.
executive orders or legislation. Implementation varied from one department to the
next, dependent in large measure on the support of department secretaries.
The commission recommended many housekeeping changes in the fields of
accounting, purchasing and contracting, records management, coordination of
statistics, and government printing and publications. Recommendations were
forthcoming on ways and means to improve inter-departmental relations and
coordination. It was in the area of personnel management that the Keep Commission
probably made its innovative recommendations, calling for competitive pay and a
retirement system for federal workers.
Results and Assessment.
The Keep Commission was generally accorded high marks, then and now, for
the quality of its research and the insight of its recommendations.65 Writing in 1970,
Herbert Emmerich concluded:
The work of the Keep Commission ... was a landmark of executive
introspection. It stimulated management improvement in bureau after bureau and
in such varied fields as accounting and costing, archives and records
administration, simplification of paper work, use of office machinery, personnel
administration, procurement and supply, and contracting procedures.... Congress,
however, resented its activities because it threatened many vested interests and66
jobs and because it had only presidential sanction.
No major structural reorganizations can be attributed to the work of the Keep
Commission. The reports dealt with specific aspects of administrative methods and
procedures, yet relatively little change in these practices can be credited directly to
the commission. What, then, was the contribution of the Keep Commission? First,
it produced a quality set of reports that reflected the initial effort by the executive
branch to study itself in a comprehensive fashion. Second, it was a commission that
broke with the congressional definition of efficiency, a term associated almost
exclusively with “economy,” or the spending of less monies, and concentrated
instead upon expanding the capacity of agency heads to manage their agencies.
Third, the commission was responsible for creating a whole new vocabulary of terms
and concepts to be applied to public administration. Finally, in Oscar Kraines’
opinion, the major contribution of the commission lay in “the assertion for the first67
time of the Presidential responsibility for administration.”
65 Carl Marcy, Presidential Commissions (New York: King’s Crown Press, 1945), p. 19.
66 Herbert Emmerich, Federal Organization and Administrative Management (University,
AL: University of Alabama Press, 1971), pp. 39-40.
67 Kraines, “The President Versus Congress: The Keep Commission,” p. 53.
President’s Commission on Economy and Efficiency (1910-
When William Howard Taft assumed the presidency in 1909, it was generally
agreed that the budgetary and fiscal practices of the executive branch were no longer
adequate and that the situation was rapidly deteriorating. Deficits were becoming
chronic and Congress found the ministerial Book of Estimates submitted each year
by the Treasury Department an inadequate tool for comprehending the financial
status of the entire government and for making informed decisions among competing
claims for limited resources.
In 1909, Congress specified that the President and the Secretary of the Treasury
were to compare expected revenues and the appropriations requested by the agencies
and then make recommendations as to both the priority of appropriations and where
expenditures might be reduced (35 Stat. 1027). In effect, Congress was calling for
an executive budget to be submitted by the President, a practice in use in many
states. President Taft and his Treasury Secretary, Franklin MacVeigh, quickly found
that they did not have the resources to meet this requirement. As a result of the
Tawney Amendment passed during the Keep Commission days, Taft was not able
to establish and fund a commission by presidential directive. Also, Taft, unlike his
predecessor, had a less expansive view of presidential prerogatives and was more
deferential to congressional sensibilities: he requested funds so that he might
determine how best to establish a commission to address the executive budget issue.
Taft requested that Congress appropriate $100,000 for this preliminary exercise, and
Congress appropriated the funds (36 Stat. 703).
The project was conducted in two phases; phase one, from October 1910
through March 1911, consisted of making preliminary studies, largely under the
direction of the President’s Secretary, Charles Norton, to determine the scope of the
issue areas. Phase two comprised the establishment of a commission to study the
data and make recommendations to the President, and the Commission on Economy
In 1911, President Taft named Frederick Cleveland as chairman of the
President’s Commission on Economy and Efficiency, and physically provided space
and support in the White House. Four other members were appointed, William F.
Willoughby, a public administration scholar, who was at the time was assistant
director of the Bureau of the Census; Walter Warwick, one-time auditor of the
Isthmian Canal Commission; Frank J. Goodnow, professor of administrative law;
Harvey S. Chase, a certified public accountant; and Merritt O. Chance, then Auditor
for the Post Office Department, was made secretary and later a member of the
Later on, in an economy measure intended to appease a hostile Congress, Taft
reduced the commission in 1912 to three members, Cleveland, Warwick and Chance.
Former members Goodnow and Willoughby maintained close ties to the commission
There was, at least initially, a division of opinion regarding the appropriate
direction for the proposed commission to take. For the most part, Congress wished
to have the commission reassert its values, meaning congressional dominance over
agency management and funding. Efficiency, defined simply as spending less
monies, was the congressional leitmotif and they expected any reorganization
proposal and any executive budget proposal to promote this overall objective. Taft,
however, rejected this narrow approach and determined instead to align himself with
the newly emergent field of public administration. In consultation with the New
York Bureau of Municipal Research, he determined to make this definitely a
presidential exercise by having the study based in the White House. Frederick
Cleveland, the director selected by Taft for the initial study was also director of the
New York Bureau. By placing the study physically in the White House, Taft was
not only concerned with protecting the commission from congressional pressures, but
from pressures by cabinet members as well. The study was to be comprehensive in
scope, concerned with organization as well as budgetary matters and management
In President Taft’s message to Congress of January 17, 1912 (H. Doc. 458), he
reviewed the status of the executive branch as he found it in 1909:
This vast organization has never been studied in detail as one piece of
administrative mechanism. Never have the foundations been laid for a through
consideration of the relations of all its parts. No comprehensive effort has been
made to list its multifarious activities or to group them in such a way as to present
a clear picture of what the Government is doing. Never has a complete
description been given of the agencies through which these activities are
performed. At no time has the attempt been made to study all of these activities
and agencies with a view to the assignment of each activity to the agency best
fitted for its performance, to the avoidance of duplication of plant and work, to
the integration of all administrative agencies of the Government, so far as may
be practicable, into a unified organization for the most effective and economical68
dispatch of public business.
By the comprehensive vision President Taft brought to the project, he
significantly redefined the debate over organizational management and established
the President as the key player for future organizational management. As Peri
68 President Taft’s statement to Congress as printed in: U.S. Congress, House, Committee on
Appropriations, Message of the President of the United States Transmitting the Reports ofndrd
the Commission on Economy and Efficiency, H.Doc. 1252, 62 Cong., 3 sess.
(Washington: GPO, 1913), p. 2.
From a modern perspective, it is difficult to appreciate how innovative was
Cleveland’s model of the organization of the executive branch. No longer were
these agencies to be understood as single units tied to Congress by an imbilical
cord of statute and appropriations. Rather, they would be seen as part of a whole
that had hierarchy and ordered authority—a bureaucracy. When seen through
this new conception, the traditional picture of the dominant tie of agency to69
legislature is an intrusive element—a pathology.
Organization, Staff Support, and Funding.
Pursuant to its statutory authority, a preliminary investigation was begun under
Charles Norton, Secretary to the President. At the close of the preliminary studies
President Taft, as noted earlier, requested an appropriation of $100,000 which
Congress granted in a sundry civil appropriation act for 1911. This appropriation
was supplemented by one for $75,000 contained in the sundry civil appropriation act
for 1912. Another appropriation for $10,000 passed to meet the expenses of a
special investigation of the Patent Office, which Congress, by joint resolution,
directed the President to make. Finally, Congress appropriated $75,000 in the sundry
civil appropriation act for 1913. The total funding for the commission was thus70
$260,000 from fiscal years July 1, 1910, to June 30, 1913.
Reports and Recommendations.
The commission, complaining of meagre funding and inadequate congressional
support, nonetheless produced many reports, some of which were sent to Congress,
others not. The forms of publications included a Message of the President,
accompanied by the official reports to Congress; circulars printed by the
commission; and miscellaneous documents (e.g., Treasury circulars). The great
majority of reports and recommendations were agency-specific (e.g., consolidation
of the Bureau of Lighthouses with the Life-Saving Service) or process-based (e.g.,
principles for handling correspondence) and thus constituted what today might be
referred to as micro-management issues. Most of the recommendations were
concerned with personnel, financial practices, and business type activities performed
by agencies.71 The running thread of the various recommendations was that agencies
should be grouped together by purpose and that they should follow similar
procedures in the conduct of their affairs.
One of the recommendations of the commission proved, however, to be of
government-wide and political importance. President Taft forwarded a Message to
Congress, attached to the commission’s 568 page supporting report (The Need for a
69 Arnold, Making the Managerial Presidency, 2nd ed., p. 33.
70 Weber, Organized Efforts, p. 84.
71 Ibid., pp. 94-103. One important, noncontroversial report of the commission and its staff
was the inventory of all agencies of the executive branch. The inventory was published as:
U.S. Commission on Economy and Efficiency, Report to the President on the Organization
of the United States as It Existed on July 1, 1911. The report was published in H. Doc. 458,ndnd
National Budget), calling for a national executive budget.72 In the meantime, Taft
directed that agencies simultaneously assemble an estimate of expenditures using the
traditional congressional method and an executive budget according to a
presidentially directed format. In 1913, just prior to his leaving Office, Taft
proposed that his successor be given a presidential staff agency to support the
President in his new budgetary responsibilities.
Understandably, a major political debate ensued over which institution, the
President or Congress, had principal authority and responsibility to oversee the
agencies. Opposition to the proposal was not confined to certain Members of
Congress, but included some cabinet secretaries as well, secretaries with well
developed lines of communications and support from their committees. In the
immediate term, Congress, and more particularly the two appropriations committees,
prevailed over President Taft, the latter being politically weakened by the
congressional elections of 1910 and the divisive 1912 presidential elections, in which
the Democrats swept not only the White House but both houses of Congress as well.
Some voluntary actions at the agency level were forthcoming, but generally
speaking, little action proceeded directly from the commission report or its
leadership. In a post-election gesture, Taft proposed that his successor be given a
presidential staff agency to support the President in meeting his responsibilities as73
part of the larger executive budget reforms.
Results and Assessment.
Subsequent assessments of the commission and of President Taft’s leadership
in the development of executive branch budgetary and management methods have74
generally been favorable. “That the Commission’s life ended with none of its
major recommendations implemented,” Peri Arnold concluded, “ought not be taken
as a measure of failure. In hindsight the Commission was strikingly successful, even
if that success was longer in coming than any of its members would have preferred.
Its work formed the template of modern comprehensive reorganization planning.”75
Taft had made a plea to Woodrow Wilson, his successor, to keep the
commission alive, but to no avail. Wilson, although considered a successful
72 U.S. Commission on Economy and Efficiency, The Need for a National Budget.
Transmitted with presidential Message to Congress on June 27, 1912, H. Doc. 854, 62ndnd
Cong., 2 sess. (Washington: GPO, 1912).
73 Message of the President, February 26, 1913 (62nd Cong., 3rd sess., S. Doc. 113).
74 Frederick C. Mosher assigns credit to President William Howard Taft in his promotion of
a national budget. “There may have been some discussion of a national budget in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But basic credit for initiating the idea should
probably go to President William Howard Taft. Unlike virtually all Presidents before him,
Taft busied himself soon after his inauguration with superintendence of the preparation of
estimates in the departments.” A Tale of Two Agencies: A Comparative Analysis of the
General Accounting Office and the Office of Management and Budget (Baton Rouge:
Louisiana State University Press, 1984), p. 24.
75 Arnold, Executive Reorganization, 2nd ed., pp. 49-50.
Progressive in many respects, was not interested in continuing the life or the work
of the commission.
The major contribution made by the commission was more in the theoretical or
conceptual realm than in the contribution of specific recommendations. With the
commission’s studies, the case was made for presidential authority and resources to
manage the federal bureaucracy. Congress itself gradually became persuaded by this
argument and also by the experience of World War I, with its massive demands upon
the administrative system of the nation.
Congress, early in the Wilson administration, passed a bill, signed by the
President (March 25, 1913) (38 Stat.1007), establishing the Bureau of Efficiency as
a branch of the Civil Service Commission. In a sense, Congress looked upon this
Bureau as a successor of the President’s Commission on Economy and Efficiency.
The Bureau was plagued by the absence of adequate funding. Nonetheless, the
mandate of the Bureau was expanded by act of March 4, 1915, to include the
“investigation of duplication of statistical and other work and method of business in
the various branches of government service.” In 1916, the Bureau was made an
independent agency (39 Stat.15). Although the Bureau was authorized to investigate76
the need for administrative reorganization, it never undertook such a project. The
Bureau of Efficiency had an ambiguous status. As Gustavus Weber noted at the
time: “[T]he Bureau, notwithstanding that its legal status is that of a part of the
administrative branch of the government, is functioning largely as a direct agent of77
the legislative branch.” The Bureau was abolished in 1933 (97 Stat. 1519).
Joint Committee on Reorganization (1921-1924)
The First World War provided extensive evidence of the need for an integrated
executive branch with the President as chief manager. President Taft’s call for a
national budget and administrative reorganization, first heard in 1912, now fell on
more receptive ears. The new Republican majority in both chambers saw this as an
opportunity to regain the initiative in the field of executive branch organization
Following the War, the House took the initiative in promoting the national
budget concept by passing a bill in October 1919 requiring the President to be
responsible for estimates of the agencies. To this end, the bill provided for the
establishment of a Bureau of the Budget in the Office of the President. President
Wilson announced his support, belatedly in the view of supporters, for the executive
budget concept. The Senate passed a revised version of the bill on May 1, 1920.
This revised bill provided not only for a Bureau of the Budget but for a General78
Accounting Office in the legislative branch as well.
76 Weber, Organized Efforts, pp. 104-113.
77 Ibid., p. 111.
78 U.S. Congress, A National Budget System: A Compilation of Hearings, Reports, Acts,
While the bill had some recognized flaws, supporters were nonetheless
surprised when President Wilson invoked his veto power, citing constitutional
grounds. The President objected to procedures for removing the Comptroller
General.79 Frantic efforts to refashion the bill before adjournment were unsuccessful,
thus ending the opportunity for President Wilson to take some credit for establishing
a national budget and a national budget agency.
The Republican sweep of 1920 enhanced already strong sentiment for budget
reform. Congress altered the Budget bill slightly, hoping to overcome objections.
First, the new Budget Bureau was to be “in but not of” the Department of the
Treasury, with a separate director to be appointed by the President and not subject
to Senate confirmation. Second, Congress would continue to be the initiatory agent
for removing the Comptroller General, but removal would require a joint resolution,
a procedure with the effect of law, thereby requiring a presidential signature. The
new President, Warren Harding, did not challenge this removal procedure (it has
never been employed), and thus the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 became law
(42 Stat. 20). Herbert Emmerich, succumbing to hyperbole, described the Budget
and Accounting Act as “probably the greatest landmark of our administrative history
except for the Constitution itself.”80
In the waning days of the Wilson Administration, Congress, by joint resolution
of December 29, 1920 (41 Stat. 1083), created a Joint Committee on Reorganization,
to be composed of three members of each house of Congress, appointed by the
President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House. The mission of the
commission was “to make a survey of the administrative services of the government
for the purpose of securing all pertinent facts concerning their powers and duties,
their distribution among the several executive departments and their overlapping and81
duplication of authority....”
At the suggestion of the new President, Warren Harding, Congress passed a
supplementary joint resolution, approved May 5, 1921 (42 Stat. 3), authorizing the
President to appoint a representative of the executive branch to cooperate with the
Joint Committee on Reorganization, whose salary should be paid in equal parts from82
the contingent funds of the Senate and House. President Harding’s personal
Bills, Tracing the Legislative Development of the Budget and Accounting Act. 2v.
(Washington: GPO, 1918-1921).
79 President Woodrow Wilson’s veto message of H.R. 9783 is to be found in: U.S.
Congressional Record, House, 66th Cong., 2nd sess., June 4, 1920, pp. 8609-10.
80 Emmerich, Federal Organization and Administrative Management, pp. 40-41.
81 Lloyd M. Short, The Development of National Administrative Organization in the United
States (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1923), pp. 462-70.
82 “Walter F. Brown Will Probably Be Named by President Harding to Head of Joint
Congressional Committee to Reorganize Executive Departments,” New York Times, April
16, 1921, p. 16. In 1921, Congress passed, after a Democratic filibuster, a resolution
representative on the committee, Walter F. Brown, was subsequently voted the83
chairman of the congressional committee, an unprecedented action.
President Harding, suspected of subscribing to congressional dominance of
organizational method, surprised Congress by reasserting presidential prerogatives
over matters of executive organization and management.84 As a matter of high
priority, Harding successfully pushed for passage of legislation to establish both a
General Accounting Office and a Bureau of the Budget. (42 Stat. 20). Next,
Harding sought to not only have executive participation on the Joint Committee, but
for the executive branch to take the lead. He was committed to submit to Congress
a comprehensive executive reorganization proposal, which occurred in the early85
months of Harding’s successor, President Calvin Coolidge.
The joint committee was composed of three members from each house of
Congress, one of whom was to be a member of the minority party (Democratic at that
period). The initial makeup of the joint committee was Senators Reed Smoot (R-
UT), James Wadsworth (R-NY), and Pat Harrison (D-MS). House members were
Representatives C. Frank Reavis (R-NE), Henry Temple (R-PA), and Robert W.
At the request of the President, Walter F. Brown was elected chairman of the
joint committee. No apparent concern was expressed at the time about this
extraordinary apparent breaching of the separation of powers doctrine.
The principal philosophical underpinning of the joint committee exercise was
to reorganize the executive branch according to “major purpose.” In President
Harding’s letter of June 13, 1921 to the joint committee, he stated:
Since it is extremely difficult to administer efficiently departments which
include wholly dissimilar and unrelated services, and quite impossible to
administer economically identical or similar services which are scattered
throughout several departments, it would seem necessary at the outset of the work
of reorganization to provide a statutory regrouping of governmental activities to
the end, as far as practice, that each department be made up of agencies having
providing Brown be paid $7,500 per year. “Filibuster by House Democrats,” New York
Times, July 27, 1921, p. 2.
83 Walter F. Brown was an attorney in Toledo, Ohio, leader in Republican Party activities,
and friend of President Harding. “Interview with W.F. Brown,” New York Times, August
84 Warren G. Harding, “Business in Government and the Problem of Governmental
Reorganization for Greater Efficiency,” Academy of Political Science, Proceedings, 9(July
85 Message of the President of the United States, S.Doc. 128, 68th Cong., 1st sess., June 23,
substantially the same major purpose and, further, that identical or similar86
services shall be grouped together.
The joint committee, especially its chairman, Walter F. Brown, was receptive
to the concept of reorganizing by major purpose, although this term was as likely to
raise questions as to be the answer.
The chief player in developing and sustaining an administrative philosophy for
the Administration was a member of Harding’s Cabinet, Herbert Hoover, Secretary
of Commerce. Hoover enthusiastically embraced the Brown effort as his own and
set about to reassert the Progressive ideal of an efficient, but also effective, executive
branch.87 Peri Arnold provides a graphic description of the dynamic quality that
Herbert Hoover brought to the Harding Cabinet:
The major intellectual thrust in this reorganization effort came not from the
President or Brown, but from the Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover.
Hoover was vitally interested in reorganization, and to this day stands out as
perhaps the most prominent theoretician-practitioner in American public
administration. Beyond this, Hoover was the pillar of the Harding cabinet. The
President trusted his Secretary of Commerce and tended to rely on Hoover for
advice on a wide range of policy matters. While President Harding used his
position to support the reorganization planning effort, and Walter Brown offered
the legitimizing aegis of the joint committee and served as coordinator, Herbert88
Hoover provided the intellectual thrust for the endeavor.
As Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover set out to reorganize much of the
executive branch. His immediate objective was to alter and expand the functions of
the Department of Commerce. During the course of the discussion in 1921 within
the executive branch, he proposed three great divisions for the Department; one for
industry, one for trade, and one for transportation and commerce. A variety of
agencies would then be shifted to the Commerce Department. Ellis Hawley observed
of Hoover’s early reorganization effort: “In essence, the Commerce Department was
to become a department of economic development and management; other agencies
would still be responsible for special sectors of the economy, but Commerce would
serve as a general coordinator....”89
Not surprisingly, Secretary Hoover’s grand scheme, while enjoying some
implicit support from the White House, was viewed by the other departments and
86 “Harding Urges Joint Congressional Committee to Act Quickly,” New York Times, June
87 Although largely forgotten by latter-day political analysts, Herbert Hoover was a
Progressive in his philosophy toward government. Joan Hoff Wilson, Herbert Hoover:
Forgotten Progressive (Boston: Little Brown and Co., 1975).
88 Peri E. Arnold, “Executive Reorganization and Administrative Theory: The Origins of the
Managerial Presidency.” Paper delivered at the 1976 Annual Meeting of the American
Political Science Association, p. 12.
89 Ellis Hawley, “Herbert Hoover, The Commerce Secretariat, and the Vision of the
‘Associative State,’ 1921-1928,” The Journal of American History, vol. 61, June 1974, p.
agencies as a “power grab.” Opposition within the cabinet to the Hoover proposal90
was immediate and intense. Congress, although it had been waiting for the
comprehensive executive reorganization report from the joint committee it had
created in cooperation with the White House, was less than enthusiastic with its final
recommendations and chose to take a pass on this first opportunity to perform major
surgery on the executive branch.91
Organization, Staff Support, and Funding.
Unable to establish its own staff, the joint committee, in the form of Walter F.
Brown, requested the assistance of the Bureau of Efficiency under Herbert Brown
(no relation). Like the joint committee, the Bureau tried to straddle the branches.
It worked with congressional committees on budgetary matters and worked with the
executive branch to promote central managerial interests. The Bureau was very
cognizant of the institutional weakness of the presidential office.
Under the Constitution, the President is responsible for the management of
the executive branch of the government, but up to the present, Congress has not
seen fit to give to the Chief Executive any machinery with which he can
effectively discharge this responsibility. The President’s staff consists wholly of
a small number of personal secretaries and clerks. The time of this staff is taken
up with the consideration of legislative business, the preparation of commissions,
appointment matters, and so on. Under these conditions the President is... unable92
to function as an administrative officer.
The Bureau of Efficiency did provide clerical and other support to the Joint
Committee. Herbert Hoover’s staff at the Commerce Department was also used to
develop and promote his views on the proper direction for the executive branch to
take. Hoover, as we will learn, tended to be simultaneously of two minds with
regard to executive branch organization. First, he sought to build up the capacity of
the executive branch to meet its responsibilities under a President holding sufficient
authority and institutional support to be the activist Chief Manager. Second, and
somewhat paradoxically to his critics, he believed that government should be limited
in its functions and seek the least claim (economy and efficiency) upon the resources
of the taxpayers.
Reports and Recommendations.
When the joint committee received the reports and recommendations from the
Harding-Coolidge administration, it reviewed the studies without benefit of staff.
Nonetheless, the joint committee held hearings in 1924, but several factors
90 Edward L. and Frederick H. Schapsmeier, “Disharmony in the Harding Cabinet,” Ohio
History, vol. 75, Spring/Summer 1966, p. 135.
91 U.S. Joint Committee on Reorganization of the Administrative Branch of the Government,
Reorganization of the Executive Departments, Hearings on S.J. Res. 282, 68th Cong., 1st sess.
(Washington: GPO, 1924).
92 Memorandum, Herbert Brown to the Postmaster General, April 25, 1921, Bureau of
Efficiency, 1.02, RG 51, National Archives. As quoted in Arnold, Making the Managerialnd
Presidency, 2 ed., p. 63.
discouraged the committee from pursuing legislation on recommendations of the
report. First, a new President, Calvin Coolidge, had replaced the recently deceased
Harding, and had exhibited little interest in executive branch reorganization or the
development of a White House staff capacity. Second, administration witnesses
illustrated in their remarks the strong divisions of opinion on reorganization
proposals, especially the proposal to merge the Departments of War and Navy.
