Defense Production Act: Purpose and Scope
Defense Production Act: Purpose and Scope
Daniel H. Else
Specialist in National Defense
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
The Defense Production Act (DPA) was created at the outset of the Korean War
to ensure the availability of the nation’s industrial resources to meet the national security
needs of the United States by granting the President powers to ensure the supply and
timely delivery of products, materials, and services to military and civilian agencies.
The DPA codifies a robust legal authority given the president to force industry to
give priority to national security production and is the statutory underpinning of
governmental review of foreign investment in U.S. companies.
Since its enactment in 1950, the DPA has been time-limited, undergoing periodic
amendment and reauthorization. In 2003, Congress reauthorized the DPA through
September 30, 2008.
The Defense Production Act of 1950 (50 U.S.C. Appx § 2061 et seq.), as amended,
confers upon the President authority to force private industry to give priority to defense
and homeland security contracts and to allocate the resources needed. The original act was
inspired by a message sent to Congress by President Harry S Truman at the outbreak of
war in Korea in mid-1950. In his message, President Truman stated that the United States
and the United Nations were responding to a military invasion of the Republic of Korea
by forces from north of the 38th parallel, that the nation urgently needed additional
military manpower, supplies, and equipment, and that the nation’s military and economic
preparedness were inseparable. He urged Congress to pass legislation that would
guarantee the prompt supply of adequate quantities of needed military and civilian goods,
including measures to help compensate for manufacturing demand growth caused by
A number of factors encouraged President Truman to propose such legislation. Both
the armed services and the defense industry supporting the nation’s war effort had
demobilized at the end of World War II. With the return of peace, the Administration cut
back military expenditures significantly. President Truman accentuated these cuts by
placing heavy reliance on atomic weapons to provide for the nation’s defense. The
perceived power of the atomic arsenal permitted the Administration to cut expensive,
manpower-intensive conventional capabilities. This enabled the President to propose and
Congress to pass much-reduced defense appropriations throughout the late 1940s.
In addition, the nation had recently experienced substantial economic and production
turmoil. Demand for housing and consumer products, unleashed by the expiration of
wartime economic controls, precipitated a series of postwar labor strikes. These reached
their height in 1946 in a nationwide shutdown of passenger and freight rail service,
leading President Truman to threaten to seize control of the railways and draft striking rail
workers into the armed forces, placing them under military discipline. Though the
presidential threats were never carried out, the strike served to illustrate the economic
context in which the nation approached the Korean War.
DPA Provisions and Jurisdiction
Much of what President Truman proposed affected national economic policies. As
enacted on September 8, 1950 (H.R. 9176, P.L. 81-774), the DPA contained seven titles:
!Title I: Priorities and Allocations (authority to demand priority for
!Title II: Authority to Requisition (authority to requisition materials,
property, and facilities for national defense, terminated in 1953)
!Title III: Expansion of Productive Capacity and Supply (authority to
provide incentives to develop, modernize, and expand defense productive
!Title IV: Price and Wage Stabilization (authority to ration consumer
goods, to solicit voluntary labor/industry cooperation on wage and price
stability, and to fix wage and price ceilings, terminated in 1953)
!Title V: Settlement of Labor Disputes (authority to force settlement of
labor disputes affecting national defense, terminated in 1953)
!Title VI: Control of Consumer and Real Estate Credit (authority to
exercise consumer credit controls, to regulate real estate construction
credit and loans, and to establish down-payment requirements on
veterans’ homes, terminated in 1953)
!Title VII: General Provisions (antitrust protection for voluntary
industry agreements serving defense interests, and established a voluntary
reserve of trained private sector executives available for emergency
federal employment, among other authorities)
Prior to 1975, House rules did not permit bills to be referred to