Third, there was little discussion of how the reorganizations would eventually “save”
The plan submitted by the joint committee to the full Congress was essentially
the Harding plan minus the provision to merge War and Navy. Neither Harding’s
plan or the specific proposals provided firm statistics on “savings” to be achieved by
the reorganization. As it turned out, the attractiveness of reorganization was waning
and “none of the Joint Committee’s large-scale recommendations were given serious93
The methodology for developing an overall executive branch reorganization
plan was to have the departments themselves take the first shot. Each was to submit
a plan to Walter Brown. In Brown’s view, such an approach, which was the opposite
of the arms-length approach of Taft’s Commission on Economy and Efficiency, was
more likely to produce informed analysis by those most clearly affected. This
approach, however, left most of the department secretaries nonplused or highly
Unlike his cabinet colleagues, Secretary Herbert Hoover saw this approach as
an opportunity to recast his Department as the centerpiece of a completely
redesigned government. Under his reorganization plan, submitted to Brown (and
also the President) in 1921, the Commerce Department would become a “super
department” responsible for government’s activities in industry, trade, and
transportation. To achieve this objective, many agencies would be taken from their
current departments and placed in whole or in part in the new Department of
Commerce. A typical transfer proposed by Hoover was to move the Bureau of
Public Roads from the Agriculture Department to Commerce. Not surprisingly,
Hoover’s proposals and those of other departmental secretaries, provided the grist
for controversy within the Administration. Rather than presiding over a rational,
scientific debate on the alternatives of organizational design, Brown found that he
was a referee in an amazingly intense political struggle. As if the individual reports
of departmental secretaries were not enough, Brown was the recipient of two major
reports from outside organizations, the National Budget Committee and the94
The plans submitted by the departments generally called for the aggrandizement
of their functions. In no instance did a department propose to limit or shed one of
its functions. Brown worked diligently to make a single plan from the many
submitted to present to the President for his review. Finally, a single reorganization
plan was put in front of the President, who was immediately faced with strong
93 Arnold, Making the Managerial Presidency, p. 79.
94 Short, The Development of National Administrative Organization, pp. 462-66.
opposition from cabinet members. Conflict was intense on certain proposals,
especially the proposal to transfer the Forest Service from the Agriculture
Department to the Interior Department. For months, the cabinet debated the
provisions of the plan, and there was little progress.
Finally, under pressure from Congress, Harding had Brown produce a single
plan, one presumably representing the President’s views, and sent it to the joint
committee. The Administration’s proposals were bold and expansive, but politically
unacceptable and no action was forthcoming.
Results and Assessment.
None of the specific recommendations of the joint committee was directly
adopted, but they influenced executive organization and management nonetheless.
The 1920s were years of transition, with the President gradually emerging as the
dominant force in supervising administrative agencies.95 A number of agency-
specific reorganization studies were published during the decade, and definite steps
were taken to enhance the managerial capacities of departmental secretaries as well
as those of the President.96 In that sense, therefore, the work of the joint committee
and other reorganization efforts of the 1920s were precursors of the President’s
Committee on Administrative Management (Brownlow Committee) appointed in
Reorganization Authority (1930-1933)
As previously discussed, Hoover had been the principal driving force in
promoting the departmental reorganization by general purpose and shifting authority
and responsibility for such reorganizations from Congress to the President. Speaking
as Secretary of Commerce in 1924, Hoover had recommended that Congress give the
President authority, within specified limits, to reorganize executive departments and97
agencies. No action was forthcoming on his proposal. In his first year as
President, 1929, Hoover included in his Annual Message to Congress, a request for
authority to submit proposals for reorganization, subject to some form of
congressional disapproval. He said that he saw “no hope for the development of a
sound reorganization of the Government unless Congress be willing to delegate its
authority over the problem (subject to defined principles) to the Executive, who
should act upon approval of a joint committee of Congress or with the reservation
95 Peri E. Arnold, “Executive Reorganization and Administrative Theory,” (1976).
96 E.H. Hobbs, Executive Reorganization in the National Government (Oxford, MS:
University of Mississippi Press, 1953, pp. 21-35.
97 U.S. Congress, Joint Committee on Reorganization of the Administrative Branch of the
Government, Reorganization of Executive Departments, Hearings, 68th Cong., 1st sess.
(Washington: GPO, 1924), p. 353. “To Herbert Hoover,” noted Herbert Emmerich, “belongs
the undoubted credit for the invention and espousal of the important peacetime
reorganization device — presidential initiative subject to the legislative veto.” Federal
Organization and Administrative Management, p. 43.
of power of revision by Congress within some limited period adequate for its98
During 1930, Hoover was able to secure from Congress approval of two agency
consolidations. On May 27, 1930, he signed a bill authorizing him to consolidate all
the Prohibition enforcement agencies into the Department of Justice, which he did.
On July 8, 1930, under authority of Congress, he issued an Executive order creating
the Veterans’ Administration out of some five agencies scattered among the
departments. The new Administrator of Veterans’ Affairs claimed that the
reorganization and consolidation saved $10,000,000 a year, thus reasserting the
standard rationale for reorganization, the saving of money, and only secondarily the99
improvement of managerial capacity.
President Hoover returned to the subject of executive reorganization in his
Annual Message for 1931, although this time not specifying a method of
congressional disapproval.100 In a major address of February 17, 1931, Hoover asked
for authority consolidate various executive and administrative organizations and
activities. The form of congressional control was left indefinite. He recommended
that Congress provide that:
Authority under proper safeguards is to be lodged in the President to effect
these transfers and consolidations and authority to redistribute executive groups
in the 10 executive departments of the Government or in the independent
establishments, as the President may determine, by Executive order, such
Executive order to lie before the Congress for 60 days during the sessions thereof
becoming effective, but becoming effective at the end of such period unless the101
Congress shall request suspension of action.
During 1932, a year in which Hoover campaigned for reelection, the subject of102
reorganization appeared two dozen times in executive messages. Both political
parties called for drastic reductions in government spending. On February 24, 1932,
the House of Representatives created a seven-member Select Committee on
Economy to investigate the possibilities of agency consolidation. The temper in
Congress favored some grant of authority to the President as a means of avoiding the
delays created in the legislative branch, delay attributed to the power of interest
groups. Senator David Reed expressed his disillusionment with the existing system:
98 U.S. Public Papers of the Presidents: Herbert Hoover (1929). (Washington: GPO, 1974),
99 Ray Lyman Wilbur and Arthur Mastick Hyde, The Hoover Policies (New York: Charles
Scribner’s Sons, 1937), pp. 568-69.
100 U.S., Public Papers of the Presidents: Hoover (1931) (Washington: GPO, 1974), pp. 594-
101 U.S., Public Papers of the Presidents: Hoover (1932-1933) (Washington: GPO, 1974),
102 U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Rules, “Delegating With Ambivalence: The
Legislative Veto and the Reorganization Authority,” by Louis Fisher and Ronald C. Moe,thnd
in Studies on the Legislative Veto, Committee print, 96 Cong., 2 sess. (Washington:
GPO, 1980), p. 173.
Mr. President, I do not often envy other countries their governments, but I
say that if this country every needed a Mussolini it needs one now. I am not
proposing that we make Mr. Hoover our Mussolini, I am not proposing that we
should abdicate the authority that is in us, but if we are to get economies made
they have to be made by some one who has the power to make the order and
stand by it. Leave it to Congress and we will fiddle around here all summer
trying to satisfy very lobbyist, and we will get nowhere. The country does not103
want that. The country wants stern action, and action quickly....
Hoover received reorganization authority in the form of an amendment (Part II)
to the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act for fiscal 1933. Title IV of Part II
(known as the Economy Act of 1932) authorized the President to reorganize the
executive branch. The President could transfer the whole or any part of any
independent executive agency, or the functions thereof, to an executive department
or to another independent executive agency. Functions within a department could
be consolidated. This power was conferred upon the President without a time limit
(47 Stat. 413).
Reorganization proposals were subject to a one-house veto. The legislation
provided that the President could propose a reorganization by an executive order,
which would be transmitted to Congress while in session, but not become effective
until 60 days after its transmittal. Congress could shorten the period by passing a
concurrent resolution of approval. Any executive order or part thereof would
become null and void if either house, within the 60-day period, passed a resolution
of disapproval. The bill therefore allowed not only for disapproval in whole but also
Hoover signed the bill on June 30, 1932. Shortly thereafter Congress
adjourned. When it reconvened on December 3rd, President Hoover issued 11104
executive orders consolidating some 58 governmental activities. By that time,
however, Hoover had been overwhelmingly defeated in the general election, and it
was evident that Members of Congress, in the closing hours of a lame-duck session,
intended to leave reorganizations changes to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Hoover, aware
of sentiments in the House, announced on January 3, 1933, that either Congress
“must keep its hands off now, or they must give to my successor much larger powers
of independent action than given to any President if there is [sic] ever to be
reorganizations.” He further stated that such authority, to be effective, should be free
of the legislative veto. Otherwise the reorganization authority would, “as is now105
being demonstrated in the present law, again be merely make-believe politics.”
The House Committee on Expenditures in the executive departments
recommended disapproval of all the executive orders and the full house, after some
103 U.S. Congressional Record, vol. 75, May 5, 1932, p. 9644.
104 U.S. Congressional Record, vol. 76, Dec. 9, 1932, pp. 233-54. .
105 U.S., Public Papers of the President: Hoover (1932-33), (Washington: GPO, 1974), p.
parliamentary maneuvers, proceeded to pass the resolution of disapproval by voice106
However, Congress decided to follow Hoover’s advice and provide the
President with reorganization authority free of the legislative veto process to avoid
“merely make-believe politics.” One day prior to Roosevelt’s inauguration,
Congress passed the Economy Act of 1933 (47 Stat. 1519). The delegation of power
in that act was extraordinary. The statute did more than allow the President to
transfer functions. It authorized him, for a two-year period, to “abolish the whole or
any part of any executive agency and/or the functions thereof.” Moreover, it107
eliminated the check of a one-house veto.
President’s Committee on Administrative Management
(Brownlow Committee), 1936-1937
Franklin Roosevelt did not exhibit any overall interest in executive organization
during his first years in office. Indeed, Roosevelt preferred a loose approach to
organizational management, creating new agencies under the aegis of his emergency
powers rather than by statute, reorganization plan authority, or by reorienting108
existing agencies to perform new missions. One consequence of this approach
was that a relatively high percent of the new government growth in agencies,
personnel, and programs took place outside the executive departmental structure.
The use of emergency legislation as the vehicle for executive reorganization
reached its peak in 1935, and also encountered its first real challenge, when the
Supreme Court struck down two delegations of legislative power to the President,109
both involving the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). The Court
concluded that the NIRA failed to provide adequate standards and guidelines for
A more serious challenge to Roosevelt’s authority came on May 27, 1935, the
same day the Supreme Court handed down the second of the NIRA decision. The
Court agreed unanimously that Roosevelt did not have unlimited authority to remove
106 U.S. Congressional Record, vol. 76, Jan. 19, 1933, p. 2103.
107 U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Rules, Delegating With Ambivalence, pp. 164-247.
108 Typical of Roosevelt’s method of establishing or reorganizing agencies was that of the
establishment of the Resettlement Administration by Executive order 7027, May 1, 1935.
“By virtue of and pursuant to the authority vested in me under the Emergency Relief
Appropriation Act of 1935, I hereby establish an agency within the Government to be known
as the ‘Resettlement Administration,’ and appoint Rexford G. Tugwell, Undersecretary of
Agriculture, as Administrator thereof, to serve without additional compensation.”
109 Panama Refining Co., v. Ryan, 293 U.S. 388 (1935); Schecter Corp. V. United States, 295
U.S. 495 (1935).
members of independent regulatory commissions.110 Roosevelt viewed this decision
as severely restricting his administrative capacities and now turned to administrative
reorganization “as a possible means of trying to integrate all of the separate
independent agencies into major executive departments where they would clearly be111
subject to the President’s administrative supervision.” Roosevelt was apparently
convinced that he would henceforth have to reorganize the executive branch in a
straightforward statutory manner and also provide institutional capacity to the
President to manage the departments and agencies.
With respect to the reorganization plan authority in the 1933 Economy Act, he
issued only a few Executive orders transferring various agencies and functions, none112
of which was controversial or far-reaching.
On March 22, 1936, President Roosevelt announced by a White House
statement the formation of the President’s Committee on Administrative
Management.113 This committee’s primary purpose was to consider the problem of
overall management of the entire executive establishment. Technically, the
committee was to serve as an adjunct of the National Emergency Council.
The President’s Committee on Administrative Management consisted of three
persons; Louis Brownlow as chairman, Charles E. Merriam, and Luther Gulick as
members. The committee soon became known popularly as the Brownlow
Committee. Brownlow had been an eminent city manager with additional national
and international experience. Charles E. Merriam, one-time Chicago city
councilman, held a professorship with special interest in American political theory,
and Luther Gulick was head of the Institute of Public Administration (IPA) in New
York City. In preparation for staff work on the Committee’s report, the IPA had
published a volume titled: Papers on the Science of Administration, (eds. Luther
Gulick and L. Urwick, 1937). The membership remained constant through the
110 Humphrey’s Executor v. United States, 295 U.S. 602 (1935).
111 Wann, The President as Chief Administrator, p. 193.
112 See Lewis Meriam and Laurence F. Schmeckebier, Reorganization of the National
Government (Washington: The Brookings Institution, 1939), pp. 200-12. Also, A.J. Wann,
The President as Chief Administrator: A Study of Franklin D. Roosevelt (Washington: Public
Affairs Press, 1968), p. 193.
113 “White House Statement on the Appointment of a Committee to Formulate a Plan for the
Reorganization of the Executive Branch of Government,” March 22, 1936. U.S. Public
Papers of the President, Franklin D. Roosevelt (1936) (New York: Random House, 1938),
vol. V, p. 144.
With the approach of the 1936 presidential election, Roosevelt determined that
it was both possible and desirable to reorganize much of the executive branch during
the early months of his second term. The President was further persuaded by
Brownlow and Merriam that what was needed was an academic theory and treatise
to buttress a comprehensive reorganization strategy. Such a report was intended to
raise issues in a way that they would appear to be based on neutral principles, not
partisan advantage. Brownlow and Merriam were able to assure President Roosevelt
that a report could be written to his liking.114
The underlying administrative philosophy of the Brownlow Committee was that
of the ascendent public administration discipline. The committee and its staff built
on the intellectual developments of the Progressive era and the 1920s in government
management, national, state and local. Political accountability to the President for
implementing the laws was the highest value to the committee. Its immediate goal
was to strengthen the President as chief manager of the executive branch.
The essence of the committee’s distinctive approach to reorganization was the
view that the President must be made the central actor in the vast reorganization
project. The concept of the presidency as a uniquely American institution was their
touchstone. Everything seemed to follow from this basic premise. The problems
affecting contemporary government were, to their minds, largely administrative in
character. The solution lay in the provision of tools to the President so he could
manage the entire executive branch through well-conceived, consistent laws, an
institutional arm in the Executive Office to promote government-wide procedures
and practices, and the reassignment of most “independent agencies” into the
Organization, Support Staff, and Financing.
The committee, which held its first meeting on April 1, 1936, was to work
without presidential involvement until after the November election. Joseph P. Harris
was selected Director of Research, and a research staff was quickly recruited. The
group consisted of some 26 experts, for the most part being young, political science
Ph.Ds. They worked on their respective papers during the summer and returned to115
their homes by September. Committee members reassembled in September
(Brownlow and Merriam had been in Europe) and began to put the Report together.
The draft Report was ready before the November election.
As for funding, Herbert Emmerich reported that no funds were granted for the
President’s Committee until June, 1936, when the President was authorized to
allocate not more than $100,000 from emergency funds for the study it was to
114 Polenberg, Reorganizing Roosevelt’s Government, pp. 14-15.
115 James W. Fesler, “The Brownlow Committee Fifty Years Later,” Public Administration
Review, vol. 47, July/August 1987, pp. 291-96.
undertake.116 It needs to be recognized that the House and Senate, especially the
latter, were involved in reorganization studies themselves, and political
considerations arguably entered into the appropriations equation117. The President’s
committee gave $10,000 to the House committee and assumed expenses of the
Senate select subcommittee headed by Senator Harry Byrd, to the extent of another
$40,000. This left $50,000 for the use of the President’s Committee of which its
Reports and Recommendations.
The Brownlow Committee submitted its report to the President on January 1,
1937. It was a 55 page general report accompanied by supporting studies.118 At the
end of the Report, the Committee summarized their findings and recommendations.
1.Expand the White House staff to include assistants to the president who
are “possessed of high competence, great physical vigor, and a passion for
especially those responsible for budget, management (“efficiency
research”) and planning.
boards and commissions and place them by executive order within one or
another of the major departments. Two major new departments (Public
Works and Social Welfare) were proposed. The Department of the Interior
to be changed to the Department of Conservation.
5.An auditor general within the executive branch should be provided to
perform post-audits of all transactions. Intended to perform some of the
functions of the Comptroller General, who reports to Congress.
116 Emmerich, Federal Organization, p. 49. A provision in the First Deficiency
Appropriations Act for the fiscal year 1936 authorized the President to allocate not more than
$100,000 from appropriations under the 1935 Emergency Relief Act for a committee “to
make a study of the emergency and regular agencies of the executive branch of the
government for the purpose of making recommendations to secure the most efficient
organization and management of that branch of the public service.” (49 Stat. 1600).
117 U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee to Investigate the Executive Agencies of the
Government, Investigation of Executive Agencies of the Government (Preliminary Report),th
S. Rept. 1289, 75 Cong., lst sess., 1937. A subsidiary product of the Brookings Institution
study, supported by Senator Harry Byrd, Sr., was: Lewis Meriam and Laurence F.
Schmeckebier, Reorganization of the National Government: What Does It Involve?
(Washington: The Brookings Institution, 1939).
118 U.S. President’s Committee on Administrative Management, Report with Special Studies
(Washington: GPO, 1937).
Additionally, certain other recommendations were found in the body of the
report. The presidential assistants were suggested to be six in number and without
portfolio. This was in addition to the existing three assistants. The Bureau of the
Budget would be responsible for designing new agencies and programs and
approving reorganization proposals. The administrative functions of the independent
regulatory commissions (“A headless fourth branch of government”) should be
assigned to the executive departments under single administrators. Congress should
delegate to the President continuing authority to transfer, consolidate, and abolish
functions within the executive departments. Government corporations should be
placed under departments acting as “supervisory agencies,” with semi-autonomous
Results and Assessment.
The President received the Report as the new year and his second term began.
He was pleased with the administrative philosophy of the Report and with most of
the specific recommendations. He introduced a bill in 1937 embodying many of the
recommendations of the Committee. The bill was debated in 1938, but was under
consideration at the same time as the presidentially inspired legislation to enlarge the
Supreme Court. Indeed, the reorganization bill was seen by some to be part of an
effort to establish a “presidential dictatorship,” a perception persuasive enough to
sink the reorganization bill.119
In 1939, still smarting from the defeat suffered the previous year, President
Roosevelt submitted another, more modest, reorganization bill. The 1939 bill
contained only two of the major proposals recommended by the Brownlow
Committee. It authorized the President to appoint six administrative assistants and
to submit reorganization plans to alter executive branch organization, such Plans120
being subject to a veto by concurrent resolution of Congress. While there was
considerable concern expressed regarding the constitutionality of the procedures
outlined for approving reorganization plans,121 the House and Senate passed the bill,
and it was signed by the President on April 3, 1939 (53 Stat. 561).
The report of the Brownlow Committee has been characterized as the “high
noon of orthodoxy” because of its advocacy of clear lines of accountability,
departmentalism, and the doctrine that responsibility for making policy and setting
119 For a discussion of the fate of the Brownlow Committee recommendations, consult:
Arnold, Making the Managerial Presidency, 2nd ed., chapter 4. Also: Harvey C. Mansfield,
“Reorganizing the Federal Executive Branch: The Limits of Institutionalization,” in The
Institutionalized Presidency, eds. Normal C. Thomas and Hans W. Baade (Dobbs Ferry, NY:
Oceana Publications, 1972). Ronald C. Moe, “The Brownlow Report: A Timeless Message,”
The Bureaucrat, vol. 16, Fall 1987, pp. 45-48.
120 John D. Millett and Lindsay Rogers, “The Legislative Veto and the Reorganization Act
of 1939,” Public Administration Review, vol. 1, Winter 1941, pp. 176-89.
121 For a discussion of the history and use of the President’s Reorganization Authority, see:
Harvey C. Mansfield, “Federal Executive Reorganization: Thirty Years of Experience,”
Public Administration Review, 20(July/August 1969): 332-45. Louis Fisher and Ronald C.
Moe, “Presidential Reorganization Authority: Is It Worth the Cost?” Political Science
Quarterly, vol. 96, Summer 1981, pp. 301-18.
standards ought to reside in the President and departmental secretaries, rather than122
being devolved to the agency level.
In a study of Roosevelt’s efforts to reorganize the executive branch, Richard
Polenberg observed: “What distinguished Roosevelt’s conception of reorganization
from that of his predecessors was his objective rather than the means he employed.
Other Presidents had considered reorganization an Executive responsibility, but their
aim had consistently been the reduction of expenditures. Roosevelt disagreed. He
believed that the true purpose of reorganization was improved management.... In this
appraisal of reorganization the New Deal marks a sharp break with tradition.”123
Reorganization Authority: 1939, 1945 Acts
The preamble to the Reorganization Act of 1939 contained a statement of the
Scientific Management ideal and the invocation of economy, the latter point having
been added to the bill by Senator Harry Byrd.124 President Roosevelt had not
highlighted “economy” as a purpose of executive reorganization because he was
skeptical of this objective. In 1936, the President told Louis Brownlow and Luther
Gulick: “We have got to get over the notion that the purpose of reorganization is
economy. I had that out with Al Smith in New York.... The reason for125
reorganization is good management.” Extensive economy, he told Congress in
1938, “depends upon a change of policy, the abandonment of functions, and the
demobilization of the staff involved,” all of which were outside the scope of his126
request for reorganization authority. Roosevelt’s skepticism notwithstanding, the
objective of reducing expenditures would appear prominently in the preamble of all
subsequent reorganization acts.
122 Wallace Sayre, “Premises of Public Administration: Past and Emerging,” Public
Administration Review, vol. 50, March/April 1990, p. 103.
123 Richard Polenberg, Reorganizing Roosevelt’s Government: The Controversy Over
Executive Reorganization, 1936-1939 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966), p. 7.
The notion that the New Deal made “a sharp break with tradition on executive reorganization
is not accepted by all. Barry Karl, for one, concludes: “As far as executive reorganization
was concerned, the New Deal from 1932 to 1936 differed in no way from the major lines of
a tradition of attitudes stretching back to the Civil War. The basic premises of that tradition
were retained: that government was excessively large and sprawling hence excessively
expensive; that the rationalization of its structure would ultimately produce less government
more economically and efficiency run. This was good business and good business was good
government.” Executive Reorganization and Reform in the New Deal: The Genesis of
Administrative Management, 1900-1939 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963),
124 Richard Polenberg, “Roosevelt, Carter, and Executive Reorganization: Lessons of the
125 Louis Brownlow, A Passion for Anonymity (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press,
126 The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt (1936) (New York: Random
House, 1938), vol. V, p. 676.
While Congress was sympathetic toward economy in expenditures, it was also
protective of favored agencies and programs. Congress prohibited the President
from using this procedure to create or abolish executive departments, and exempted
a number of agencies, commissions, boards, and government corporations from the
reorganization process. A reorganization plan submitted by the President would lay
before Congress for 60 days, during which time it could be disapproved by a
concurrent resolution of both Houses (two-house veto). After the 60 day time limit,
the reorganization plan became law. From the outset, the legislative veto procedure
prompted controversy within Congress, in part because the procedure gave the
President a tremendous advantage when compared to normal legislative127
Under the Reorganization Act of 1939 (53 Stat. 561), Reorganization Plan No.
1 established the Executive Office of the President, the Federal Security Agency, and
several lesser transfers of agencies from one department to another. Only four more
reorganization plans were submitted before the authority expired in 1941, all of
which were relatively minor shifting of agencies and authorities.
The death of President Roosevelt and the close of World War II came within
months during the year 1945. The new President, Harry S. Truman, assumed the
office with the definite opinion that his predecessor, whatever his strengths
otherwise, had not been a particularly good manager.128 Truman’s first concern was
to achieve an orderly reconversion of the economy from a war to a peacetime basis.
He believed, at least initially, that substantial reorganization would be necessary.
The President requested, and Congress approved, the Reorganization Act of
1945 (59 Stat. 613) which authorized the President to submit reorganization plans
subject to fewer restrictions than had been present in the 1939 Act. The President,
once again, could not abolish or create an executive department, and only 11
agencies were partially or wholly exempted form the provisions of the Act. The
legislative veto procedures were the same as in the 1939 Act. The reorganization
authority would expire in 1948. President Truman used the authority infrequently
and on minor issues.
127 Reorganization Plan No. 4 of 1939 (April 11, 1940) provided for miscellaneous
organizational changes in the executive branch, one change being the transference of the
Civil Aeronautics Authority from independent status to the Department of Commerce. This
provision generated opposition, and the House adopted a resolution of disapproval by a vote
of 232 to 153. The Senate, on the other hand, rejected the resolution of disapproval by a vote
of 46-34. Thus, Reorganization Plan No. 4 became law without the approval of both
128 Harry S. Truman, Years of Decision (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1955), I, p.
First Hoover Commission (1947-1949)
In the immediate aftermath of World War II, there was a fairly broad consensus
favoring governmental “retrenchment.” Such sentiment had its origins in the
obvious need to re-evaluate the administration of numerous organizations and
programs left in the wake of the Depression, War, and demobilization. Congress
began the task by reorganizing itself under provisions of the Legislative129
Reorganization Act of 1946. In November 1946, control of Congress shifted to the
Republicans and they were in the mood to tackle the unprecedented peace time
federal budget and what they viewed as an unwise long-term shift of power to the130
Between the years 1947 and 1955, two major studies of the organization and
functions of the executive branch were undertaken. Congress established by statute
a Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government,
popularly known by the name of its chairman, former President Herbert Hoover, as
the first Hoover Commission. This Commission submitted its report with
recommendations in 1949. In 1953, Congress again established a study commission
with the same title, also chaired by Mr. Hoover, that is referred to as the second
Hoover Commission. This Commission submitted its recommendations to the
President and Congress in 1955.131 These two related commissions will be discussed
Throughout 1946, Representative Clarence Brown (R-OH) studied previous
efforts to reorganize the executive branch. Incremental proposals had yielded, in his
opinion, disappointing results and he concluded that what was needed was a “blue
ribbon” commission to review the entire government and to make recommendations
for reorganization.132 The opportunity to realize his objective followed the 1946
congressional elections, in which Republicans displaced the Democratic majority in
both the House and Senate. Brown introduced a bill in the House to establish a
“mixed commission” consisting of Members of Congress, appointees from the
executive branch, and representatives from the private sector, to study the
organization of the executive branch and to submit recommendations to both the
129 Roger Davidson, “The Advent of the Modern Congress: The Legislative Reorganization
Act of 1946,” Legislative Studies Quarterly, vol. 15, August 1990, pp. 357-73.
130 David Rosenbloom, Building a Legislative-Centered Public Administration: Congress
and the Administrative State, 1946-1999 (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press,
131 For a summary account of both commissions, consult: U.S. Congress, House, Committee
on Government Operations, Summary of the Objectives, Operations, and Results of the
Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government (First and Secondthst
Hoover Commissions). committee print, 88 Cong., 1 sess. (Washington: GPO, 1963).
132 William E. Pemberton, Bureaucratic Politics: Executive Reorganization During the
Truman Administration (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1979), p. 12.
President and Congress. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., (R-MA) introduced an
identical bill in the Senate.
The bills were referred to the Committee on Expenditures in the Executive
Departments of the respective chambers and both Committees held hearings and
voted unanimously to favorably report the bills. One June 26, 1947, the House
considered the bill briefly and passed it by a voice vote without dissent. On the day
following, the Senate acted on the House bill and voted its approval unanimously.
As Ferrel Heady observed: “The proposal had a singularly easy journey through the
legislative mill. No alteration of the language of the bill as originally introduced
occurred at any stage; nor was a single vote recorded against the proposal, either in133
committee or on the floor.” The President signed the bill into law on July 7, 1947
(62 Stat. 246).
The commission was to consist of 12 members: four appointed by the President,
two from the executive branch and two from private life; four appointed by the
President pro tempore of the Senate, two from the Senate and two from private life;
and four appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, two from the
House and two from private life. Of each class of two members, one had to be from
each of the “two major political parties.” The commission was to elect its own
chairman and vice chairman.
In order to accomplish the purposes set forth in the legislation, the Commission
was empowered to hold hearings, administer oaths to witnesses, and every executive
agency was directed to furnish such information, suggestions, estimate, and statistics
as might be properly requested by the chairman and vice chairman. Compensation134
for members was stipulated in the Act.
The three appointing officers lost little time in announcing their choices.
Republican Arthur Vandenburg (R-MI), President pro tempore of the Senate,
appointed Senators George Aiken (R-VT) and John L. McClellan (D-AR), chairman
and ranking minority member of the Committee on Expenditures in the Executive
Departments, the committee with jurisdication over reorganization matters.
Vandenburg’s two appointees from the private sector were James K. Pollack,
professor of political science at the University of Michigan, a Republican, and
Joseph P. Kennedy, formerly chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission
and Ambassador to Great Britain, a Democrat.
133 Ferrel Heady, “A New Approach to Federal Reorganization,” American Political Science
Review, vol.41, December 1947, p. 1120.
134 Compensation varied for members who were from Congress, the executive banch, and
from private life. Senators and Representatives received no additional compensation beyond
that received from their services as Members of Congress. A member from the executive
branch received his regular salary, plus such additional compensation, if any, as necessary
to make his aggregate salary equal to the congressional salary of $12,500. Private members
received $50 per diem when engaged in the performance of duties vested in the commission.
In addition, provisions were made to reimburse all members for travel, subsistence, and other
necessary expenses incurred by them in the performance of Commission duties.
Speaker of the House, Joseph Martin, (R-MA) named as representatives of the135
House, Congressman Clarence Brown, (R-OH), and Carter Manasco, (D-AL).
Both gentlemen were senior members of the House Committee on Expenditures in
the Executive Departments. From the private sector, Martin named former President136
Herbert Hoover and James Rowe, Democrat, the latter known principally for his
service in staff positions under President Franklin Roosevelt.
President Truman announced his appointments on July 17, 1947. His
Democratic appointee from within the executive branch was James A. Forrestal, head
of what was then called the National Military Establishment.137 For the Republican
member, President Truman selected Arthur Fleming, a member of the Civil Service
Commission. From private life, he selected Republican George Mead, the owner and
chief executive office of the Mead Corporation, a large paper and pulp
manufacturing corporation in Ohio. Dean Acheson was President Truman’s
Democratic choice from private life. Acheson had served in both the Treasury and
State Departments, and was then in private law practice.
A few words on Herbert Hoover are appropriate. The two Hoover Commissions
cannot be understood without first recognizing the crucial role played in their
deliberations and recommendations by their chairman, former President Hoover. Mr.
Hoover’s concept of governmental administration, as Secretary of Commerce, as
President, and later as chairman of the Commissions, was strongly influenced by
Progressivism and the tenets of Scientific Management. He believed in fact-finding,
research and planning, and, like the first Roosevelt, he favored “blue ribbon” study
committees.138 His experience, first as an international business executive, then as
administrator of a massive food distribution system under wartime and revolutionary
conditions, gave him two tools indispensable to his later political career. He
acquired a cadre of devoted younger colleagues as well as a comprehensive
135 Representative Carter Manasco (D-AL) lost in his 1948 re-election bid, but remained a
member of the Commission.
136 Speaker Martin recalled his decision process for selecting Mr. Hoover: “I thought at once
of Hoover, knowing that if a former President became a member, he would almost
automatically be elected chairman.” My First Fifty Years in Politics (New York: McGraw-
Hill Company Book Company, 1960), p. 191.
137 Although Forrestal was able to serve throughout the entire period of the Commission, his
attendance and interest became increasingly sporadic due to a mental breakdown. He died
138 Proof of Mr. Hoover’s commitment to public administration research is to be found in one
of the most extraordinary, and largely ignored, research projects in American history. As
President, he promoted a three year project, the President’s Research Committee on Social
Trends, to study all major aspects of American society; (e.g., “Political, Economic, and
Social Activities of Women,” “The Growth of the Federal Government, 1915-1932”), with
the objective being to “supply the basis for the formulation of large national policies looking
to the next phase of the nation’s development.” The products of this effort were two stout
volumes and 13 substantial monographs.
Recent Social Trends in the United States: Report of the President’s Research
Committee on Social Trends, 2v, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1933). See: Arthur N.
Holcombe, “Report on Recent Social Trends in the United States,” American Political
Science Review, vol. 27, April 1933, pp. 222-27.
philosophy of administration that stressed the necessity of strong leadership
emanating from a single executive. Hoover, prior to his presidency, was widely
viewed as the quintessence of the new, 20th century man, the public manager.139 He
had been personally hurt by the treatment accorded him by his successor, the media,
and even the academy during his service as President, and viewed this appointment
as chairman of the Commission as a chance to vindicate his reputation.
Considerable publicity attended the establishment of the Hoover Commission.
Within the commission, however, divergent attitudes threatened the success of the
venture. There were clashes over interpretations of the intent of the enabling
legislation. The congressional grant of authority covered the entire executive branch,
yet it was vague regarding what direction the commission was expected to follow
and the type of product to be submitted to Congress.
According to the statute, the commission might recommend reducing
government expenditures “to the lowest amount consistent with the efficient
performance of essential services,” and was authorized to recommend “abolishing
services, activities, and functions not necessary to the efficient conduct of
government.” To those who interpreted these words broadly, the commission’s
mandate was to go to the heart of the federal government and review, restructure, and140
reduce the scope of government activities.
Defenders of the status quo, as it was at that time, considered that while
recommendations could be made in the name of “efficiency,” the law did not
authorize recommending the abolition of substantive functions. They feared the
commission might venture into the fields of social security, foreign aid, and veterans’
For defenders of the Administration, the mandate assigned in the law was
interpreted narrowly. They wanted the government to continue what it was doing,
139 In describing Herbert Hoover as an administrator, Peri Arnold states: “He was a
remarkably talented, modern administrator who understood the breadth of possibilities
present in an expansive public bureaucracy.... His disagreement with the New Deal’s use
of the State was a disagreement over policy and not an attack on modern state bureaucracy
itself, which Hoover had used brilliantly during the 1920s.” “The ‘Great Engineer’ as
Administrator: Herbert Hoover and Modern Bureaucracy,” Review of Politics, vol. 42, July
140 The commission adopted a policy statement on October 20, 1947, which stated, in part,
that it was the task of the commission to review the necessity and desirability of programs
and functions as well as the organization and management of same.
Thus, it is clear that the Commission is not confined to recommending
management or structural changes which improve the efficiency of performance
of the executive branch but is clearly directed to exploring the boundaries of
government functions in the light of their cost, their usefulness, their limitations,
and their curtailment or elimination.
Policy statement adopted at Commission Meeting on October 20, 1947. Miscellaneous
folder, Frederick A. Middlebush Papers. Quoted in: Pemberton, Bureaucratic Politics, p.
but were willing to concede that it might be reorganized to perform these functions
better. Commissioners critical of the Truman and earlier Roosevelt Administrations,
however, tended to see the “mandate” of the commission as the retrenchment and
reorientation of the federal government.
The terms of this philosophical debate progressively changed and were
ultimately influenced by the results of the 1948 presidential elections. Mr. Hoover’s
concerns and emphases, however, had begun to change even prior to the election.
As time passed, his primary goal had shifted from retrenchments to the enhancement
of the managerial authority of the President and his departmental secretaries. This
shift in emphasis, evident before the election, was reinforced by the results of the
President Truman, although protective of the residuals of the New Deal, was
also sympathetic to the Scientific Management ideals of traditional public
administration. Therefore, he and Herbert Hoover were not far apart in philosophical
terms regarding the “best” organization of the executive branch. According to
President Truman had an organizational strategy, but it was that supplied
to him by the first Hoover Commission. The Hoover commission reports
provided a conceptual framework for the organizational philosophy developed
by Herbert Hoover during his years as President and secretary of commerce, and
did not stem from Truman’s own thinking. There is no evidence, however, that
the return to orthodoxy symbolized by many of the Commission’s141
recommendations was in conflict with Truman’s views.
Despite occasional lapses into partisan manuevering, Truman and Hoover
developed a close personal relationship that grew with time and turned out to be a142
critical element in whatever success may be attributed to the commission.
Organization, Staff Support, and Finances.
The first meeting of the commission was held at the White House on September
29, 1947. Commissioner Brown moved to have Mr. Hoover elected chairman, a
decision approved unanimously. Dean Acheson, a Democrat was selected as vice
chairman. One the early decisions made by the commission was that the basic work
unit would be a “task force.” Twenty-four task forces (e.g., Presidency and
Departmental Management; Federal Personnel Management; Federal-State
Relationships) were established. There was no master plan guiding the mandate,
operations or timing of the reports of the several task forces. In most instances a task
force was headed by a project director, an individual usually selected by Hoover and
accepted by the commission, a staff and a task force advisory committee. These
141 Seidman, Politics, Position and Power, 3rd ed. (1980), p. 103.
142 Pemberton, Bureaucratic Politics, pp. 92-93. At least a portion of the friendship that
evolved between Hoover and Truman may be traced to the fact that both men shared the fate
of living in the shadow of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
advisory committees varied in membership from two to more than thirty, and were143
composed of prominent citizens.
The commission listed 74 persons on its own staff. The staff personnel were
divided into four groups: (1) 18 commissioners’ assistants; (2) a 13-member central
staff, including an executive director, a public relations director and an editorial
director; (3) a four-member administrative staff; and (4) a 39-member secretarial
staff. Also, the commission called on more than 300 outside specialists from
universities, institutions, and businesses. These experts made up 24 separate teams
or task forces, each having a specific field of inquiry. The task forces submitted
technical findings and recommendations to the commission. Eighteen of the task
force reports were published. The concluding report (No. 19) contains a summary
of the recommendations and detailed index to commission reports and published task
force reports. When the commission finished its work in 1949 after 18 months of144
investigation, it had spent about $2 million.
Reports and Recommendations.
As discussed above, the commission decided to divide its job among task
forces, each with its own staff. This decision was crucial as it influenced—if not
predetermined—the thrust of the analyses and recommendations the commission
would have before it to consider. The task force submitted their reports to the full
commission with recommendations. The commission, although it could have written
its reports and recommendations without reference to the task force reports, felt
constrained to use the task force reports as “working documents.” Deviation from
these working documents tended to require initiative on the part of individual
commissioners. To some degree, therefore, the commission was constrained in what
it could consider or conclude by its own organization and procedures. A “single”
commission report was never completed and forwarded to Congress; rather, 19
separate reports were submitted over three months, the final report being forwarded
in May 1949. These reports were later compiled into a single document and
published by a private firm.145
For the purposes of this study, the commission document titled “General
Management of the Executive Branch” is of special interest. The philosophy of the
commission with respect to the organization of the executive branch was stated at the
outset: “[We] must reorganize the Executive Branch to give it simplicity of structure,
143 The most complete discussion of the Hoover Commission task force system is to be found
in: Charles Aiken, “Task Force: Methodology,” Public Administration Review, vol. 19,
Autumn 1949, pp. 241-51.
144 U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Government Operations, Summary of the
Objectives, Operations, and Results of the Commissions on Organization of the Executivethst
Branch of the Government, 88 Cong., 1 sess. (Washington: GPO, 1963), p. 5.
145 U.S. Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government, Hoover
Commission Report (New York: Macmillan, 1949).
the unity of purpose, and the clear line of executive authority originally intended.”146
The commission, and in this instance the influence of Mr. Hoover is readily apparent,
continued by stating that it was their objective to:
Establish a clear line of control from the President to those department and
agency heads and from them to their subordinates with correlative responsibility
from these officials to the President, cutting through the barriers which have in
many cases made bureaus and agencies partially independent of the chief
Permit the operating departments and agencies to administer for themselves
a larger share of the routine administrative services, under strict supervision and147
in conformity with high standards.
The doctrine underlying most of the recommendations was that responsibility
for making policy and setting standards ought to be centralized in the President,
central management agencies, and department secretaries, rather than being devolved
to the agency level. The commission criticized the tendency towards dispersing
functions to independent agencies and called for a renewed, hierarchical
The section titled “Departmental Management” was short. The commission
believed that the departmental system had deteriorated because Congress, and
sometimes the President, had departed from the norm of the integrated administrative
system they believed was intended by the Constitution.
The Congress, and sometimes the President, have set up a maze of
independent agencies reporting directly to the President; and the Congress
frequently has fixed by statute the internal organization of departments and
agencies and has given authority directly to subordinate officers. As a result,
instead of being a unified organization, responsible to the executive direction of
the President and accountable to the Congress for use of the power and funds
granted by law, the executive branch is a chaos of bureaus and subdivisions.
The responsibility, the vigor of executive leadership, and the unity of148
administration of the executive as planned by the Constitution must be restored.
The recommendations were for grouping agencies into departments “as nearly
as possible by major purposes.” Department secretaries should be given full
responsibility and authority for the conduct of their department. There should be
146 U.S. Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government, General
Management of the Executive Branch (Washington: GPO, 1949), p. viii.
147 Ibid., pp. 7-8. In retrospect, a decision made early in the Commission’s life proved
critical to the direction finally taken in the several reports. Herbert Hoover decided to be his
own “task force” for the treatment of the Presidency in the report on “General Management
of the Executive Branch.” In discussing this decision with Herbert Emmerich at the time,
Hoover stated: “I guess I’ll take that one myself. Who is there who ought to know more
about it?” (Emmerich, Federal Organization, p. 98.) The decision was crucial because it
provided a “model” for the several reports in terms of content and style.
148 Hoover Commission Report, p. 21.
decentralization into the operating agencies of such functions as accounting,
budgeting, recruiting and managing the personnel. And finally, department heads
should be given increased staff support. The commission concluded, in a rather off-
handed manner: “We recommend that these various agencies be consolidated into149
about one-third of the present number.”
The commission was generally pleased with the development of the Executive
Office of the President (EOP) although they called for a new Office of Personnel to
be headed by a director who would also serve as chairman of the Civil Service
Commission. It is interesting that the commission did not make any
recommendations designed to convert the cabinet into a more cohesive policy
developing unit with a degree of collective responsibility, a favored proposal of
reformers. The commission recommended that the President be given permanent
authority to submit reorganization plans to effectuate changes in structure and that
such plans should not be restricted by limitations or exemptions. In short, the report
on “General Management of the Executive Branch” constituted a clear, concise,
statement of many of the orthodox principles of public administration as applied in
a practical sense to the executive branch.
Results and Assessment.
“The record of results,” Herbert Emmerich concluded, “achieved after the150
Commission submitted its recommendations was extraordinary.” A number of
commission recommendations provided crucial impetus for the passage of major
legislation such as the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act creating the
General Services Administration. A large number of Reorganization Plans were151
submitted in 1949 and 1950 which enjoyed a high percentage of success. Six of
the plans provided that responsibilities for performance of all functions within these
departments be vested in the secretary for delegation, not assigned directly to
Not all commission recommendations were accepted. Among the rejected were
those to create a Water Development Use Service in the Interior Department to
consist of a merger of the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation,
and the creation of a United Medical Administration outside the departmental
structure. The latter recommendation failed, in part, because it violated the
149 First Hoover Commission, General Management of the Executive Branch, p. 56.
150 Emmerich, Federal Organization and Administrative Management, p. 95. There was an
effort, mostly for media purposes in generating support, to keep track of the number of
recommendations which were effected by congressional or presidential action. While the
utility of such a listing is open to question, the Citizens’ Committee for the Hoover Report,
a lobbying organization, stated in its final report that the Commission had made some 273
recommendations, of which 196, or 72 percent, had been adopted. The total number of
legislative enactments, including Reorganization Plans, attributable to the first Hoover
Commission, was seventy-seven.
151 Pemberton, Bureaucratic Politics, p. 123. For an analysis of the work and the
contributions of the two Hoover Commissions, consult: Ronald C. Moe, The Hoover
Commissions Revisited (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1982).
principles of organization set out by former President Hoover in his opening remarks
of the Report.
Former President Hoover was to prove innovative with respect to gaining public
support for the commission and its recommendations. He believed that prior
commissions had enjoyed little success largely because they had not developed and
nurtured a constituency and had been ineffective in public relations. He set about to152
remedy these failings with respect to his commission. Under Hoover’s guidance,
the commission created its own interest group, the Citizens Committee for the
Hoover Report (CCHR).
The CCHR moved in stages, first with more than 700 prominent citizens listed
as supporters. Next, Citizens Committees were formed in 45 states with 300 county
and local affiliates. Even allowing for organizational hyperbole, this was an
impressive effort. Funding for the commission came from foundations, corporations,
and individuals. The central office prepared vast quantities of materials for
distribution and for other national organizations to distribute to their own
memberships. Finally, the Citizens Committee drafted many legislative proposals
and submitted them to the relevant committees of Congress.
The principal message of the Citizens Committee, and its tireless leaders, was
that savings of billions, the most common figure cited was $4 billion, was possible
if all the recommendations of the commission were adopted. Even Mr. Hoover made153
Claims of savings had been a source of contention throughout the deliberations
of the commission, as well as afterward. To critics, all these figures were sheer
“guesswork” that misled the public. Objections to the use of “savings estimates” in
no substantial way reduced their appeal or utility to the Citizens Committee.
Compromise was not considered a virtue by the CCHR in this instance. Like many
successor commissions, supporters relied on “horror stories” of alleged government
incompetence and downplayed serious recommendations to increase the capacity of
government to perform its statutory missions. The CCHR even refused a White
House request that the committee drum up support for better pay for government
The public relations effort, although prone to simplistic interpretations of crude
statistics, was nonetheless considered effective, as Herbert Emmerich later observed:
“The public relations of Hoover I was a serious professional job, a job which the
152 Hoover, contrary to conventional wisdom, had a long history of working well with the
press and with publicity agents. Craig Lloyd, Aggressive Introvert: Study of Herbert Hoover
and Public Relations Management, 1912-1932 (Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press,
153 “How to Save $4 Billions a Year: Interview with Herbert Hoover,” U.S. News and World
Report, June 3, 1949, p. 24.
Brownlow Committee had neglected, and which supporters of Hoover II pushed154
beyond the limits of credibility....”
The relationship between the CCHR and the White House was correct, if not
cordial, with both sides seeking to avoid confrontation. Generally speaking, the
White House and supporters of a strong managerial presidency were pleased that the
CCHR had chosen “savings” as their theme because this meant, in their opinion, that
most of the significant aspects of the Hoover Report would be missed by the press
and the public, and thereby engender little opposition.
A concentration on the reorganization of departments, agencies, and certain
functions, while important, tends to obscure what to many was the principal
achievement of the first Hoover Commission, namely the enhancement of the
presidential office as manager of the government. Peri Arnold observes: “It was the
supreme political accomplishment of the first Hoover Commission that it masked the
managerial Presidency with the older values of administrative orthodoxy and, to a
significant degree, undercut the conservative and congressional opposition to the
expansive executive.... In the end, Mr. Hoover and his Commission provided the
bridge over which the congressional opponents of the Brownlow Committee
recommendations and the old political enemies of Franklin Roosevelt could embrace155
the managerial Presidency.”
As the work of the commission was coming to a close, President Truman, in
to study management problems in the federal government from a presidential
perspective. This committee was also to advise him with respect to
recommendations submitted by the Hoover Commission. The final report of this
committee to the President emphasized the need for a continuing, rather than
episodic, program of management improvement for all agencies under the guidance156
of the Bureau of the Budget’s Office of Management and Organization.
Reorganization Act of 1949
The Reorganization Act of 1945 expired on March 31, 1948. President Harry
Truman, on January 17, 1949, some two months before the first Hoover Commission
submitted its report, sent legislation to Congress to renew the President’s157
reorganization authority. The Administration’s bill was much broader in scope
than the 1945 Act. The bill contained no termination date, no agency exemptions,
154 Emmerich, Federal Organization and Administrative Management, p. 97.
155 Peri Arnold, “The First Hoover Commission and the Managerial Presidency,” Journal of
Politics, vol. 38, Feb. 1976, pp. 49-50.
156 The final report of President Truman’s Advisory Committee on Management was
reprinted: “Improvement of Management in the Federal Government,” Public Administration
Review, vol. 13, Winter 1953, pp. 38-49.
157 U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Expenditures of Executive Departments, Hearings
on Reorganization of Government Agencies, 87th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington: GPO, 1949),
eliminated the clause calling for a cost saving of 25%, permitted the creation of new
executive departments (although no new functions) and required both houses of
Congress to approve a resolution (concurrent resolution) of disapproval before a
plan could become effective.
In the House hearings, the perennial issue as to the constitutionality of the
legislative veto process was raised. Rep. Clair Hoffman (R-MI), a critic, used the
hearings to argue that the provision requiring a concurrent resolution to disapprove
a reorganization plan was unconstitutional.
We all know that, under the Constitution, to become effective as a law a bill
must receive a majority vote of each House and that, then, and only then, as
provided in Section 7 of Article I of the Constitution, it must go to the President158
for his approval or disapproval.
Hoffman’s interpretation of the Constitution, while supported by some other
Members, was not shared by any of the witnesses, including the Comptroller
General, Lindsay Warren. Most witnesses before the House and Senate committees
requested exemptions from the legislation for their favorite agencies, a move
vigorously resisted by the Administration. Senator John McClellan, chairman of the
Senate Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments, and also one of
the 12 commissioners on the then Hoover Commission, opposed the transfer of
civilian Army Corps of Engineers functions to the Department of the Interior. The
majority of the committee decided that the only way to eliminate agency
exemptions, while retaining congressional protection for certain favored agencies,
was to institute a single-house veto procedure.
In order that the President might include essential Government
reorganizations in conformity with the recommendations of the Committee on
Organization of the Executive Branch [Hoover Commission], the committee was
reluctant to include exemptions for specified agencies or to retain the House
amendments placing certain of them in a restricted category, in the belief that
such exemptions might interfere with realignments that would be desirable and159
in the public interest....
The Committee was satisfied that the one-house veto was not only
constitutional, but represented a sound political decision as well.160 When the bill
reached conference committee, a time limit was set upon the authority, expiring on
April 1, 1953. The President signed the measure on June 20, 1949 (63 Stat. 203).
158 U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Expenditures in Executive Departments, Hearings
on Reorganization of Government Agencies, 81st Cong., 1st sess. (Washington: GPO, 1949),
159 U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments, Report
No. 232, 81st Cong., 1st sess. (Washington: GPO, 1949), p. 15
160 The principal agency under the protective wing of influential Senators was the Army
Corps of Engineers. In answer to the question of why the Senators insisted upon their view
that a one-house veto be incorporated in the legislation, Arthur Maass observed: “Because
the Congressional supporters of the Corps of Engineers announced they would forego
outright exemption for the Corps only if Congress would agree to a one-House veto.”
Muddy Waters (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1951), p. 116.
Supporters of a strong managerial presidency were initially disappointed by the
one-house veto. Ferrel Heady divined unpleasant consequences resulting from the
shift from a two-house to a one-house veto over reorganization plans.
“[T]he real objective in inserting the one-house veto requirement was not
just to get rid of exemptions, but to stiffen congressional powers of resistance to
presidential reorganization plans. The success of this effort in the Senate to shift
from the two-house veto to the one-house veto marks a definite withdrawal by
Congress of effective reorganization powers which it had been willing to delegate161
in the 1939 and 1945 Acts.
The results of the first years of the 1949 Reorganization Act were to prove the
pessimists wrong. More reorganization plans were submitted and approved in 1949
and 1950 than in any year before or since.
In 1949, President Truman submitted several reorganization plans to Congress.
The press gave a favorable response to the plans. All were significant in their
impact, and in previous years would have generated considerable controversy. The
Administration, as well as the CCHR, encountered some difficulties, however, as the
plans did not provide for any substantial savings. Indeed, Plan No. 1 ran into
opposition because it would clearly have expanded the federal government’s role in162
the health field. The remaining six plans became effective, although there was
considerable controversy over several of them. “Truman could regard congressional
treatment of his 1949 plans,” William Pemberton concluded, “with a good deal of163
In 1950, the President submitted 27 reorganization plans. The plans fell into
groups. Plans One through Six provided that responsibilities for the performance of
all functions within six departments be vested in the secretary of those departments.
Previously, the authority to perform functions had been dispersed by Congress. The
purpose of these plans was to establish clear lines of responsibility from the
President on down through the lowest level of the department.
161 Ferrel Heady, “Reorganization Act of 1949,” Public Administration Review, vol. 9,
Summer 1949, p. 174.
162 Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1949 deviated from the Hoover Commission proposal to
create an independent United Medical Administration by keeping the Federal Security
Agency’s (FSA) health functions within a new Department of Welfare. Also the plan
decreased the authority of constituent units by placing all the legal authority to operate
programs in the secretary of the new department. Adding to the controversy was the
presidential decision to make the existing head of the FSA, Oscar Ewing, the first secretary.
Ewing, long an outspoken proponent of a mandatory health insurance program for all
Americans, was a red flag to the organized medical community. The President decided to
stick with Ewing and Reorganization Plan No. 1 even at the risk of defeat. The debate was
long and vigorous. On August 16, the Senate defeated the plan by a vote of 60 to 32 in favor
of a resolution of disapproval. Frank R. Kennedy, “The American Medical Association:
Power, Purpose, and Politics in Organized Medicine,” Yale Law Journal, vol. 63, May 1954,
163 Pemberton, Bureaucratic Politics, p. 123.
A second group of plans was submitted to improve the internal administration
of the regulatory commissions. These plans were designed to enhance the
managerial authority of the chairmen. Three plans were proposed to assist the new
General Services Administration as the central service agency. In an attempt to meet
the objections of those opposed to the defeated 1949 reorganization plan to create a
Department of Welfare, Truman submitted a plan to create a new Department of
Health, Education and Security, but left the independent statutory authorities of the
Surgeon General and Commissioner of Education intact. Overall, in 1950, the
President fared reasonably well in having 22 of his 27 plans approved.
The years 1951 and 1952 were difficult ones for President Truman in a political
sense. His administration was burdened by the Korean War and distracted by a
number of scandals involving key agencies, including the Bureau of Internal
Revenue. Truman’s interest in reorganization steadily waned as his administration
Second Hoover Commission (1953-1955)
With a Republican victory in sight for 1952, the supporters of the “citizens
commission” concept saw a second chance to achieve what they thought had been
missing in the first Hoover Commission exercise. The results of the first
commission, somewhat to their dismay, had strengthened the institutional leadership
of the President and agency heads, but had essentially ignored the policy issues that
underlay the growth of “big government.”
Robert Johnson, chairman of the Citizens Committee (CCHC) and President
of Temple University, initially took a leading role in promoting a new Commission.
He raised $100,000 to sponsor and publish a Temple University Survey of Federal
Reorganization. The survey, begun in October 1952, during the presidential
campaign, consisted of contributions from 102 persons, many of whom had served
in some capacity on the first Hoover Commission. President-elect Dwight
Eisenhower was notified that this survey was underway in December and received
a copy in October 1953.
The Temple Survey itself proved unimportant, but the fact that it was being
compiled inspired others to action. The movement for a second Hoover Commission
gained momentum among the recently ascendent Republican leadership in both
The newly elected President, Dwight Eisenhower, although a Republican, did
not share this enthusiasm for a new Commission, particularly one outside the
presidential orbit.164 The President, as was his style, followed an oblique
164 Robert Ferrell, ed., The Eisenhower Diaries (New York: W.,W. Norton, 1981), pp. 247-
counterstrategy165 to this congressional initiative by creating on his own authority a
President’s Advisory Committee on Government Organization (PACGO), a three-
member permanent panel to be discussed shortly. Notwithstanding the President’s
lukewarm attitude, the idea gained momentum in Congress.
Early in the 83rd Congress, similar bills were introduced in both Houses to
create a new “citizens commission” to study the executive branch. As with the
legislation creating the first Hoover Commission in 1947, floor debate on the
proposed new commission was perfunctory with no evident opposition. Both Houses
unanimously approved the establishment of the commission and the President signed
the bill on July 10, 1953 (67 Stat. 184).
The Commission consisted of 12 members; four appointed by the President, two
from the executive branch and two from private life; four appointed by the President
pro tempore of the Senate, two from the Senate and two from private life; and four
appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, two from the House and
two from private life. Unlike the law creating the first commission, the legislation
creating what rapidly became known as the second Hoover Commission did not
impose a partisan parity requirement upon the selection process. The commission
at its initial meeting, held in the White House with President Eisenhower in
attendance, unanimously elected Herbert Hoover as chairman, although the
commission did not elect a vice chairman, as authorized in the legislation. The
Senate Committee on Government Operations suggested that “appointing authorities
might well consider the inclusion of former members of the Commission who may
be available, so as to give the new Commission the full benefit of their experience166
As it turned out, the members of the commission were former President Hoover,
chairman, Arthur S. Fleming, Senator John McClellan (D-AR), Representative
Clarence Brown (R-OH), and Joseph P. Kennedy, all carry-overs from the first
Commission. The new members were James A. Farley, Herbert Brownell (newly
appointed Attorney General), Representative Chet Holifield (D-CA), Dean Robert
G. Storey, Solomon C. Hollister, and Sidney A. Mitchell, the latter being the former
executive director of the first commission. The partisan breakdown of the
membership was 7 Republicans and 5 Democrats. This membership reflected the
intention to have considerable continuity between the commissions. This continuity
did not result, however, in harmony on the commission, as the issues they addressed
were more contentious than those that preoccupied the first commission.
165 Fred I. Greenstein, The Hidden-Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader (New York:
Basic Books, 1982).
166 U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Government Operations, Commission on
Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government, S. Rept. 216, 83rd Cong., 1st sess.
(Washington: GPO, 1953), p. 6.
The sponsors of the legislation had been forthright in stating their intentions for
the commission. Senator Homer Ferguson pointed out in his testimony before a
The most important difference between this bill and the Hoover
Commission statute  is found in the declaration-of-policy section. These
paragraphs are intended to make certain that this Commission has full power to
look into the activities of the Federal Government from the standpoint of policy
and to inquire, ‘Should the Government be performing this activity or service,
and if so, to what extent?’ This Commission must ask questions of this nature167
which the original Hoover Commission did not ask.
Although a broad interpretation of the commission’s mandate was held by its
sponsors and a majority of its members, it is not surprising that this view generated
controversy. Chet Holifield, commission member and chairman of the House
Government Operations Committee, disputed the idea that the commission could
delve deeply into policy matters. Indeed, he questioned the wisdom of the whole
concept of creating unelected commissions to second-guess, in effect, elected
assemblies. He concluded that the creation of policy-oriented commissions, such as
the second Hoover Commission, was “an unwise departure from representative168
government.” The “mandate battle” continued throughout the life of the
Commission and indeed remains an issue confronting all “citizen commission”
proposals to this day.
Organization, Staff Support, and Finances.
The second commission, like the first, apportioned its job to 19 task forces.
These task forces varied considerably in size, from five members on the Paperwork
Management task force to 26 members on the Water Resources and Power task force.
Similarly, the size of the staffs working for task forces varied. There is some
disagreement as to the total number of person involved with the commission.
MacNeil and Metz estimated that close to 200 persons served on the task forces and
committees of the commission169 while James Fesler states that the commission “was
assisted by 513 persons at the peak of employment.”170 Regardless of which figure
is accepted, there were a large number of persons involved, particularly if agency
detailees, consultants, and Bureau of the Budget personnel are included.
167 Ibid., p. 4.
168 U.S. Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government, Final
Report to Congress (Washington: GPO, 1955), pp. 27-28.
169 Neil MacNeil and Harold D. Metz, The Hoover Report, 1953-1955; What it Means to You
as Citizen and Taxpayer (New York: Macmillan, 1956), p. 17.
170 James W. Fesler, “Administrative Literature and the Second Hoover Commission,”
American Political Science Review, vol. 51, March 1957, p. 143.
The central staff of the second Hoover Commission was relatively small (77
persons) and highly supportive of the chairman. They generally viewed their task
as ministerial and clerical, and left the great bulk of the investigation, research, and
writing to the staffs of the several task forces and the consulting organizations. In
most respects, the central staff was similar to that of the first commission except that
they were not responsible for developing a set of summary reports in a common
format for submission to Congress.171
Once the task force reports were received, the chairman typically appointed
three commissioners as a committee to study the report and draft a working paper for
full commission consideration. The draft would be circulated among the members
and staff for comment. The working paper generally omitted or modified a number
of task force recommendations.
The deliberative process followed by the Commission was limited, for the most
part, to the working papers placed in front of the members. Much time was spent on
textual questions with little time spent on discussing the assumptions underlying the
recommendations or the possible impact of the recommendations upon the
administrative system as a whole. The Commission took up the recommendations
one at a time in a sequential fashion rather than viewing the recommendations
comprehensively. No distinction was made between major and minor
recommendations, nor were they integrated into a single report. Nineteen separate
reports were sent to Congress (the legislation had not provided that the President
receive the reports) followed by a relatively short Final Report to the Congress
submitted in June 1955. In this final report the Commission made an “official
estimate” of savings possible from implementation of its recommendations, a figure172
of $8 billion.
The second Hoover Commission was granted appropriations totaling173
$2,848,534. It expended $2,768,562 and returned $83,527 to the Treasury.
Reports and Recommendations.
Twenty commission reports, including the Final Report, were submitted to
Congress over a several month period. The reports did not fall into systematic
171 It is not entirely correct to state that no summary account of the commission’s work was
assembled by the central staff. Such a study was compiled but was written as a private
venture by the Editorial Director, Neil MacNeil, and the Research Director, Harold W. Metz.
The volume, The Hoover Report, 1953-1955; What It Means to You as Citizen and
Taxpayer, cited above, was highly sympathetic to the commission.
172 U.S. Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government, Final
Report to Congress (Washington: GPO, 1955), pp. 19-20.
173 U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Government Operations, Summary of the
Objectives, Operations, and Results of the Commissions on Organization of the Executiveth
Branch of the Government (First and Second Hoover Commissions), Comm. Print, 88st
Cong., 1 sess. (Washington: GPO, 1963), p. 13.
categories with respect to subject matter.174 There was an emphasis, however, on
functions and managerial problems that cut across the departments and agencies.
Unlike the first commission, where an administrative model was offered in the
first report submitted to Congress, the second commission simply examined the
several task force reports as they were received, wrote a report of its own and
submitted them individually to Congress. Little philosophical consistency was
discernible. Indeed, there were instances where the recommendations of the second
commission ran counter to the philosophical thrust of the first commission.
The reports were of widely varying importance and quality. Several reports
represented major efforts and proposed substantial changes. Included in the category
of major commission reports were: Personnel and Civil Service; Budget and
Accounting; Legal Services and Procedure; Business Enterprises; Lending Agencies;
and Water Resources and Power. The remaining reports tended to cover subjects of
minor contemporary interest with commission’s recommendations being for minimal
changes in agency structure and operations.
The 20 reports of the second commission contained some 314 numbered
recommendations.175 By 1958, the Citizens Committee reported that 200½ of the
recommendations had been fully or partially implemented for a “success” rate of
63.9%. Assigning full or partial implementation rates, however, is not an exact
science. When Mr. Hoover was asked which one of the recommendations he thought
the most important, he was reported to have replied without hesitation: “I would pick
the recommendation for setting up a senior civil service.”176
Results and Assessment.
The assessments of the second Hoover Commission vary considerably.
MacNeil and Metz claimed: “[T]he Hoover Commission met all its goals. It made
a frontal attack on Big Government and all that it means, but did not recommend the
174 There were two post-hoc attempts to categorize the Commission’s reports. MacNeil and
Metz “found the reports made a pattern” and they organized their book under four subject
headings; The Tools of Government; Big Government; The Big Spender; and Overseas
Economic Development. MacNeil and Metz, The Hoover Report: 1953-1955, p. 24. Fesler
offered a somewhat more academic typology: Government as Government; Government as
Business; and Government as Policy. Fesler, “Administrative Literature and the Second
Hoover Commission,” pp. 149-150.
175 Citizens Committee for the Hoover Report, Final Report, October 1958, p. 5
The Senate Committee on Government Operations in its 1958 summary
implementation report found the figure of 314 recommendations too general in coverage and
determined that there were actually 519 separate recommendations. “This includes the
numbered recommendations, letter subdivisions of recommendations, such as
recommendation 1(a) and 1(b), etc.; task force recommendations which the Commission
specifically endorsed, and certain textual recommendations which the Commission did not
number.” U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Government Operations, Action by the
Congress and the Executive Branch of the Government on the Second Hoover Commissionthnd
Reports, 1955-1957, S. Rept. 1289, 85 Cong., 2 sess. (Washington: GPO, 1958), p. 1.
176 MacNeil and Metz, The Hoover Report: 1953-1955, p. 29.
elimination of any one activity required for the security or welfare of the American
people. All its recommendations stood firmly on American principles of
Governme nt.” 177
Citing the numbers of recommendations accepted, wholly or in part, is a rather
crude measure of the substantive impact of the commission because there is no
distinction made between major and minor recommendations or between hortatory
pleas and specific organizational or programmatic changes. Also, ascribing credit,
or degrees of credit, to the commission for a particular legislative or administrative
decision may be misleading because of a variety of factors that may have contributed
to the ultimate decision.
These qualifications noted, certain changes may be reasonably credited to the
commission. The Department of Defense was further reorganized to reinforce
civilian control and to unify combat commands. There was a reduction in the
amount of government competition with firms in the private sector. Veterans’ laws
were codified. A number of specific improvements were also adopted for the federal
Critics saw the second Hoover Commission in a very different light. While the
first commission had an administrative model in mind of what the executive branch
ought to look like, the second commission, critics argued, had no such model. This
deficiency, as James Fesler argued, proved crucial:
The [second] Commission provides no administrative model; the Brownlow
Committee and the first Hoover Commission did provide such a model and one
could decide whether he liked it or not. The vacuum is not adequately filled by
the Commission’s effort to state its objectives. The principal explicit statement
provides a mixture of goals (national security, fundamental research, private
enterprise, common welfare, and strengthening of ‘the economic, social and
governmental structure which has brought us, now for 166 years, constant
blessings and progress’) and means (efficiency, elimination of waste, elimination
or reduction of government competition with private enterprise), but the means
are actually treated as ends valuable in themselves so long as they do not war178
with other ends....
The second Hoover Commission found that the standard terms of discourse
since the Progressive Era; “economy and efficiency,” “overlap and duplication,”
“streamline,” were instrumental in content and of little utility in designing,
managing, and evaluating a modern government. According to one observer, they
had become clichés, part of a general attack on the competency and integrity of179
government. While the second commission did contribute to some worthwhile
changes in government operations, e.g., civil service improvements, it appeared to
be adrift without general organization or managerial principles for guidance, and
outside the centers of political decision-making.
177 Ibid., p. 310
178 Fesler, “Administrative Literature and the Second Hoover Commission,” p. 150.
179 William Divine, “The Second Hoover Commission Reports: An Analysis,” Public
Administration Review, vol.15, Autumn 1955, pp. 263-69.
What the second commission seemed to prove, if nothing else, was that in an
open clash between the canons of administrative orthodoxy and the dominant
political values of the moment, the latter is likely to prevail. Hoover, personally, had
been able to avoid this confrontation in his own mind for many years. “Herbert
Hoover’s perception of the principles of good administration,” according to Peri
Arnold, “allowed him to skirt effectively the tension between his political values
[anti-statism] and his attraction to the apparent efficacy of the positive state.”180 This
separation was fragile, however, and broke down when the second commission
decided to make overt policy judgments.
In retrospect, the executive branch appears to have been reasonably well
managed during the 1940s and 1950s. The managerial agencies, e.g., Bureau of the
Budget, were at the zenith of their strength. While a number of factors may be cited
as contributing to this felicitous situation, it would be unfair and inaccurate to ignore
the contribution of the two Hoover Commissions. The first commission, in
particular, argued from first principles stressing the need for political and managerial
accountability and clear lines of responsibility. All proposals for change, in its view,
should be measured by whether or not they enhance these values. The influence of
the two Hoover Commissions and their administrative philosophy lasted about two
Study Task Forces on Executive Reorganization (1953-1968)
President Eisenhower, as discussed earlier, did not like to be tied into any one
source for advice and recommendations. He also preferred structured advice
designed for the President, not for outside constituencies. It is not surprising,
therefore, that he established a competing advisory panel reporting solely to him to
counterweight the second Hoover Commission. The President’s Advisory
Committee on Government Organization (PACGO) was chaired by Nelson181
Rockefeller in the years 1953 through 1958. During these years, 14 reorganization
plans were drafted by the committee, presented to the President, and accepted by
Congress. Although the committee functioned with little publicity, its work and182
results have generally been accorded high marks.
180 Peri E. Arnold, “Leviathan Domesticated: An Exploration Into the Relationship Between
Administrative Theory and the Positive State.” Paper delivered at the National Conference
of the American Society for Public Administration, April 13-16, 1981, San Francisco,
California, p. 28.
181 When Mr. Rockefeller resigned in 1958 to assume the governorship of New York, he was
succeeded by Don K. Price, Dean of the Graduate School of Public Administration at
Harvard, and the Committee continued in existence until 1961.
182 With respect to the work of the President’s Advisory Committee on Government
Organization, Herbert Emmerich concluded:
When the full record of PACGO becomes available to administrative
analysts and historians, I predict that this small, close-knit, knowledgeable,
continuous, diligent presidential commission will prove to have made more
Other commissions, committees and task forces would be established over this
15-year period, and in many instances their recommendations carried organizational
impact. Some of the reports of these bodies would be made public, others were
never published. Some of the groups had broad mandates while others were directed
toward rather narrow subject fields.
During the Kennedy and Johnson years, there were no “mixed commissions”
to review the organization of the executive branch. Numerous policy and
managerially oriented task forces were, however, appointed.183 Before he was
inaugurated, President Kennedy commissioned some 29 informal task forces in184
various foreign and domestic fields to provide him papers and recommendations.
President Johnson was to rely even more heavily upon the formal and informal task
force approach to develop policy positions.185 Some of the task forces were directed
at immediate legislative needs while others were given a longer range perspective.
In the field of executive reorganization, two such task forces, to use the generic
name popular at the time, were created during the Kennedy and Johnson
Administrations. The first was named by President Kennedy and chaired by Don K.
Price. According to Peri Arnold: “The task force’s mode of operation was
contemplative. It instituted no major studies, relying on the Bureau of the Budget
for information. The Bureau might be likened to a memory bank into which the task
force was plugged.”186 It submitted its 116 page report privately to President
Johnson in 1964.187 The recommendations included, among other things, the creation
of five new executive departments: Transportation; Education; National Resources;
Economic Development; Housing and Community Development.188 There were
recommendations respecting the establishment of institutional capacity for policy
planning and evaluation, and for making the executive officers in the departments
constructive and durable contributions to federal organization and administrative
management than was produced by all the massive forays of the task force and
flying squadrons of the second Hoover Commission put together.
(Federal Organization and Administrative Management, p. 176.)
183 Thomas R. Wolanin, Presidential Advisory Commissions: Truman to Nixon (Madison:
University of Wisconsin Press, 1975).
184 Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (New
York: Fawcett World Library, 1967), pp. 148-155.
185 In 1967, a total of 50 separate task forces operated in the various domestic policy areas.
Norman C. Thomas and Harold L. Wolman, “Policy Formulation in the Institutionalized
Presidency; The Johnson Task Force.” In Thomas E. Cronin and Sanford D. Greenberg,
eds., The Presidential Advisory System (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), p. 129.
186 Arnold, Making the Managerial Presidency, 2nd rev. ed., p. 240.
187 President’s Task Force on Government Reorganization, “Report,” November 6, 1964,
container 1, Task Force Reports, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, Austin, Texas.
188 U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Government Operations, Executive Reorganization:
A Summary Analysis, H. Rept. 922, 92nd Cong., 2nd sess. (Washington: GPO, 1972), p. 16.
and agencies more responsive to presidential direction. The close philosophical ties189
between the task force and the Budget Bureau were evident.
With the management of the Great Society programs under attack and the
growing salience of international issues, related principally to the Vietnam War,
President Johnson created a second reorganization group, the Task Force on
Government Organization, an 11-member group appointed in October 1966 and
chaired by industrialist Ben Heineman. President Johnson indicated he wanted both
some systemic recommendations and quick administrative “fixes,” particularly with
respect to the poverty programs run by the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO).
Numerous staff reports were written and debated. Proposals were considered for
reorganizing the Bureau of the Budget to emphasize program administration, and
additional proposals for “super-departments.” The principal theme, however, was
that the President must resist pressures to create more departments and agencies, and
pressures to create programs outside regular hierarchical systems of accountability.
Few of the Heineman Task Force recommendations were immediately adopted,
in part because the timing of the reports coincided with the height of the Vietnam
War and President Johnson’s decision to not seek re-election. While Mr. Johnson
was sympathetic to most of the recommendations, even the most far-reaching, his
commitment to organizational management was more instrumental than substantive.
He saw reorganization as an instrument to increase presidential power, not for
achieving more efficient management of agencies and program. Thus, when his
tenure was effectively ended in March 1968, he withdrew from the fray and
embargoed the reports. When the Heineman report was requested by a Nixon
transition official, President Johnson’s response was: “Hell no. And tell him I’m not190
going to publish my wife’s love letters either.”
The Heineman Report did not, however, remain hidden for long. When Roy
Ash, named by President Nixon in 1969 to head the President’s Advisory Council
on Executive Organization (Ash Council), later requested of Heineman a copy of the
Report, Heineman made the Report available.191
189 The most complete discussion of the organizational management efforts between 1953
and 1969 is to be found in Arnold, Making the Managerial Presidency, chapter 6 through
8. See also: Marver Bernstein, “The President and Management Improvement,” Law and
Contemporary Problems, vol. 35, Summer 1970, pp. 505-18.
190 Memorandum, Charles S. Murphy to the President, 22 November 1968, EX FGU-18,
WHCF, Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library. As cited in Emmette S. Redford and
Marlan Blisett, Organizing the Executive Branch: The Johnson Presidency (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1981), p. 214.
President Johnson favored “secret” task force reports because, in his opinion, they
encouraged more candid and critical analysis than is likely when the task force members
know their report is to be made public at the time they submit it to the President. Lyndon
B. Johnson, The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency, 1963-1969 (New York: Holt
Rinehart and Winston, 1971), p. 328.
191 In 1976, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library made available to the public the
final report of the President’s Task Force on Government Organization titled: The
Organization and Management of the Great Society Programs (June 15, 1967).
President’s Advisory Council on Executive Organization
(Ash Council) (1969-1970)
Richard Nixon was elected in 1968, at least in part, as a reaction to the apparent
failure of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. The cities and universities had
undergone sieges by the very persons whom the Great Society programs had been
intended to benefit. Literally hundreds of programs had been initiated and run from
Washington with little apparent concern for their impact upon state and local
governments. Indeed, the poverty programs had funded organizations intentionally
insulated from accountability to state and local governments.192 Some expressed fear
that the political and administrative system was unraveling. Writing about his 1968
victory, after his years as President, Richard Nixon noted:
As I saw it, America in the 1960s had undergone a misguided crash program
aimed at using the power of the presidency and the federal government to right
past wrongs by trying to legislate social progress.... The problems were real and
the intentions worthy, but the method was foredoomed. By the end of the decade
its costs had become prohibitively high in terms of the way it had undermined193
fundamental relationships within our federal system....
President Nixon had considerable faith that structures could condition behavior,
and that it was worth expending the political capital necessary to reorganize the
government to achieve his goal of policy centralization and administrative
decentralization. As President-elect, Nixon created a number of task forces to give
him advice. Tops on his priority list was reorganizing the White House-Executive194
Office complex to have it more responsive to presidential direction. Reorganizing
the cabinet and departments came next on his priority list. It was Nixon’s intention
to eventually rely more on his cabinet team for domestic policy leadership leaving
the President to focus more attention on foreign affairs.
One of the first advisors he selected was Roy Ash, president of Litton
Industries, whom he asked to head a task force on government management. Ash
was a Washington outsider who pridefully avoided the professional public
administration leaders, like Don Price, and believed that government should be
organized and run in large measure like a private corporation. In April 1969, the
President announced the formation of an Advisory Council on Executive
Organization with Ash as chairman.
192 Daniel P. Moynihan, Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding: Community Action in the
War on Poverty (New York: Free Press, 1969).
193 Richard M. Nixon, Memoirs (New York: Grosset and Dunlop, 1978), p. 352.
194 Larry Berman, The Office of Management and Budget (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 1979).
President Richard Nixon established an Advisory Council on Executive195
Organization through a “Presidential Announcement” issued April 5, 1969.
In addition to Ash, as chairman, the Council consisted of four others, George
Baker, dean of the Harvard School of Business; John Connally, former governor of
Texas and Secretary of the Navy in the Kennedy Administration; Frederick Kappel,
chairman of AT&T’s executive committee; and Richard Paget, partner in the
management consulting firm of Cresap, McCormick and Paget. The Council was to
have a close relationship with the President through its chairman. Later, due to
Ash’s other commitments, an additional member, Walter Thayer, president of
Whitney Communications, was added and also designated a special consultant to the
President. Murray Comarow was the executive director of the Council.
Richard Nixon came into office convinced that many of the problems facing
government could be solved by reorganizing the federal establishment along sound
political management principles. He did not view the purpose of reorganization as
being the implementation of neutral principles of economy and efficiency. Rather,
the principal purpose of reorganization, to his mind, was to alter the terms of political
power. In Nixon’s case, the objective was to reorganize to enhance the power and
capacity of the President. Paradoxically, his goals was not to make the President
powerful for the institution’s sake, but to create the leverage to ultimately
decentralize the government. He believed you had to centralize before you could
decentralize. Nixon’s overall long-range goal was to move much of the power away
from Washington and towards the states and localities, or what he called the “New196
The mission of the Ash Council was to suggest ways and means to the President
on how policymaking could be centralized while administration was decentralized.
From the outset, the Ash Council relied heavily upon the work and philosophy
of the earlier PACGO and the Heineman Task Force. The memorandums and reports
of these earlier bodies emphasized, among other points, the need for “super
departments” and additional institutional support for the President. Secondly, there
was a belief that the President and the departments would be benefitted by a regional
executive structure in which the vertical program oriented structure reaching to
Washington would be altered by having program officers report to a regional
agency/program representative. These regional officials would be appointed by the
Secretary thereby, presumably, breaking the “stovepipe” to Washington. Regional
195 U.S. Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, vol. 5, April 14, 1969, pp. 530-31.
196 For a discussion of President Nixon’s philosophy of management, see: Richard P. Nathan,
The Administrative Presidency (New York: John Wiley, 1983), chapters 1-4.
officials, who tended to be generalists selected politically, would be more likely to
move the management of the agencies and programs along Administration lines than
was the case with narrowly focused, programmatic officers located at
Nixon was following in the path of earlier Presidents, but he was more open
about his objectives, and he was prepared to do battle. His goal was to refashion the
government so that the President could concentrate more on foreign affairs while
letting his cabinet officers take the lead in domestic affairs.198 Nixon also had
considerable faith that structures condition behavior. He decided to begin
reorganizing while the Ash Council was meeting. In his first message to Congress,
he requested that the President’s reorganization plan authority, having lapsed on
December 31, 1968, be renewed for a two year period.199 Congress granted Nixon
reorganization authority to expire on April 1, 1971, and later extended to April 1,
1973. Very early on, Nixon proposed, and Congress accepted, a change in the status
of the Post Office Department to that of an independent government corporation, the
United States Postal Service (39 U.S.C. 101). Frederick Kappel had headed a task200
force in the Johnson Administration that had made that recommendation. Kappel
was now a member of the Ash Council.
Organization, Staff Support, and Finances.
The Ash Council was small with a prestigious membership. The audience for
its reports and recommendations was the President alone, not Congress and the
public. Walter Thayer, the sixth member appointed to the Council and special
consultant to the President, was charged with putting together a staff. In fiscal year
1970, the Council received an appropriations of approximately $1 million, which
permitted a staff of approximately 35 by the end of 1969. At its peak, in mid-1970,
the staff numbered 47 full-time employees. By fall 1970 the total number of staff201
was under 40. Throughout this period, the staff of the Bureau of the Budget was
used, although the relationship was not always harmonious.202
197 Seidman and Gilmour, Politics, Position, and Power, chapter 4.
198 President Nixon is quoted as saying: “All you need is a competent Cabinet to run the
country at home. You need a President for foreign policy; no Secretary of State is really
important; the President makes foreign policy.” Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, Nixon
in the White House (New York: Random House, 1971), p. 11.
199 U.S. Public Papers of the President, Richard M. Nixon, 1969, “Special Message to the
Congress Requesting New Authority to Reorganize the Executive Branch,” January 20,
200 U.S. President’s Commission on Postal Organization, Towards Postal Excellence
(Washington: GPO, 1968).
201 Data presented to congressional hearing by Roy Ash. U.S. Congress, House, Committee
on Government Operations, Reorganization of Executive Departments, Hearings, 92nd Cong.,st
Presidency, 2 ed., p. 279.
202 Larry Berman, “The Office of Management and Budget That Almost Wasn’t,” Political
Science Quarterly, vol. 92, Summer 1977, pp. 281-303.
After discussion between Council members and staff, six working groups were
assembled. From the very beginning, however, the first item on the agenda was the
organization of the Executive Office for management. The Council met monthly for
two-day meetings. “One element of the Ash Council’s operating style which
particularly requires notice is its aggressive out-reach to large numbers of individuals
in the agencies under study, knowledgeable about them or politically salient to the
fate of a recommendation.”203
Reports and Recommendations.
The President received some 13 memoranda from the Council.204 He did not
wait, however, for receipt of all the recommendations before proceeding with
On March 12, 1970, President Nixon forwarded Reorganization Plan no. 2 of
1970 implementing one the Council’s recommendations. The plan included two
major changes; the reorganization of the Bureau of the Budget into the Office of
Management and Budget (OMB)205 and the creation of a separate Domestic Policy
Council.206 With respect to the new OMB, the heads of operating divisions were to
be made subject to presidential appointment, reversing the traditional practice of
career officers serving as assistant directors. This “politicization” of OMB was, and
remains today, controversial.207 After a spirited debate within the House, the plan208
The council set about to present to the President a comprehensive executive
branch reorganization proposal that would at once improve the President’s capacity
to manage, even control, the executive branch, and also rationalize the structure of
203 Arnold, Making the Managerial Presidency, 2nd ed., p. 280.
204 Of the 13 memoranda submitted by the council to the President in 1970, three would be
made public. The council printed the memoranda titled: “Establishment of a Department of
Natural Resources” and “Organization for Social and Economic Programs.” Later the
Council published: A New Regulatory Framework: Report on Selected Independent
Regulatory Agencies (Washington: GPO, 1971).
205 Allen Schick, “The Budget Bureau That Was: Thoughts on the Rise, Decline and Future
of a Presidential Agency,” in The Institutionalized Presidency, Norman C. Thomas and Hans
W. Baade, eds. (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana Pubs., 1972): 93-113.
206 Ronald C. Moe, “The Domestic Council in Perspective,” The Bureaucrat, vol.5, Oct.
207 Hugh Heclo, “OMB and the Presidency – The Problem of ‘Neutral Competence,’” Public
Interest, vol. 38, Winter 1975, pp. 80-98.
208 U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Government Operations, Report Recommending
Approval of Resolution of Disapproval of Reorganization Plan No. 2 (H. Res. 960), H. Rept.
90-1066 (Washington: GPO, 1970). The principal objection to the reorganization plan was
that by transferring all the existing functions of the Bureau of the Budget to the President
with authority to him to redelegate, Congress, in effect, lost its authority to approve or
disapprove later delegations of such authorities. The full House Committee on Government
Operations voted 20-9 to disapprove the reorganization plan.
the executive branch to reflect contemporary service demands being placed upon
The council concluded that the executive branch had become too fragmented
resulting in a lack of effective coordination in meeting public problems. To address
this problem of fragmentation, the council proposed more centralized and politically
responsible lines of authority within the executive branch. The council advocated
a “package” approach to reorganization combining the various elements of the “new
Federalism,” such as revenue sharing, with executive branch reorganization. As to
restructuring the executive branch, the objective was to move away from the narrow,
constituency-oriented, traditional departments towards broader, general purpose209
departments. It is interesting to note that the Council, although tilted heavily
toward business executives, rapidly adopted the more traditional public
administration theory of organizational management, rather than attempting to
reorganize the executive branch according to some model of the private firm.
In March 1971, President Nixon sent four bills to Congress which had as their
intent the reorganization of seven existing departments and several independent
agencies into four new, large “super departments” (i.e., Human Resources;210
Community Development; Natural Resources; and Economic Affairs). As
proposed, each department would be headed by a secretary assisted by a small
number of staff officers having department-wide responsibilities. To provide means
for a rational grouping of the large bureaus and programs to be inherited by the new
departments, the concept of the “Administration” was introduced as a first-tier device
for program direction. These organizations, patterned after the operating
administration in the then-new Department of Transportation (1966), were
envisioned as management centers—each with a major segment of the department’s
administrative program. Administrators would head these basic units within the
departments and would report directly to the secretary.
The combined use of cross-cutting staff officers with functions affecting all
elements of the department, and program administrators charged with directing
important segments of the department’s operating responsibilities, was expected to
facilitate decentralized management while simultaneously providing for more
effective secretarial control and department cohesion. The field structure was to be
strengthened with common regional boundaries established.
It was a dramatic proposal, and in many respects the logical conclusion of the
orthodox public administration values embodied in the earlier Brownlow and Hoover
Commission reports. Policy directions and lines of accountability to the department
secretaries would be strengthened while administrative functions, e.g., personnel,
would be decentralized, often to the standardized regional offices. The council’s
recommendations took the form of four pieces of legislation proposing four new
departments. One might disagree with the proposals, but they did constitute a
209 Alan Dean, “The Goals of Departmental Reorganization,” The Bureaucrat, 1(Spring
210 U.S. Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget, Papers
Relating to the President’s Departmental Reorganization Program (Washington: GPO,
comprehensive and theoretically consistent view of how the executive branch ought
to be organized.
Results and Assessment.
The legislation submitted to Congress was aimed at putting into place an
overarching set of public management principles. There was nothing small in the
proposals. It was almost too much, however, for Congress to fully digest. For one
thing, the proposals, if enacted, would have played havoc with the existing
congressional committee structure and jurisdictions, the latter fact alone being211
sufficient to raise major opposition. Finally, both houses of Congress were heavily
dominated by Democrats little inclined to give President Nixon more power and a
major political victory, during a time characterized by bitter partisanship.
As it turned out, the only organizational proposal of the Ash Council to be
accepted by Congress was the previously discussed reorganization plan that
established the Domestic Council and renamed the Bureau of the Budget to the
Office of Management and Budget. Otherwise, except for three hearings,212
Congress did not consider any of the other proposals of the President.
With the failure of President Nixon’s comprehensive strategy to reorganize the
executive branch, the commission and report approach to organizational management
was abandoned. President Nixon, influenced by the defeat of his legislatively based
reorganization strategy, became receptive to the arguments that he should follow a
strategy based more on Richard Neustadt’s view of the presidency.
In 1960, Richard Neustadt had argued in his influential book, Presidential
Power, that Presidents ought to seek personal power, a power based on political
skills, and rely less on Constitutional and statutory authority. “Laws and customs,”213
Neustadt averred, “tell us little about leadership in fact.” The message for
Presidents was to study the techniques of influence and persuasion, rather than public
administration principles if they wanted to “move” government. In the Neustadian
scheme, the personalized presidency largely replaced the institutionalized
presidency. President should move away from managing the executive branch,
211 A comprehensive congressional review of the Ash Council proposals, including an
assessment on the impact of the reorganization upon congressional committee jurisdictions,
is to be found in: U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Government Operations, Executivendnd
Reorganization: A Summary Analysis, H. Rept. 922, 92 Cong., 2 sess. (Washington:
212 U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Government Operations, Subcommittee on
Legislation and Military Operations, Reorganization of Executive Departments (Part I—ndst
Overview), hearings, 92 Cong., 1 sess. (Washington: GPO, 1971). U.S. Congress, House,
Committee on Government Operations, Subcommittee on Legislation and Military
Operations, Reorganization of Executive Departments (Part II—Department of Communityndstnd
Development), hearings, 92 Cong., 1 and 2 sessions (Washington: GPO, 1972). U.S.
Congress, Senate, Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, Establish a Department ofndnd
Natural Resources, hearings, 92 Cong., 2 sess. (Washington: GPO, 1972).
213 Richard E. Neustadt, Presidential Power: The Politics of Leadership (New York: John
Wiley and Sons, 1960), p. 6.
because in so doing they are performing mere clerkship functions and miss their
opportunity for heroic destiny.
Heeding the personalized presidency theme of Neustadt, Mr. Nixon determined
that the most effective route for reorganization was to rely on “administrative action
—that is,” in Richard Nathan’s words, “by using the discretion permitted in the
implementation of existing laws rather than advancing these policy aims through214
enactment of new legislation.”
President Nixon attempted to implement as much of the Ash Council
recommendations as possible through administrative orders, e.g., creation of a
“super-cabinet,” bypassing in the process the requirement of congressional approval.
The “administrative presidency strategy” included such tactics as impounding
appropriated funds and the use of the appointments process to thwart the
implementation of legislatively mandated programs, tactics calculated to upset
Congress. Congress responded, not surprisingly, by following a legislative (public
law) strategy of its own. The strategy included passing laws such as the War Powers
Act of 1973 and the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Act of 1974, inserting
numerous legislative veto requirements to additional new and existing laws, and
extending Senate confirmation requirements to additional appointees, all actions
intended to combat the administrative presidency strategy and to decrease
presidential discretion in administrative matters.215
The organizational legacy of the Nixon presidency, which began as a testament
to traditional organizational management doctrine, albeit with some political
updating, turned out to be a legacy of institutional diminution. With the second term
of Richard Nixon, Presidents began a long-term movement away from institutional
capacity building management and toward a management philosophy more reliant
upon political control from the White House.216 The central management agencies
began to be downsized and assigned reduced missions. Executive reorganization
was just as likely to be viewed as a tool to diminish the capacity of government as
enhance it.217 Presidents increasingly shied away form their role as chief manager
of the executive branch and distanced themselves from the bureaucracy they
presumptively led. Indeed, President often assigned themselves the role of chief
214 Nathan, The Administrative Presidency, p. 7. Nathan, it should be noted, approved of
“the administrative presidency strategy” followed by President Nixon. He believed that
political executives and appointees should seek to exert greater managerial influence over
the bureaucracy and that this “administrative presidency strategy is appropriate and desirable
for both liberals and conservatives.” (p. 1)
215 Louis Fisher, “Congress and the President in the Administrative Process: An Uneasy
Alliance,” in Hugh Heclo and Lester M. Salamon, eds., The Illusion of Presidential
Government (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1981), pp. 21-43.
216 Terry M. Moe, “The Politicized Presidency,” in The New Direction in American Politics,
eds., John E. Chubb and Paul E. Peterson (Washington: The Brookings Institution, 1985),
pp. 235-71. By the same author, see: “The Politics of Bureaucratic Structure,” in Can the
Government Govern? eds., John E. Chubb and Paul E. Peterson (Washington: The
Brookings Institution, 1989), pp. 267-327.
217 Peri E. Arnold, “Reform’s Changing Role,” Public Administration Review, vol. 55,
Sept./Oct. 1995, pp. 407-17.
critic of the government. This latter role, not surprisingly, had its impact on how
Presidents performed their managerial responsibilities and how organizational
management was viewed for the remainder of the century.218
President’s Reorganization Project (1977-1979)
As a candidate for President in 1976, Jimmy Carter made it clear from the outset
that he was on a crusade to clean up Washington and a broad-scale executive branch
reorganization was to be the centerpiece of this crusade. He offered little in the way
of specifics but did declare that he would approach executive reorganization
comprehensively as he claimed to have done in Georgia state government during his219
years as governor (1971-75). Mr. Carter stated that his primary goal was to trim
the executive branch from some 1900 agencies to 200, figures without clear
parentage.220 Shortly after his election, President-elect Carter instructed his
transition team to study how the executive branch was organized. They were to
make an “inventory” of these 1900 agencies and tell him which ones to eliminate or
reorganize. They were stymied, however, in this exercise by finding that even with
the broadest definition, there were only some 597 units (a term broader than agency)221
in the executive branch.
President Carter personally envisioned reorganization as part of an exercise to
cleanse Washington of its corruptions. Structural reform was viewed by the new
President not as merely one among many possible instruments for addressing the
idiosyncratic problems of individual departments and agencies. Rather, structural
reform was characterized as the linchpin of the new Administration’s reorganization
package and beginning with the transition period the OMB and White House cast
about for ‘problems’ that structural changes could address.222
218 Ronald C. Moe, “At Risk: The President’s Role as Chief Manager,” in The Managerial
Presidency, 2nd ed., James Pffifner, ed. (College Station, TX: Texas A&M Press, 1999): 265-
219 As a candidate, Jimmy Carter claimed he had reduced the number of agencies in the
Georgia government from 300 to 22. Why Not the Best? (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press,
220 Eliot Marshall, “The Efficiency Expert: Carter’s Plan to Shake Up the Bureaucracy,” New
Republic, August 21 and 28, 1976, pp. 15-17. Joel Havemann, “Reorganization – How
Clean Can Carter’s Broom Sweep? National Journal, Jan. 1, 1977, p. 6.
221 U.S. Executive Office of the President, President’s Reorganization Project, Federal
Government Reorganization and Management Improvement Program: Current Inventory
of Organizational Units Within the Executive Branch. (Mimeograph) Apr. 1977, p. 1.
222 Ronald P. Seyb, “Reform as Reaffirmation: Jimmy Carter’s Executive Branch
Reorganization Effort,” Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. 31, March 2001, pp. 104-21.
During his first month in office, President Carter established a President’s
Reorganization Project PRP) within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)223
under the leadership of OMB Director and presidential confidante, Bert Lance.
Harrison Wellford and Richard Pettigrew subsequently played leadership roles.
The President decided against the appointment of a board of prominent citizens
to make recommendations. The project would be essentially an in-house exercise
reporting to the President.
The leadership of the PRP rejected the relevance of the orthodox principles of
organizational management that had guided earlier reorganization exercises in this
century. Indeed, they apparently rejected the utility of theory altogether: Bert Lance
openly derided the earlier commission efforts as mere “box-shuffling.” In Lance’s
words describing the PRP’s mission:
[R]eorganizing is more than box-shuffling, its objective will be to make
government more efficient. Previous reorganizations have stressed moving
agencies among cabinet departments. Ours will take a bottom-up approach,
looking first to a program and people’s needs and reworking structure and224
procedures to meet those needs.
The PRP leadership consistently rejected the idea of following overarching
theory or concepts in its work and recommendations. When James T. McIntyre was
before a Senate Committee in March 1978 for confirmation as Director of OMB, he
was asked to prepare in advance the answers to several questions. One question was:
“After a year of work with the Government Reorganization Project, what underlying
principles or conclusions have you reached regarding executive reorganization?”
Mr. McIntyre’s response was indicative of the PPR’s working philosophy
After our first year of reorganization activity, we have arrived at three
general principles that guide our efforts: (1) to concentrate on solving problems;
(2) to look for the least disruptive remedies to identify problems; and (3) to
follow a process committed to openness and public and Congressional225
223 A Presidential Fact Sheet released the same day the President signed the Reorganization
Act of 1977 (P.L. 95-17; April 6, 1977). U.S. Public Papers of the President, Jimmy Carter,
224 U.S. Executive Office of the President, President’s Reorganization Project, revised,
(mimeograph) (Washington: April 1977), p. 3.
225 U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Governmental Affairs, Nomination of James T.
McIntyre, Jr., to be Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Hearings, 96th Cong.,nd
As late as 1979, Deputy Director John P. White of OMB made the following
point in his confirmation hearings: “Reorganizations should proceed from problems
which have been identified towards solutions rather than from preconceived notions
of idealized structure.”226 These statements confirmed what others suggested;
namely that the Project defined its mission in terms of process, rather than the
achievement of some theoretical objective.
In other words, the Carter people were saying that the earlier reorganization
efforts had essentially failed to achieve their potential because they started from
public administration “principles” of organization and then attempted to apply these
principles without proper regard for the “facts.” What the Carter Administration
would do, they continued, would be to begin with the facts and from these facts
would evolve the principles. Wisdom would come from the bottom-up, not the top-227
In point of fact, there rapidly emerged an apparent disjunction in the PRP’s
philosophy and actions. Its members continued to publicly disavow the “top-down”
philosophy of reorganization while, in practice, following this approach. For
example, they made recommendations to restructure four departments, even creating
two super departments in the process, without first specifying the problems that
warranted such major restructuring. According to one source, the driving
administrative philosophy was that there was a solution available (restructuring) and
now the job was to find a problem (agency needing restructuring).228
Organization, Staff Support, and Finances.
Although the President took some personal interest in the PRP, it was assigned
to the Office of Management and Budget and its Director for implementation. The
individual directly responsible for the Project was Harrison Wellford, Executive
Associate Director of OMB for Reorganization and Management. Facts and figures
on the PRP tend to be elusive, as are the work products. John Osborne, a journalist
covering the White House, gave as good an estimate of the work force as any when
he noted: “What Carter proudly calls ‘my Reorganizations’ is quite an operation. In
early 1977, 129 full-time employees, including 40 people recruited from outside
Government for the project, and between 150 and 175 detailees from various
department and agencies—the number varies with need from week to week—were
at work on 27 projects....”229
226 U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Governmental Affairs, Nomination of John P.
White to be Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Hearings, 96th Cong.,st
227 Harrison Wellford, the chief reorganization planner after Bert Lance’s departure,
“forthrightly denied that any overall principles, theory, or view of organization,
administration, or the governmental system guided the planning operation.” Arnold, Makingnd
the Managerial Presidency, 2 ed., p. 330.
228 Seyb, “Reform as Reaffirmation,” pp. 106-07. See also: Arnold, Making the Managerial
Presidency, 2nd ed., pp. 312-14.
229 John Osborne, “White House Watch: Happenings,” New Republic, Dec. 17, 1977, p. 10.
From the outset, the staff was divided into working groups, and by early 1978,
the peak of activity, there were some 30 studies underway. Two of the studies
emphasizing an organizational objective were those on border management and on
the administration of the Employee Retirement Security Act (ERISA), the latter
culminated in the President submitting Reorganization Plan No. 4 of 1978. Studies
with management objectives included groups reviewing such matters as automatic
data processing in the delivery of government services, the collection of statistical
data by federal agencies, and workplace safety. By the close of 1978, only 10 groups
remained, the others having submitted their reports or having been disbanded.
The project’s creation required an immediate supplemental appropriation of230
$2,172,000, a figure that included 32 new personnel for OMB. Salaries of
detailees were not included in this total.
Reports and Recommendations.
The PRP, while large in size and initial mission, did not produce a
comprehensive report with recommendations. In fact, printed products of any type
by the PRP were few and far between. Almost immediately upon assuming office,
President Carter retreated from his statements calling for a dramatic reduction in the
number of departments and agencies, adopting in its place an incremental approach.
In this mode, Carter requested (February 5, 1977) that Congress renew the
President’s authority to submit reorganization plans, a request Congress granted.
All reorganization action was not limited to the PRP. Other groups were
studying issue areas and eventually made recommendations to the President. Two
proposals for new departments, one for a Department of Energy and another for a
Department of Education, were developed with PRP assistance, but essentially
developed lives of their own. The proposal for a Department of Energy had
presidential backing, although it was intentionally separated from larger substantive
issues. The bill was promoted as a simple good management exercise which could231
consolidate most energy activities under one roof.
The proposal for a separate Department of Education had been advanced in
various forms for a number of years. The Education bill could not be defended as
a consolidation bill, however, as it was intended to break up the Department of
Health, Education and Welfare, the one civilian “super department.” The
consolidation arguments for this separate department tended to be limited in scope
since few educational activities (e.g., military dependent schools overseas) were
slated to be shifted from other departments. The principal argument favoring the
separate department proposal was this action would elevate and highlight the
Nation’s commitment to education.232 Critics suggested, on the other hand, that the
230 Arnold, Making the Managerial Presidency, 2nd ed., p. 311.
231 Clark Byse, The Department of Energy Organization Act: Structure and Procedure,
Administrative Law Review, vol. 30, Spring 1978, pp. 196-236.
232 Rufus E. Miles, A Cabinet Department of Education (Washington: American Council on
new department was simply a “political pay-off” to the National Education233
The single most ambitious reorganization proposal involved making major
changes in the federal civil service. A Personnel Management Project was
established to be led and staffed, in large part, with civil servants.234 The personnel
project, while technically under the larger PRP, functioned in practice on its own.
Unlike the PRP, the personnel project worked with key members of Congress and
the relevant interest groups at the initial stages, not simply writing a report with
recommendations in isolation. The leaders of the project, and subsequently the PRP,235
accepted considerable compromise to ensure passage.
Results and Assessment.
The reorganization process itself during the Carter Administration tended to
follow two tracks; one for reorganization plans that were considered using the
President’s reorganization authority, and the second for specific legislative
Under the authority of the Reorganization Act of 1977, President Carter
submitted 10 reorganization plans, all of which Congress permitted to become
effective.236 The first, and most important was Reorganization Plan No. 1, which237
restructured the Executive Office of the President. The remaining nine
reorganization plans tended to be comparatively minor in scope, such as
Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1979 that created a federal inspector for the Alaska
natural gas pipeline project. Such proposals, arguably, could have been handled as
expeditiously by following the regular statutory process. The White House and
OMB staff apparently concluded that once reorganization authority is granted it must
be used on a regular basis or Congress may take it away. With respect to statutory
233 Beryl Radin and Willis D. Hawley, The Politics of Federal Reorganization: Creating the
Department of Education (New York: Pergamon Press, 1988), pp. 41-42.
234 Dwight Ink was the executive director of President Carter’s Personnel Management
Project and he worked closely with the chairman of the Civil Service Commission, Alan
(“Scotty”) Campbell. See: Ink, “What Was Behind the 1978 Civil Service Reform?” in
James P. Pfiffner and Douglas A. Brook, eds., The Future of Merit: Twenty Years After the
Civil Service Reform Act (Washington: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2001), pp. 39-56.
235 Patricia W. Ingraham and Carolyn Ban, eds., Legislating Bureaucratic Change, the Civil
Service Reform Act of 1978 (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1984). James
P. Pfiffner and Douglas A. Brook, eds., The Future of Merit: Twenty Years After the Civil
Service Reform Act (Washington: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2000).
236 U.S. Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service, The Carter Reorganization
Effort: A Review and Assessment, by Ronald C. Moe, CRS Rept. 80-172G (Washington:
237 U.S. Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service, Reorganizing the Executive
Office of the President: Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1977, by Ronald C. Moe, CRS
Archived Rept. 78-19GOV (Washington: CRS, 1978).
proposals, Carter did have some successes, although the role of the PRP in these
successes was limited. Two new departments were established; the Departments of
Energy and Education. These Acts followed the regular legislative process,
resulting in considerable input by Congress.
On March 2, 1978, President Carter submitted legislation to reorganize the civil
service system of the federal government. As originally introduced, the President’s
bill was largely a product of the recommendations of the President’s Federal
Personnel Management Project. The most important provision in the Act was the
establishment of the Senior Executive Service.238
Some observers tended to be critical of the PRP and the Carter reorganization
exercise generally. Writing only two years into the Administration, James
Sundquist commented: “At the beginning of his presidency it is clear Jimmy Carter
did not recognize quite what was wrong. He saw the need as one not of management
but of management improvement projects.”239 The reorganizers were overwhelmed
by their immersion in facts and details. The problem, they finally realized, was that
the facts did not speak for themselves. Facts generally make sense when there is a
conceptual framework for reference and where generalizations can be tested against
experience. In rejecting the so-called orthodox principles of public administration,
their position was weakened because they offered no alternative set of principles
upon which to evaluate the relative merits of the proposals being considered.
The alleged absence of principles on how the executive branch, viewed broadly,
ought to be organized to perform its various functions, formed the crux of the
criticism of the Carter Administration’s reorganization effort. Harold Seidman put
No unifying theme or set of innovative organizational principles can be
discerned from analysis of Carter’s proposal for Departments of Energy, and
Education, as well as for civil service reform and consumer protection. The same
can be said for his reorganization plans for the Executive Office of the President,
International Communications Agency, Equal Employment Commission, Federal
Emergency Management Agency, and the Employment Retirement Income
Security Act (ERISA). Except for civil service reform, none can be related to
Carter’s goal of energizing and controlling the bureaucracy.
Overall reorganization objectives are described in almost meaningless
generalities—streamlining the government making it more competent to serve the
people. Specific proposals are justified mainly by reference to orthodox
doctrines: Elimination of overlapping duplication, consolidation of related
functions, improved economy and efficiency, and more effective planning and240
238 U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Post Office and Civil Service, Legislative History
of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, 2 vol., committee print, 96th Cong., 1st sess.
(Washington: GPO, 1979).
239 James Sundquist, “Jimmy Carter as Public Administrator: An Appraisal at Mid-Term,”
Public Administration Review, vol.39 Jan./Feb. 1979, p. 4. Emphasis in the original.
240 Seidman, Politics, Position and Power, 3rd ed., pp. 127-28.
Considering the Carter reorganization exercise overall, man viewed it as a
disappointment if not a failure. As Peri Arnold concluded, the Project “... lacked
coherence and coordination; as its managers proudly claimed, it followed no overall
conception of management. It was a collection of young professionals without
significant applied or academic experience with administration, working under a
President burdened by a rigid and curiously moralistic conception of administration.
These reorganizers generated a large bulk of recommendations, but little that they241
did enhanced the capacity of President Carter to govern effectively.”
Reorganization Act of 1977
President Carter had been convinced during his presidential transition period
that renewal of the President’s reorganization plan authority was key to success of
his larger strategy to restructure the executive branch. Hence, one of his first
legislative proposals to Congress, on February 4, 1977, was a bill to renew the
President’s authority to submit reorganizations plans, an authority which had expired
on April 1, 1973, and had not been renewed.242 A bit of history provides some
background on the situation that accompanied the President’s proposal.
In the three decades since the passage of the Reorganization Act of 1949, there
had been a gradual, yet persistent, erosion in the President’s reorganization authority.
The erosion reflected the ambivalence felt by Congress regarding its delegation of
power to the President, and the ways Presidents in recent years had used this243
The original 1949 Act was noteworthy for the broad scope of authority
delegated to the President. In this respect, Congress was heeding the
recommendation of the first Hoover Commission that few limitations be placed on
the President’s authority to submit plans, and that no agencies be exempted. “Once
the limiting and exempting process is begun,” Hoover warned, “it will end the244
possibility of achieving really substantial results.” In subsequent years, however,
Congress chose to place limits on this authority and exempted certain agencies from
Congress is sometimes described as an institution rendered virtually helpless by
the presence of “roadblocks” in the normal legislative process and the dispersion of
power and authority. One of the justifications traditionally given for the executive
reorganization plan process was that it permitted the President and congressional
leadership to overcome these hurdles. In 1961, for instance, the Kennedy
241 Arnold, Making the Managerial Presidency, 2nd ed., p. 336.
242 U.S. Executive Office of the President. Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents,
vol. 13, Feb. 7, 1977, pp. 147-49. Clifford Berg, “Lapse of Reorganization Authority,”
Public Administration Review, vol. 35, Mar./Apr. 1975, pp. 195-99.
243 Louis Fisher and Ronald C. Moe, “Presidential Reorganization Authority: Is It Worth the
Cost?” Political Science Quarterly, vol. 96, Summer 1981, pp. 301-18.
244 U.S. Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government, Hoover
Commission Report, p. xv.
Administration submitted a bill to establish a Department of Urban Affairs and
Housing. The Senate and House Government Operations Committees favorably
reported the bill, but the House Rules Committee (a major roadblock at the time)
declined to clear the measure for floor action. Faced with this opposition, the
administration decided to short-circuit the legislative process and submit a
reorganization plan to create the department.
The Senate Government Operations Committee held hearings on the plan, but
a motion to discharge the committee of its jurisdiction was introduced prior to the
expiration of the normal period for consideration. The extraordinary haste in this
effort to take the plan from the committee, coupled with political reservations on the
substance of the proposal, led the Senate to reject the motion to discharge by a vote
of 58 to 42. On the day following the Senate action, the House disapproved the plan,245
Rather than de-emphasize politics, this episode illustrated how the
reorganization plan method can escalate politics to high intensity. Details of the
departmental structure were relegated to the background. The primary issue became
whether the President would be politically embarrassed by Congress. Congress, in
this instance, chose to embarrass the President and defeat the plan. When Congress
renewed the reorganization authority in 1964, it reacted to what it considered a
presidential “end-run” by prohibiting the President from submitting reorganization
plans that established an executive department (78 Stat. 240) Other restrictions on
the reorganization plan authority followed.
Congress, in 1964, denied the President authority to submit plans proposing
new executive departments. When the law was renewed in 1971, there was a
provision inserted that a plan must be limited “in effect” to dealing with no more
than “one logically consistent subject matter.” This limitation had been inspired by
an presidential attempt to have a number of subjects covered in one plan thereby
increasing the congressional oversight burden.
The Reorganization Act of 1977, as introduced for the President, sought to
soften or eliminate five of the restrictions then operative in the reorganization
1.The President would be allowed to amend a plan within 30 days after
sending it to Congress, unless a Resolution of Disapproval had been
ordered reported in either house or the appropriate committee in either
house had otherwise reported its recommendations.
2.The requirement that only one plan be submitted within a 30-day period
would be eliminated
3.The requirement that each reorganization plan deal with a single logically
consistent subject matter be eliminated.
245 U.S. Congress, Senate, Congressional Record, 87th Cong., 2nd sess., 1962, 108, pt. 2, pp.
4.The requirement that, when a plan is submitted, it have attached a
statement of projected cost savings, would be eliminated. In its place
would be included information on the improvements in management
efficiency and the delivery of federal services that the plan would produce.
5.A four year extension of the authority would be authorized in place of the
customary two year extension.
The Senate reacted to the President’s bill by acceding to several of the
provisions but, in turn, added to the list of prohibitions already in the law. The
provision prohibiting establishment of an executive department by reorganization
was retained and expanded to prohibit also the elimination or merging of
independent regulatory agencies. Further, a provision was inserted that permitted the
President to submit a reorganization plan abolishing all or part of the functions of an
agency, “except that no enforcement function, and no function conferring a
substantial programmatic benefit on the public, shall be abolished by the plan.” In
the House, the debate focused on whether Congress should require an affirmative
vote of some sort for approval of a plan. The chairman of the House Operations
Committee, Representative Jack Brooks (D-TX), had long opposed the legislative
veto approach to approval of plans. He favored passage of a joint resolution within
a 60-day period as meeting the constitutional test of approval by Congress for
Although a majority of the House committee accepted the constitutionality of
this process, they agreed to add an action-forcing requirement. When the President
submitted a plan to the Congress, a resolution of disapproval had to be introduced
at the same time by the chairman of the House Government Operations Committee
and the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. The two committees would also
be required to make recommendations to the House or the Senate, respectively,
within 45 days, or the committee would be deemed as having been discharged from
consideration of the resolution. Since any Member could move for consideration of
the resolution, it was believed unlikely that any future plan would go into effect
without Congress having a chance to vote on it. With this change, Chairman Brooks
withdrew his opposition saying that it was “the best unconstitutional bill you could
Under the authority of the Reorganization Act of 1977, President Carter
submitted 10 reorganization plans, all of which Congress permitted to become
effective. The newly authorized process for approval was not, however, without its
controversies. In February 1979, President Carter announced he would forward a
reorganization plan to establish a Department of Natural Resources that would
246 It is worth noting that, at the time Congress favored the legislative veto as a means of
overseeing the administration of policies, programs and agencies, yet expressed
constitutional uneasiness when using it in the reorganization process. Presidents, on the
other hand, opposed the use of the legislative veto with respect to the administration of
policies, programs, and agencies, yet favored it with respect to reorganization proposals.
247 U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Government Operations, Extension of
Reorganization Authority of the President, House Rept. 95-105, 95th Cong., 1st sess.
(Washington: GPO, 1977), p. 43.
absorb the Interior Department and include the Forest Service from the Agriculture
Department and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from the
Commerce Department. While the use of the reorganization plan process to establish
this department was endorsed by Chairman Brooks of the House Government
Operations Committee, it ran into stiff opposition from Senator Abraham Ribicoff,
who chaired the Governmental Affairs Committee. Ribicoff’s objection was based
on his interpretation of the Reorganization Act’s prohibition against such
reorganization plans to create new departments. Administration officials argued that
they were not proposing a “new” department. Rather, they were just moving some
agencies around and changing some titles. Ribicoff disagreed: “Section 905(a) of the
Reorganization Act of 1977 states that no reorganization plan may provide for or
‘have the effect of creating a new executive department.’ It is my belief—and the
belief of a number of other Senators—that this prohibition was written into law to248
cover just the kind of situation we are facing in this instance.”
Administration officials had been quite candid in their belief that the proposal
for a new Department of Natural Resources could not be passed using the regular
legislative process. The only chance for success, in their view, lay in a
reorganization plan.249 When the White House recognized that the Senate leadership
adamantly opposed the use of a reorganization plan to establish a department, it
withdrew the proposal. President Carter, however, did pay a price. In response to
his request for an extension of the reorganization authority, members of Congress
gave him only a one year extension and served notice that they would use the time
to review the authority and its procedures. The administration also had to promise
that it had no plans to propose the creation of a Department of Natural Resources “or
anything resembling it.”250
What was revealed, especially during the Carter years, was that the
reorganization plan authority was of dubious value. Congressional ambivalence over
the delegation of reorganization authority to the President resulted in
misunderstanding, confusion, and recrimination between the two branches. On the
one hand, Congress gave the President authority to skirt the regular legislative
process, yet when the President invoked the power, he risked being accused of
violating the established system. After each presidential “misuse,” Congress
responded by adding restrictions and exemptions, gradually circumscribing the
power until the reorganization act was but a shadow of the 1949 statute. The original
design had been so diluted that recourse to the regular legislative process generally
248 U.S .Congress, Senate, Congressional Record, 96th Cong., 1st sess., March 7, 1979, 125:
S2255 (daily edition).
249 The political reality was that presidential staffs often saw the reorganization plan process
as their only means to achieve a White House objective not likely to be accepted if subjected
to the regular legislative process. A White House aide in the Carter administration
explained that with a reorganization plan “you don’t need passionate supporters. All you
need to do is avoid passionate enemies. That’s the only way to get any of this through. We
could never do it by legislation.” Rochelle L. Stanfield, “The Best Laid Reorganization
Plans Sometimes Go Astray,” National Journal, Jan. 20, 1979, p. 86.
250 U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Governmental Affairs, To Extend the
Reorganization Authority of the President, Hearings, 96th Cong., 2nd sess. (Washington:
GPO), p. 6.
made more sense—a conclusion especially compelling in view of the 1977 change
allowing Presidents to submit amendments to their plans. Having introduced one
more element of the legislative process, the value of the reorganization plan process
became, at best, problematic.
Reorganization authority under the 1977 Act was granted to the President for
three years and was subsequently extended for an additional year. The authority
expired on April 7, 1981, just three months after President Ronald Reagan assumed
President’s Private Sector Survey on Cost Control
(Grace Commission) (1982-1984)
The Administration of Ronald Reagan entered office in 1981 with a definite
policy agenda, and this agenda did not include comprehensive executive
reorganization. They discerned that since President Carter had followed the
organizational route with less than what they regarded as salutary results, they would
follow another course to maximize their political leverage. The budget was viewed
as the key to that overall objective, the reduction in the ability of the government to
intervene in the economic and social spheres of national life. Good management,
then, was to be judged by its contribution toward the achievement of that end.
Although President Reagan and his advisors were not generally in sympathy
with the idea of another presidentially oriented commission to undertake a
comprehensive review of the organizational management of the executive branch,
they were persuaded by a number of business executives that it would not hurt
Reagan’s political agenda if an “outside” study were made. The principal promoter
of this idea was industrialist J. Peter Grace, who argued that he could put together
a study by leading business leaders that would result in massive savings. President
Reagan eventually concurred and Grace was approved to chair a private commission
(President’s Private Sector Survey on Cost Control) to submit a report with
recommendations on how to make the federal government work better for less
The legal status of the commission was in question from the outset. Rather than
submitting legislation to create the commission, an indirect route was selected. The
President issued an executive order 12369 which, in turn, was based on an obscure
provision in a law administered by the Department of Commerce (15 U.S.C. 1525),
a provision not intended to authorize a commission such as the Grace Commission.
This provision, however, was considered sufficient by the Administration to permit
hundreds of private citizens to venture into the agencies and review records,251
interview personnel, and make public policy recommendations.
The commission, on paper, was large, composed of 161 chief executive officers
of corporations. The full commission never met, however, and was not an active
factor in the commission’s work. In essence, the commission was Peter Grace and
some close associates.
Like the earlier Carter Project, the Grace Commission rejected the idea that any
general principles of organizational management were unique to the public sector or
the federal government. Indeed, the commission went further by rejecting the
distinctiveness of the public sector altogether. The opening paragraph of the Grace
Commission report, which appeared in a commercial version, read:
Most reports of presidential commissions begin with a lengthy introduction
detailing the origins, premises, and methodologies of their studies before focusing
on the results of the study. We are omitting such matters because we do not want
to risk losing even one reader who would be turned away by having to wade252
through such preliminary material.
The operating premise was that the government was poorly organized,
incompetently managed, and plagued by waste, fraud and abuse.
Insofar as there was an administrative theory underlying the Commission’s
work, it was caught in an early line in the report: “it is with private sector
management tenets in mind that the Grace Commission findings have been
developed.”253 The dominant theme was that the governmental and private sectors
were alike in their essentials and should be judged by the same set of economic
variables and managerial principles. Government should be organized like a large
commercial corporation (IBM was their example of choice), that is, with a structure
permitting top-down control. Decisions should be brought to the top where a large,
central Office of Federal Management would ensure uniformity.
251 There was considerable opposition in Congress to the ways and means followed by the
Grace Commission in establishing it task forces and investigating agency and program
management. The principal concerns involved conflict of interest issues posed by the
participation of corporate executives of firms regulated by government agencies and the
applicability of provisions of the Federal Advisory Committee Act to the commission and
its task forces. David Burnham, “Questions Rising Over U.S. Study and Role of Company
Executives,” New York Times, Sept. 28, 1982, p. 1.
252 President’s Private Sector Survey on Cost Control, War on Waste (New York: Macmillan,
253 Ibid., p. 3.
Organization, Staff Support, and Finances.
The commission assigned its responsibilities to 36 task forces, and was staffed
over time by some 2,000 people, generally on loan from their corporations, with a
cost to these 859 companies and other organizations of $75 million in cash and
Reports and Recommendations.
The commission worked approximately two years and produced 47 volumes
(23,000 pages), all of which were produced in mimeographed form. There was no
common index. From these reports the commission brought forth two documents.
The first was a list of some 2,478 specific recommendations which was not given
much public circulation, and a single, commercially available book entitled: War on
Waste. Unencumbered by the requirement that the full commission meet, debate,
and vote on recommendations, Peter Grace was able to shape the report to his liking.
The report, as a result, emphasized statistics and money. Figures, correct and
otherwise,255 were featured in highly controversial formats. The commission
attacked Congress directly, and originally included the names of Members who256
allegedly accepted favors and made pleadings for special interests. Congress was
viewed, at best, as a nuisance, an impediment to good management, and was to be
ignored whenever possible. The Grace Commission claimed that if Congress
adopted the Commission proposals totally, the savings would be $424 billion during
the first three years257 and in the trillions of dollars during the 1990s.258
The commission did not engage in any comprehensive or systematic review of
structures in the government. The principal exception in this regard was its
recommendation to establish a new Office of Federal Management which would
include the existing Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Personnel
254 Charles T. Goodsell, “The Grace Commission: Seeking Efficiency for the Whole
People?” Public Administration Review, vol. 44, May/June 1984, p. 197.
255 For a critical discussion of the difficulties encountered in interpreting the financial figures
presented by the Grace Commission, see: Steven Kelman, “The Grace Commission: How
Much Waste in Government?” The Public Interest, Winter 1985, pp. 62-82. Spencer Rich,
“Experts Cite Flaws in Grace Panel’s Claims for Savings,” Washington Post, Jan. 29, 1984,
256 Task Force Report (VIII) on Congress was titled: The Cost of Congressional
Encroachment (1983). As the report named Members of Congress as recipients of favors
and pleaders for special interests, the full commission backed away from this approach and
published the report with the names blocked out. Not surprisingly, the “uncensored” report
was published privately.
257 Robert D. Hershey Jr., “Panel Says U.S. Can Trim Costs by $424 Billion,” New York
Times, January 13, 1984, p. 1; ($358 billion from spending cuts and $66 billion from revenue
increases, such as user fees and taxes).
258 J. Peter Grace, “To Save Trillions,” Conservative Digest, vol. 11, October 1985, pp. 23-
Management, and the General Services Administration, and several lesser units.259
Results and Assessment.
The reception to the report with its 2,478 specific recommendations was mixed,
ranging from warm to hostile. The recommendations were split between those
requiring congressional action and those which could be implemented by presidential
authority alone. OMB was charged with implementing those recommendations
requiring presidential approval and with working with Congress to implement
recommendations requiring legislation.
How many of the recommendations were accepted and implemented? The
answer to this question is complicated. For one thing, it is always difficult to assign
credit and parentage to an idea which is ultimately implemented. A substantial
number of the Grace Commission recommendations had been around in one form or
another (often in a GAO Report) for a number of years. To whom should credit be
assigned? A number of proposals (some old and some new) found their way into
legislation or presidential directive. Arguably, the most significant of the laws that
could be attributed in large measure to Grace Commission promotion was the Chief
Financial Officers Act (P.L. 101-576). While the Act had many sponsors, the
critical impetus was provided by the Grace Commission and its interest group
constituency in the financial management community.
Under pressure to show results, OMB announced victory in its Fiscal 1990
Annual Management Report to Congress:
The President kept his promise. He accepted 83 percent of the Grace
Commission recommendations (1,792 of the 2,160 unduplicated
recommendations.... A summary of the current status of the 1,792
recommendations accepted by the President is as follows: 1,607 (90 percent of
those accepted by the President) have been agreed to by Congress.... 117 (6
percent of those accepted by the President) have been rejected by Congress and
are not being reproposed by the President.... 68 (4 percent of those accepted by260
the President) are being proposed or reproposed with the fiscal 1990 budget.”
While the Administration refined the Grace Commission “savings” projections,
the fact was that substantial financial savings were only possible through major
259 U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Governmental Affairs, Oversight of the
Implementation of the Grace Commission Report, Hearings, 99th Cong., 1st sess.
(Washington: GPO, 1985). “We recommend consolidating responsibility for policy
development and direction in the areas of financial management, budgeting and planning,
human resources, administration and management improvement. This consolidation of
various functions from the GSA, the OPM, and the OMB would be accomplished by
establishing an Office of Federal Management.” (p. 119)
260 U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Management of the U.S. Government, Fiscal
Year 1990 (Washington: GPO, 1989), p. 5-1.
changes in public policy. Savings in administrative expenses directly attributable to261
the Grace Commission were modest.
By and large, Mr. Grace and his commission were disappointed with the
reception to their report. What had occurred, in the opinion of many, was that a
report had been written with little understanding of the distinctive legal,
organizational, and political factors that characterize the activities of the federal
government. Peri Arnold summed up criticism of the Grace Commission thus:
“[T]he Grace Commission’s highly public and very large effort may not be best
assessed by what reforms and savings it achieved. It was a populist-administrative
passion play, and it demonstrated that given a chance to observe government closely,262
business people would see the inefficiency and waste they expected to find.”
Reorganization Act of 1984
The Reorganization Act of 1977 expired on April 7, 1981. Some in the then-
new Reagan Administration called for the renewal of the authority, although the
President never made it a major part of his personal agenda. In 1983, during the
early days of the Grace Commission exercise, the Administration requested Congress
to renew the authority, and hearings were held on H.R. 1314 (97th Congress) by the
Subcommittee on Legislation and National Security of the House Government
Operations Committee, chaired by Representative Brooks. The bill, which included
a number of substantive alterations to the 1977 Reorganization Act, was intended by
its sponsors to be a cooperative effort by the President and Congress to expedite
reorganizations believed to be needed by the executive branch.
Court decisions during years after 1977, especially the Supreme Court’s263
decision in INS v. Chadha, had a significant impact on deliberations in Congress.
In Chadha, the Supreme Court ruled that legislative vetoes, including those attached
to the reorganization authority, were unconstitutional.
In an effort to meet the requirements of the Chadha decision, H.R. 1314
required that a joint resolution be introduced in both the House and Senate upon
receipt of a reorganization plan. Affirmative action on this resolution was required
for the reorganization to become law. If either house failed to vote, such inaction
would constitute disapproval of a plan. Also, in the unlikely event that a President
vetoed the plan he had previously submitted, a veto override would require a two-
thirds vote of both houses.
261 The accuracy and relevance of savings estimates was the source of much controversy. To
begin with, the Grace Commission began its estimates assuming a 10 percent inflation rate
that tended to inflate future savings estimates. U.S. General Accounting Office and U.S.
Congressional Budget Office, Analysis of the Grace Commission’s Major Proposals for Cost
Control, Report to the House and Senate Committees on the Budget (Washington: GPO,
262 Arnold, Making the Managerial Presidency, 2nd ed., p. 376.
263 INS v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919 (1983).
Expedited procedures established in the 1977 Act were also significantly altered
in H.R. 1314. The 1977 Act included a 60-day time period for congressional
consideration of each reorganization plan, and also provided that no more than three
plans might be pending at any time. Brooks and Representative Frank Horton, as
congressional sponsors of the legislation, believed that the time frame was overly
burdensome, and therefore extended the period for congressional consideration to 90
days. Within the 90-day period, other time limitations were extended
proportionately. The 1977 Act allowed 30 days from the date of submission for the
President to amend the proposal. H.R. 1314 extended that allowance to 60 days.
The time period in which a President might withdraw a reorganization plan was
extended from 60 to 90 days.
Committee action, previously required within 45 calendar days following
submission, was extended to 75 calendar days. If the committee failed to report a
resolution within that period, it would be deemed to have been discharged and the
resolution would be placed on the appropriate calendar.
Another significant innovation in H.R. 1314 was the requirement that an
implementation section be included in the President’s message accompanying the
reorganization plan. Such a provision was recommended by the GAO in its report
of March 20, 1981 entitled: Implementation: The Missing Link in Planning
Reorganizations. The GAO had found that agencies were experiencing considerable
problems in implementing reorganization plans:
Agencies reorganized under the Reorganization Act of 1977 experienced
substantial startup problems. These included delays in obtaining key agency
officials, inadequate staffing, insufficient funding, inadequate office space, and
difficulties in establishing administrative support functions such as payroll and
Solving these startup problems distracted agency officials form
concentrating on their new missions during the critical first year of operation.
These startup problems could be alleviated by including in future reorganization264
plans front-end implementation planning objectives.
An “implementation provision” was added to Section 903(b) of Title 5:
In addition, the President’s message shall include an implementation section
which shall (1) describe in detail (A) the actions necessary or planned to complete
264 U.S. General Accounting Office, Implementation: The Missing Link in Planning
Reorganizations, GGD-81-57 (Washington: GAO, 1981), pp. 5, 13. Reinforcing their
concern about implementation, the GAO report cited a conclusion of a recent Carter
Administration official with reorganization responsibilities. “For reorganization, as for any
other change, implementation is the bottom line. Without it, the whole exercise is show and
symbolism. Yet in real-life attempts at reorganization, serious concerns with implementation
is typically too little and too late. Enormous attention is devoted to analyzing and deciding
what changes should be made. The problem of getting from here to there is addressed only
belatedly. To paraphrase Erwin Hargrove, implementation often seems the ‘missing link’
of reorganization.” I.M. Destler, “Implementing Reorganization,” in Federal
Reorganization: What Have We Learned? ed. Peter Szanton (Chatham, NJ: Chatham House
Publishers, 1981), p. 155.
the reorganization, (B) the anticipated nature and substance of any orders,
directives, and other administrative and operation actions which are expected to
be required for completing or implementing the reorganization, and (C) any
preliminary actions which have been taken in the implementation process, and (2)
contain a projected timetable for completion of the implementation process. The
President shall also submit such further background or other information as the
Congress may require for its consideration of the plan.
The President’s reorganization authority expired on December 31, 1984.
During this period President Reagan did not submit any reorganization plans nor did
he subsequently request renewal of the authority.
Why, after all these political maneuvering, did the Reagan Administration not
take advantage of this brief (two month) window of opportunity to submit some
reorganization plans? The answer appears to be that what little advantage remained
in the reorganization plan process, namely an expedited procedure with a guaranteed
vote, was more than matched by the disadvantages of following the complex
introduction procedures and the submission of an implementation plan. In short, it
was easier to simply follow the regular legislative process.
No subsequent President requested the reintroduction of the reorganization plan265
National Performance Review (1993-1997)
National Partnership for Reinventing Government
The last major executive reorganization exercise of the century, the National
Performance Review (NPR), or as it was more popularly referred to, “reinventing
government,” represented an intentional break with earlier reorganization efforts.
To be sure, there remained some similarities, but for the most part the NPR was
different. To understand these differences, it is necessary to recognize that public
sector management was undergoing a major philosophical (or paradigm) shift267
265 U.S. Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service, The President’s
Reorganization Authority: Review and Analysis, by Ronald C. Moe, CRS Rept. RL30876
(Washington: March 8, 2001).
266 The National Performance Review (1993-1997) was renamed for the second Clinton
Administration to become the National Partnership for Reinventing Government. For
purposes of this analysis, however, the term National Performance Review (NPR) will be
used to cover the activities in both Administrations.
267 Donald F. Kettl, The Global Public Management Revolution: A Report on the
Transformation of Governance (Washington: The Brookings Institution, 2000).
In the years following World War II, virtually all nations, developed and less
developed, followed a path of creating centrally planned economies with large
bureaucracies and varying degrees of state-owned enterprises (SOE). This highly
nationalistic approach to managing an economy created rigidities and noncompetitive
industries that placed whole economies at risk of bankruptcy. With collapse
looming, many nations in rapid succession abandoned their centrally planned
economies and privatized their SOEs. In a matter of a decade, the 1980s, the world
changed with the emergence of a globalized, technology-driven international
The decision to move away from governmentally controlled economies and
towards a more decentralized, competitive, and market economy was striking in its
speed, comprehensiveness, and universality. Commonwealth countries,269 with their
parliamentary form of government, in particular seemed to act the quickest in their
retreat from state dominated economies. In this transformation, Great Britain and
New Zealand stood out, as their actions were based in considerable part on the
intellectual foundation of public choice theory. The specific actions were not
random but rather tended to be part of a systematic implementation of a broad-based
The nation that went furthest fastest in the direction of what had become known
as the New Public Management (NPM) was New Zealand.270 Using the language of
transaction cost economics, the Labour Party (socialist) government attempted to
separate administrative policymaking from service delivery, introduce private sector
managerial practices, and reorient government management incentives toward
individual manager self-interest. A series of laws set in motion large-scale
divestiture, performance contracting, administrative devolution to sub-national
governments, and the creation of quasi governmental organizations (sometimes
called Quangos) were the highlights not only of the New Zealand exercise, but of271
many other of the Commonwealth countries, such as Canada, as well. Donald
Kettl summarized the management revolution in the Westminster world:
Together, the British Commonwealth experiments amounted to a ‘new
public management’.... The new public management stemmed form the basic
economic argument that government suffered from defects of monopoly, high
268 Charles Wolf, Jr., Markets or Governments: Choosing Between Imperfect Alternatives
(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989). Dennis J. Gayle and Jonathan N. Goodrich, eds.,
Privatization and Deregulation in Global Perspective (Westport, CT: Quorum Books, 1990).
Ezra N. Suleiman and John Waterbury, eds., The Political Economy of Public Sector Reform
and Privatization (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1990).
269 “Commonwealth” refers to members of the Commonwealth of Nations, a multi-national
organization comprising Great Britain and her former dominions and colonies.
270 Allen Schick, The Spirit of Reform: Managing the New Zealand State Sector in a Time
of Change (Wellington: New Zealand State Services Commission, 1996). Graham Scott, Ian
Ball and Tony Dale, “New Zealand’s Public Sector Management Reform: Implications for
the U.S.,” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, vol. 16 Summer 1997, pp. 357-81.
271 Matthew Flinders, The Politics of Accountability in the Modern State (London: Ashgate,
April 1995, pp. 341-59.
transactions costs, and information problems that bred great inefficiencies. By
substituting market competition – and market-like incentives – the reformers
believed that they could shrink government’s size, reduce its costs, and improve
its performance. Sometimes the argument came from the left, as in New Zealand.
Sometimes the argument came from the right, as in the United Kingdom.
However, at its core the movement sought to transform how government272
performed its most basic functions.
The changes in public management were most evident first in the
Commonwealth countries, next in selected OECD nations, and finally in the United
States. The situation in the United States, however, was considerably different from
that found in most other countries. First, unlike parliamentary systems, where the
executive is able to change direction with considerable facility, in large part because
their firm control over disciplined parties holding a majority in parliament, the
United States operates under a Constitution that intentionally separates powers and
brings the executive branch, ultimately, under the control of Congress. The
President and Congress are co-managers of the executive branch, thus making
dramatic and comprehensive shifts less likely to occur.273 Second, the United States
had never widely accepted the doctrine of government ownership of key industries,
thus it had less apparent need to move toward many of the tenets of the New Public
Management. And finally, the United States generally followed a constitutional
practice of keeping separate and distinct the government and private sectors. Each
had developed its own legal precedents and practices, with government being
required to meet higher standards of behavior toward citizens than elements of the
The American variation on the New Public Management theme, with its public
choice overtones, was the “reinventing government” exercise led principally by Vice
President Al Gore. Describing themselves as “New Democrats,” President Bill
Clinton and Vice President Gore sought ways and means for Democrats to move
away from their traditional sympathies for government planning and economic
intervention and toward a government organization guided more by market
principles. To make this shift palatable to their partisans, the reinventors largely
rejected the language of public choice opting instead for the language of business
The origins of the entrepreneurial management paradigm, as it came to be
called, are to be found in David Osborne’s and Ted Gaebler’s popular account,
Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit is Transforming the Public
Sector.275 The authors mixed many of the ideas of market economics, as refined in
the voluminous privatization literature of the 1970s and 1980s, with the most popular
272 Kettl, The Global Public Management Revolution, pp. 13-14.
273 Robert S. Gilmour and Alexis A. Halley, “Congress and the Executive: Co-Managing
Policy Implementation,” Paper delivered at the 1991 Meeting of the American Political
274 Ronald C. Moe and Robert S. Gilmour, “Rediscovering Principles of Public
Administration,” pp. 135-46.
275 David Osborne and Ted Gaebler, Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial
Spirit is Transforming the Public Sector (Reading, MA: Addison Wesley, 1992).
of the then-current business motivational literature. The result was a call to action
to those who favored government economic intervention (e.g., President Clinton’s
national health care program) but who wished it to be done selectively and at less
cost, or at least the appearance of less cost. Osborne and Gaebler convinced Clinton
and Gore that “reinventing” government to have agencies resemble large private
sector corporations was both doable and politically advantageous.276
It was within this context that President Bill Clinton announced the
establishment of the National Performance Review in 1993.
There was no statutory authority assigned to the National Performance Review.
This omission was intentional. The establishment of the NPR was simply announced
by the President on March 3, 1993.277 The whole operation was to remain informal,
fluid, and with a moving cast of detailed participants. In 1997, the NPR changed its
name to the National Partnership for Reinventing Government, to indicate that
reinventing government called for constant change, even in titles.
The creation of a blue-ribbon commission to manage the exercise and give its
imprimatur to the reports and recommendations was never seriously entertained. The
objective was to keep the NPR under the Vice President’s Office and for the reports
and recommendations to reflect his views and those of his staff. In this regard,
several key staff leaders warrant mention. These included Elaine Kamarck of the
Vice President’s Office, Bob Stone, Project Director, and John Kamensky, formerly
of GAO and Assistant to the Deputy Director at OMB.
The administrative philosophy of the National Performance Review was
intended to address a near universal problem; the public’s disenchantment with
government. Numerous studies and polls over a period of time indicated increasing
frustration by the public with the manner in which executive agencies performed
their duties and delivered services. This frustration was directed at all levels of
government. In the 1980s, there was considerable interest in promoting
“privatization” of services, a term employed broadly to include virtually any action278
that moved government toward private sector practices. But privatization was not
enough for those who wanted an American version of the New Public Management.
Vice President Al Gore had assembled in April 1993 a large meeting of political and
career executives where he announced that the government was going to be
276 Michael E. Norris, Reinventing the Administrative State (Lanham, MD: University Press
of America, 2000). This book provides an overview and evaluation of the NPR.
277 U.S. Public Papers of U.S. Presidents, William Jefferson Clinton,1993, “Remarks
Announcing the National Performance Review,” March 3, 1993, pp. 233-35.
278 E.S. Savas, Privatization and Public Private Partnerships (New York: Seven Bridges
Press, 2000), p. 3.
“reinvented” to reflect certain objectives, objectives encapsulated on laminated cards
distributed to attendees.
We will invent a government that puts people first, by
Cserving its customers
Cempowering its employees
Here’s How: We will –
Ccreate a clear sense of mission
Cdelegate authority and responsibility
Creplace regulations with incentives
Cdevelop budget based outcomes
Cmeasure success by customer satisfaction
Six months later, the NPR issued a report, From Red Tape to Results: Creating279
a Government That Works Better and Costs Less. Four premises underlay the
Report and the whole NPR exercise.
1.The federal government and the private sectors are similar
in their essentials and respond similarly to management
incentives and processes.
2.Federal government agencies should be viewed as
entrepreneurial bodies which function best in a competitive
3.The size of the government is a function of the number of
civil servants employed fulltime, hence it follows that to
decrease the number of civil servants is to decrease the size
4.Federal agency management should be both tied and
subordinate to, budgetary priorities and processes.
The constitutional, or administrative management, paradigm that guided the
republic since its inception was rejected by the NPR. This “old” paradigm, based on
law, was the cause, in their view, of the “red tape” that hampered the introduction of
contemporary management practices. In the entrepreneurial management paradigm,
the agency manager is central. Congress is viewed as being engaged in micro-
management.280 The central management agencies, such as OMB, are tied to the
279 U.S. National Performance Review, From Red Tape to Results: Creating a Government
that Works Better and Costs Less (Washington: GPO, 1993). See also: Ronald C. Moe, “The
‘Reinventing Government’ Exercise: Misinterpreting the Problem, Misjudging the
Consequences,” Public Administration Review, vol. 54, March/April 1994, pp. 111-22.
280 Donald F. Kettl noted the anti-congressional bias of the reinventing government exercise:
“First, ‘reinventing government’ seeks the transfer of power from the legislative to the
executive branch. In the Vice President’s report, Congress is notable principally for its rare
appearance. When it does appear, it is usually as an unindicted co-conspirator responsible
for undermining effective management. The NPR criticizes Congress for micromanagement
administrative management paradigm and therefore ought to be downgraded. And
the executive branch is in need of disaggregation. With respect to the latter, agencies
should be given wide latitude over their personnel, compensation, acquisition, and
contract policies, as well as the applicability of regulations.
The administrative philosophy of the NPR set out to “melt the rigid boundaries
between organizations. The federal government should organize its work according281
to customers’ needs and anticipated outcomes, not bureaucratic turf.” The Report
argued to change the public law basis of an agency’s mission and replace it with an
“outcomes” mission orientation as defined by the agency’s management. The
executive branch was to be culturally reorganized, not organizationally reorganized,
to reflect the entrepreneurial values of the private sector. Vice President Gore wrote:
“We are turning some of today’s agencies into smaller, sleeker organizations that
won’t look like government at all. They will be like private companies, with a real
CEO on contract to cut costs, and a free hand when it comes to the remaining
Entrepreneurial managers view the legal distinctions between the government
and private sectors as largely artificial, serving to hinder the implementation of
contemporary business management practices. To their mind, the future should be
one of government-private partnerships functioning in almost all fields. The
partnerships, ideally, will be largely autonomous bodies run by managers under
contract to meet negotiated performance standards. Managers of the future will be
risk-takers who are willing to ignore the “unnecessary” rules, regulations, and
control systems to get the job done right—and less expensively. There will be little
need to change the laws, the goal being to change attitudes and behavior. The role283
of Congress, under the entrepreneurial model, will be reduced. Empirical results,
however defined, will be what counts, not legal processes and political
accountability. The precedence of economically based values over legally based
values is evident throughout the NPR literature.
and for unpredictable budgetary decisions. Almost all of what the NPR recommends, in
fact, requires that Congress give up power.” “Beyond the Rhetoric of Reinvention: Driving
Themes of the Clinton Administration’s Management Reforms,” Governance, vol. 7, July
1994, p. 309. While it may have been one of the intentions of the NPR to reduce the role of
Congress, a number of its decisions and actions, paradoxically, actually work to increase the
administrative oversight role and power of Congress. James R. Thompson, “The Clinton
Reforms and the Administrative Ascendency of Congress,” American Review of Public
Administration, vol.31, September 2001, pp. 249-72.
281 National Performance Review, From Red Tape to Results, p. 48.
282 U.S. National Performance Review, The Best Kept Secrets of Government (Washington:
GPO, 1996), p. 65.
283 Congress was little consulted by the NPR staff during the critical drafting stage. James
D. Carroll and Dahlia Bradshaw Lynn, “The Future of Federal Reinvention: Congressional
Perspectives,” Public Administration Review, vol. 56 May/June 1996, pp. 299-304. Arnold,nd
Making the Managerial Presidency, 2 ed., p. 387.
Organization, Staff Support, and Finances.
When President Clinton announced on March 3, 1993 that the National
Performance Review would issue a report with recommendations six months hence,
there was no NPR in existence. There was no staff, no funding, and no work plan.
The Vice President formed a small team, which in turn developed an interagency
task force. As an interagency task force, as opposed to a statutory body, the NPR
could not have its own personnel or an independent budget account. Its personnel
were to be temporarily detailed from agencies and NPR’s funding would, in effect,
have to originate in existing agency appropriations. Some consultants (e.g., David
Osborne at $10,000 a month) were hired. Space was rented across the street from
OMB and the size of the staff, at its height, reached 250 persons, nearly all of whom
were career government employees on detail from their agencies. The actual cost for
the NPR exercise, although substantial, was included for the most part in agency
budgets, but has not been identified or estimated.
Reports and Recommendations.
The President, in announcing the formation of the NPR in March 1993, stated
that he expected to receive a report with recommendation in six months. A number
of study teams met and drew up recommendations. David Osborne was the leader
in the drafting stage. The end result was unveiled at a ceremony held on the White
House lawn on September 7, 1993. Titled From Red Tape to Results: Creating a
Government that Works Better and Costs Less, the report promised changes in
government management, not so much programmatically as behaviorally.284
The report describes “roughly 100 of our most important recommendations,
while hundreds more are listed in the appendices....” These recommendations were
expected to produce savings of $108 billion over 5 years with the biggest savings
($40.4 billion) listed under the category of “streamlining the bureaucracy through
reengineering.” The NPR report recommended eliminating one half of the executive
branch middle management (252,000 persons) over 5 years. “The report was vividly
anecdotal.”285 The remaining recommendations were a mixture of the significant and
insignificant. There was a call for biennial budgeting, a line item veto, and major
restructuring of the Inspectors General role, all requiring statutory action at some
point. On the other hand, minor items such as establishing a Customer Service
Bureau in the Executive Office of the President and reducing the number of Marine
guards at U.S. embassies, received equal billing.
Much more important than the specific recommendations, and much more
subtle, was the implicit recommendation in the report to redefine the role and
284 The NPR, over time, would produce a number of reports, such as: Common Sense
Government: Third Report of the National Performance Review (1995); The Best Kept
Secrets of Government (1996); and Businesslike Government: Lessons Learned from
America’s Best Companies (1997). Reports such as these, plus additional commercially
published books, were intended to rally the partisans of “reinventing government.” David
Osborne and Peter Plastrik, Banishing Bureaucracy: The Five Strategies for Reinventing
Government (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1997).
285 Arnold, Making the Managerial Presidency, 2nd ed., p. 389.
authorities of the institutional President and the central management agencies. The
“M” (“management”) side of OMB was to be downgraded or eliminated and replaced
by interagency committees,286 principally a new President’s Management Council.287
The entrepreneurial management paradigm underlying the NPR called for a highly
pluralistic organizational and management structure for the executive branch.
Agencies were to be viewed as competitive enterprises in charge of their own
personnel and financing systems. They were to be substantially reliant upon a
contractor workforce. Throughout the report, the implicit argument appeared to be
that greater faith should be placed in the abilities and motivations of politically
appointed leadership in the departments and agencies. Together with a re-culturated
federal and contract workforce, the new management team would insure that
performance, however defined, would become the pre-eminent value. Performance
would replace political accountability as the primary objective for federal288
organization and management.
Results and Assessment.
Enumerating and evaluating the results of the NPR is not an easy task, as James
Assessing the NPR is in many ways problematic; the scope of the reform
program is broad, the rhetorical element is substantial, the underlying ‘theory’
elusive. Some objectives are so broad and ambiguous as to deter other than
tentative conclusions about outcomes. Also, given the size of the government,
a major commitment of time and resources would be required to make any kind289
of comprehensive assessment of outcomes.
286 There was a successful effort in 1994 to virtually eliminate the management side of OMB
altogether and subordinate management to the budget side with its priorities and personnel.
In defending the 1994 reorganization, then-OMB Director Leon Panetta, stated: “Critics of
these recommendations may say the effort to ‘integrate’ management and budget will end
in merely bigger budget divisions, whose management responsibilities will be driven out by
daily fire-fighting on budget issues.... We believe this criticism is based on a false premise
that ‘management’ and ‘budget’ issues can be thought of separately.” Leon Panetta, quoted
in “Executive Memo: OMB Management Merger,” Government Executive, vol. 26, April
U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Making OMB More Effective in Serving the
Presidency: Changes in OMB as a Result of the OMB 2000 Review, OMB Memorandum 94-
“OMB’s ‘M’ Fading Away,” pp. 62-64. U.S., General Accounting Office, Office of
Management and Budget, Changes Resulting From the OMB 2000 Reorganization,
GGD/AIMD-96-50 (Washington: GAO, 1995). Paul Light, “The Incredible Shrinking
Budget Office,” Government Executive, vol. 43, Jan. 2002, p. 66.
287 For a supportive description of the President’s Management Council and its work from
1993-2000, see: Margaret L. Yao, The President’s Management Council: An Important
Management Innovation (Washington: PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment, 2000).
288 Dall W. Forsythe, Quicker, Better, Cheaper? Managing Performance in American
Government (Albany, NY: Rockefeller Institute, 2001).
289 James R. Thompson, “Reinventing as Reform: Assessing the National Performance
Review,” Public Administration Review, vol. 60, Nov./Dec., 2000, pp. 508-09.
The thrust of the NPR, as noted previously, was different than earlier290
reorganization exercises. It was not so much interested in altering institutions and
lines of accountability as in changing behavior at the line agency level and below.
The pertinent concepts were to be found more in the generic behavior literature of291
business schools than in public administration literature. “Change” became the
operative word. Managers were referred to as “change agents” and expected to adopt
generic management practices.
Legislatively, not much can be credited directly to the NPR. The most
important piece of legislation reflecting the shift of values from political
accountability to performance was the Government Performance and Results Act
(GPRA), passed by Congress in 1993 (107 Stat. 285). The development of the bill
and the concepts it represents, however, came principally from Congress and
organizations outside the executive branch and NPR. Think-tanks, both conservative
and liberal, actively promoted the legislation in Congress, with a vigorous assist from
GAO. Unlike previous budgetary/management process exercises, such as the
program performance budgeting system (PPBS) and zero-based budgeting (ZBB),
GPRA had a statutory basis and mandate making it more difficult for agencies to
ignore altogether. NPR leaders, plus a number of outside organizations (e.g.,
Reason Foundation, National Academy of Public Administration), pushed hard to
integrate GPRA thinking into agency management, and to a limited degree
succeeded. Finally, a government-wide set of GPRA goals was published for FY
mixed, but GPRA is still a story in the making.
Just prior to the 2000 election, the NPR evaluated itself and returned to its
earlier populist themes. Its most important self-proclaimed accomplishment was the
“ending of the era of big government.” The NPR “reduced the size of the federal
civilian workforce by 426,200 positions between January 1993 and September
2001,” more than the 252,000 they originally promised. “Action [was taken] on
more than two-thirds of NPR recommendations resulting in savings of more than
$136 billion,” once again more than the $108 billion promised. The NPR made its
cuts and savings “the right way by eliminating what wasn’t needed—bloated
headquarters, layers of managers, outdated field offices, obsolete red tape and rules.”
They cut 78,000 managers, cut 640,000 pages of internal agency rules and closed
nearly 2000 obsolete field offices and eliminated 250 programs and agencies, like the
Tea-Tasters Board, the Bureau of Mines, and the wool and mohair subsidies. Similar
statistical claims were offered under other headings, such as “Serving People Better.”
290 John Kamensky, “Role of the ‘Reinventing Government’ Movement in Federal
Management Reform,” Public Administration Review, vol. 56, May/June 1996, pp. 247-55.
291 Arnold, Making the Managerial Presidency, 2nd ed., p. 418.
292 U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Government-Wide Performance Plan
(Washington: GPO, 2000).
293 Beryl A. Radin, “The Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA): Hydra-Headed
Monster or Flexible Management Tool?” Public Administration Review, vol. 58, July/Aug.
On the other hand, critics disputed whether these statistics and claims constituted294
steps toward a better managed government, or were even true.
Second-level objectives, such as “employee empowerment” and increased
discretion to managers, were declared successful in a number of agencies. Personnel
practices were indeed loosened in some instances and agencies went out on their own
initiative to create “quasi” entities.295 Managers were encouraged to be entrepreneurs296
with financial objectives and standards. There was substantial evidence of changes
in behavior patterns (presumably better) in agencies dealing with the public.
Whether all this action was “successful” depends upon the values and evidence used
by the reviewer. Thus, there are reviews warm in their praise.
The federal government has become a business incubator, nurturing a
dazzling variety of small businesses within its own agencies. Entrepreneurial
294 Typical of the difficulties encountered when attempting to assign “savings” to NPR
management claims is President Clinton’s announcement in 1994 that he was going to use
the “downsizing savings” to pay for putting 100,000 more police officers on the streets, a
sum calculated within the Omnibus Crime Control Act.
295 In 1995, OPM Director James King created, without specific statutory authority, a private
corporation, U.S. Investigations Service (USIS), as an employee stock-owned plan (ESOP)
entity. To USIS were transferred some 700 U.S. employees that were formerly in the OPM’s
Federal Investigations Division. The rationale was that this new corporate entity would
“save” the jobs of the downsized Federal Investigations Division’s employees. OPM
awarded USIS a noncompetitive three-year contract to “jump-start” the operation. As might
be expected, this bit of entrepreneurship by the OPM Director has proved controversial from
both a constitutional rights and an economic policy perspective. Ronald C. Moe, “The
Emerging Federal Quasi Government: Issues of Management and Accountability,” Public
Administration Review, vol. 61, May/June 2001, pp. 304-05.
For a full case study of the lack of political accountability allegedly built into the
process of having executive agencies create, without explicit statutory authority, private,
nonprofit organizations to perform functions normally reserved to federal executive
agencies, see: A. Michael Froomkin, “Wrong Turn in Cyberspace: Using ICANN to Route
Around the APA [Administrative Procedure Act] and the Constitution.” Duke Law Journal,
vol.50, 2000, pp. 17-143.
296 A typical example of the “business mindset” encouraged by the NPR involved the naval
command at Patuxent Naval Air Station. In the name of “profit,” the command contracted
out its high tech planes and personnel to the state of Maine to hunt for healthy blueberry
patches. “With defense budgets shrinking and more cuts threatened, military research labs
and testing bases in the Washington area are aggressively seeking such business deals to help
pay the bills and keep expensive facilities and equipment operating. Consultants are even
training government program managers and engineers to think like copier salesmen and ‘sell’
their products.” Steve Vogel, “Pentagon Recruits New Business: Military Turns to Private
Enterprise to Help Pay Bills,” Washington Post, Aug. 8, 1998, p. B-1.
There was, and remains, a legitimate clash of opinion over whether it is wise, creative,
or even legal for Patuxent to go entrepreneurial. Whether this initiative, like so many others,
results, if not immediately then soon, in a perversion of the mission and character of
government remains of concern. What may appear initially as a rather simple operational
decision may, in fact, be a decision of considerable policy and legal implications.
organizations have flourished since the Clinton administration came to power in297
the early 1990s with its goal of remaking government in the image of business.
Other reviewers hold mixed opinions298 or conclude that, on balance,
government management has suffered from the experiment to remodel the executive
branch along private corporate lines. Critics generally see an erosion in the legal
basis for administrative management, a weakening of the central management
agencies and authorities, and a general process of disaggregation overtaking the
executive branch. Most seriously, they tend to see in entrepreneurial management
generally, and the NPR specifically, an unhealthy retreat from democratic values.299
297 Anne Laurent, Entrepreneurial Government: Bureaucrats as Businesspeople,
(Washington: PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2000), p. 1.
298 See testimony of Paul Light (pp. 8-10) and Donald F. Kettl (pp. 59-69) at U.S. Congress,
Senate, Committee on Governmental Affairs, Subcommittee on Oversight of Government
Management, and the District of Columbia, Has Government Been ‘Reinvented’? Hearings,thnd
106 Cong., 2 sess. (Washington: GPO, 2000). James R. Thompson, “Reinvention as
Reform: Assessing the National Performance Review,” Public Administration Review,
vol.60, Nov./Dec. 2000, pp. 508-21.
299 Larry Terry, “Administrative Leadership, Neo-Managerialism, and the Public
Management Movement,” Public Administration Review, vol. 58, May/June 1998, pp. 194-
The Future of Reorganization Commissions
It is one of the givens of government that executive organization undergoes
constant change. These changes may be comprehensive and visible, or incremental
and of low visibility. They may reflect a variety of values, some emphasizing
universality, and others particularity. Changes may be designed and intended to
enhance agency accountability, or encourage managerial autonomy. One
reorganization may be inconsistent, or even contradictory, with another.
Reorganizations may reflect a new agreement among previously conflicting parties,
or reinforce their irreconcilable differences. The point is that reorganizing the
executive branch of government is a natural and continuous activity.
Reorganization, while it may be natural and continuous, is not a neutral activity.
There are winners and losers when reorganizations occur. Not all reorganization
proposals are of equal value and utility. Reorganizations are instrumental in
character and have no value except as they assist in achieving an agreed upon
political or policy objective. Reorganizations cannot make workable and successful
programs that are conceptually unsound. There are distinct limitations and
management costs associated with reorganization. Reorganizations are not self-
executing exercises. Implementation may be costly and result in unanticipated and
undesired consequences. Even if one assumes that the motives of the reorganizers
are worthy, how is one to know a “good” from a “bad” reorganization? Is there any
theory or set of principles available to use as guideposts in evaluation? Is there some
tribal wisdom available that expresses the collective experience of those who have
wrestled with executive management issues before? Or, are we intentionally to avoid
this collective wisdom of the past and single-mindedly seek out new truths and new
Reflecting upon the organizational state of the executive branch during the 20th
century, it is evident that the motivating force for comprehensive reorganization
commissions has changed. From the turn of the century to the mid-1970s,
comprehensive commissions were viewed as instruments to promote executive
branch political accountability to the President, and through the President to
Congress. The proposal for a Bureau of the Budget, for instance, was strongly
favored by Congress as a means to hold the President responsible for agency budget
submissions and for subsequent agency oversight. To be sure, the Budget Bureau
strengthened the institutional presidency, but this strengthening was not part of a
zero sum game where one institution’s gain must necessarily be at the expense of
another institution. Rather, the centralizing element inherent in the establishment of
the Budget Bureau worked to the benefit of both the President and the Congress in
their relations with the departments and agencies of the executive branch.
Beginning in the 1970s, and reaching its peak at the end of the century, a
different motivating force for reorganization emerged. The entrepreneurial values
of the National Performance Review (NPR), for instance, were arguably not
congenial to central management of the executive branch, or to the political
accountability associated with central management. Indeed, managerial autonomy
at the agency level became one of the highest values of the NPR. Political
accountability, in the NPR view, was to be largely supplanted by management
processes intended to provide better results and performance, however those terms
might be defined and measured.
There was nothing modest in the claims of the NPR. The rhetoric tended to be
hortatory and the evidence cited anecdotal. Entrepreneurs prefer to avoid theory and
rely instead on “success stories” to teach government managers how to perform
better. Congress rarely appears in their writings or motivational seminars, and their
attitude is more likely to be one of confrontation than conciliation. Vice President
Gore’s reinventing government exercise measured its success in “vanquishing big
government” at least in part by the number of civil service positions it eliminated.
By and large, the entrepreneurs abjure theory with its requirements of precision,300
predictability, replicability, and acceptance of disproof, preferring instead the
enlightenment of success indicators, such as customer polling (“We will ... measure301
our success by customer satisfaction”). All of this is important in assessing the
future of landmark commissions in the coming century, even if the New Public
Management “paradigm” itself proves to be of passing persuasiveness.
A distinction needs to be drawn between commissions established to study
specific issue areas with recommendations forwarded to the President, Congress,
appointing authority, the public, or any combination of the above. These
commissions, such as the current Social Security Commission, remain popular, and
the number appointed annually is likely to remain high. The so-called landmark
commission, however, constitutes a very different situation. Of necessity, a
comprehensive review of the organization of the executive branch requires a
coherency of objectives and evaluations that are difficult to develop without some
overarching theory or set of principles.
Has the day of the landmark commission passed? Has the loss in appeal of the
so-called “orthodox theory” of organizational management made the comprehensive
study approach obsolete? Can the entrepreneurial management paradigm be offered
as a viable, comprehensible theory to which a commission may repair in organizing
its studies and recommendations? Or, would a commission naturally gravitate back
toward the earlier values of, say, the Hoover Commissions? Can a new set of
organizational doctrines be developed to accommodate the traditional
constitutionalist values with the entrepreneurial values? Or, is there a “new” new302
public management waiting somewhere to be discovered? Even if some agreement
on organizational theory can be reached, at a more practical level has the executive
branch simply become too complex for a single commission to study and make
appropriate recommendations? What about the burgeoning quasi-government;
300 Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (New York: Basic Books, 1959).
301 National Performance Review, From Red Tape to Results, p. 7.
302 The first of the 21st century “new” management paradigms intended to replace the New
Public Management of the 1990s is to be found in the “tools of government” approach
advocated by Lester Salamon as the “new governance” paradigm. Lester M. Salamon, ed.,
The Tools of Government: A Guide to the New Governance (New York: Oxford University
should it be included within the purview of any future landmark commission?303
Finally, should the President and his central management agencies seek to reassert
their prior role over matters of organizational management?304
Doubts regarding the utility of landmark-type commissions notwithstanding,
they retain much of their appeal to lawmakers. It is a rare Congress indeed in which
there is not some effort to establish a “new Hoover Commission.” As mentionedth
previously, such a bill (S. 2306) was introduced in the 106 Congress by Senator
Fred Thompson, then-chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. The
charge to the nine-member commission was to make structural recommendations
respecting the entire executive branch and incorporate them in a single bill. This bill
would then have to be considered by Congress and voted up or down following
expedited procedures. Among its supporters was Paul Light of the Brookings
Institution who announced at a hearings in 2000:
I believe, too, that there has been a lack of attention to structural reform....
I think you should pass S. 2306. I think you should attach it to every bill leaving
this Committee and every bill leaving the Senate. I have referred to the Federal
organization chart as rather like the mouth of the Ulonga-Bora River where the
African Queen and Humphrey Bogart got bogged down. I think that S. 2306
could be that gentle rain that lifts the Federal Government out of the mouth of
that swamp and gets it back on track. I think it is time for a very detailed look at
the structure of the Federal Government, and that has to be done through305
legislation. I don’t see anyway you can do it otherwise.
303 Ronald C. Moe, “The Emerging Federal Quasi Government,” pp. 290-312.
304 There is a considerable literature describing the decline of both the President’s and
OMB’s managerial capacity and interest. This literature is critical of the trend and generally
supports the establishment of an Office of Federal Management separate from the budget
office with a director reporting directly to the President. National Academy of Public
Administration, Revitalizing Federal Management: Managers and Their Overburdened
Systems (Washington: NAPA, 1983), pp. 11-13; statement of Dwight Ink: U.S. Congress,
Senate, Committee on Governmental Affairs, OMB’s Response to Government Managementstnd
Failures, 101 Cong., 2 sess. (Washington: GPO, 1991), p. 29; statement of Representative
Stephen Horn: U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Government Reorganization and
Oversight, Making Government Work, Fulfilling the Mandate for Change, H. Rept. 435,thst
104 Cong., 1 sess. (Washington: GPO, 1995,), p. 8. Ronald C. Moe, “The HUD Scandal
and the Case for an Office of Federal Management,” Public Administration Review, vol. 51,
July/Aug., 1991, pp. 198-207. Paul C. Light, The Tides of Reform: Making Government
Work, 1945-1995, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), p. 228; and Light, “The
Incredible Shrinking Budget Office,” Government Executive, vol.43, Jan. 2002, p. 66.
305 U.S. Senate, Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, Restructuring, and
the District of Columbia Subcommittee, Has Government Been “Reinvented”?, p. 10. Light
argues elsewhere that successive “tides of reform” since World War II have left debris on
the shoreland. “It may be time, therefore, for a kind of blue-ribbon ‘clean-out commission’
to sort through the various management tables of the U.S. Code in search of needed sunsets.
Such a commission, to be appointed by Congress and the President, could be given the same
authority to recommend an all-or-nothing sweep of outmoded, unnecessary statutes and
federal regulations that helped the Base Closure and Realignment Commission do its job.
The clean-out commission could also be charged with thinning the government of
unnecessary layers of political and career management.” The Tides of Reform, p. 231.
In the late 1980s, Congress passed a law (which President Reagan signed) one
provision of which authorized the establishment of such a commission. The public
law elevating the Veterans Administration to departmental status provided for the
establishment of a National Commission on Executive Organization patterned in
general outline after the first Hoover Commission of the late 1940s (102 Stat. 2635,
Sec. 17). This new Commission, however, could be activated only by presidential
initiative. If the President, in this case the newly inaugurated George H.W. Bush,
transmitted written notification to Congress within 30 days after the operational date
for the Veterans Department (March 15, 1989) that such a Commission would serve
“the national interest,” then, and only then, would the Commission be activated.
President Bush, although he was on the receiving end of some congressional
lobbying for the Commission, let the final date, April 15, 1989, pass without a
message to Congress requesting the Commission.306
If, obstacles notwithstanding, a new landmark-style commission were
established to review comprehensively the structure of the executive branch, what
sort of situation would this commission face with respect to the political and
institutional presidency and the Congress? Are there units within each of these
branches that currently handle organizational management issues that might feel
threatened and offer resistance? Or, have both institutions retreated from their
organizational management responsibilities?
Looking to the presidency first, it is clear that recent Presidents have been
ambivalent towards management generally, and organizational management in
particular. Whereas once, through the mid-1970s, there was a consensus that the
President was the “chief manager” of the executive branch and should have
institutional capacity to perform these responsibilities, no such consensus exists
today. Recent Presidents, beginning with John F. Kennedy, have been warned by
scholars and aides to avoid management issues. Stephen Hess, writing in 1976, and
read by President-elect Jimmy Carter, argued that the President ought to limit himself
to political leadership. “Presidents have made a serious mistake, starting with
Roosevelt, in asserting that they are chief managers of the federal government....
Rather than chief manager the President is the chief political officer of the United
States.”307 This argument was repeated in various forms for the remainder of the
century. These scholarly warnings reinforced the inclination of contemporary
Presidents to shy away from management responsibilities. One consequence of this
retreat was an erosion in the will and capacity of the Office of Management and
Budget (OMB) to perform management functions. In a bit of historical irony, the
erosion of OMB’s capacity to manage became pronounced shortly after the
implementation of the Reorganization Plan of 1970 that, among other things,
306 It should be noted that the mandate of the Commission was carefully spelled out in the
legislation to include four reasonably narrow and focused organizational issues, such as
reviewing the organization and effectiveness of the Executive Office of the President for
conducting performance oversight of the executive branch.
307 Stephen Hess, Organizing the Presidency (Washington: The Brookings Institution, 1976),
changed the name of the Bureau of the Budget to that of the Office of Management308
While employee statistics may not tell the whole story, they provide evidence
of the decline in OMB’s management capacity, and therefore the institutional
presidency’s decline as well. In 1970, 224 employees were on the management side
of OMB. By 1980, when Carter left office, the number had fallen to 111. The
Reagan Administration further reduced this staff to only 47 (compared to 8,500 at
the staff level of agency Inspectors General).309 Rather than rebuild the OMB
management capacity, as recommended by NAPA and others, the Clinton
Administration decided (“OMB 2000 Review”) to integrate most of the remaining
staff of the General Management Division into five Resource Management Offices
(RMOs) structured along budgetary functional lines.310 In early 2002, there remained
only a skeletal staff of 12 with the position of Deputy Director for Management311
continuing its pattern of vacancies and short tenures.
What does this admitted retreat from management by the President and OMB
have to do with future proposals for a landmark-style commission? The fact is that
the proper design and implementation of structural management proposals rests with
a central management agency that functions from a presidential perspective.
Reorganizations that are designed and implemented by the agencies themselves tend
to meet parochial needs that may or may not be in concert with the President’s
With respect to Congress, it had been the intention of the Hoover Commission
in 1949 to have most future executive reorganization be the result of ongoing
interchange between the then-Bureau of the Budget and a single committee in both
houses of Congress. The House and Senate each established Government Operations
Committees, committees that continue to function today with different titles and an
altered sense of mission. All presidentially initiated reorganization plans were to be
sent to these committees rather than to the subject field committees to insure that
managerial issues were addressed according to executive branch-wide standards.
Joint hearings and referrals yes, but the final response rested with the general
management committees. With the end of the reorganization plan process in 1984,
reorganization proposals now typically are referred to the subject field committees
none of which have a government-wide perspective. The result is increasing
disaggregation in the organization and management of the executive branch.
The institutional weakness in the executive and legislative branches with respect
to structural questions has implications that could well influence the prospects of
308 National Academy of Public Administration, Revitalizing Federal Management, pp. 11-
309 Gerald Riso, “The New OMB: In Search of a Management Role,” Government Executive,
vol. 21, April 1989, p. 59.
310 U.S. Office of Management and Budget, “Making OMB More Effective in Serving the
Presidency: Changes in OMB as a Result of the OMB 2000 Review,” OMB Memorandum
No. 94-16, March 1, 1994.
311 Light, “The Incredible Shrinking Budget Office,” p. 66.
success any new landmark commission might enjoy. A commission cannot
successfully function and see its recommendations implemented if it does not have
institutional support readily available. It cannot work in an environment isolated
from the ongoing government. A successful landmark commission seemingly
requires as a necessary, but not sufficient, precondition the proper working of a
central management agency in the Executive Office and jurisdictional support of
general management committees in the House and Senate.
Several generalizations may be useful in concluding this review and analysis
of landmark commissions and their utility for the future.
1.A focused and limited mandate for a commission (e.g., the need for a
separate Office of Management and Budget) is more likely to provide
useful results than a commission with a broad, unstructured mandate with
substantial policy implications.
2.A commission should have ties with central managerial agencies in the
executive branch and with committees with general management
responsibilities in Congress. Others besides the commission must have a
stake in the success of the exercise.
3.Commissions should be cognizant of the distinctive legal character of
governmental organization and activities. Included in any commission
review should be a review, with recommendations, of the general
management laws pertinent to the mandate of the commission.
4.There should be some consensus in advance among commission members
regarding the organizational principles to be applied in their review and
recommendations. Commissions do not tend to be effective vehicles for
generating consensus if none previously existed.
Acceptance of these general propositions for an effective landmark-style
commission does not guarantee success, but it may be difficult to envision success
if they are willfully ignored.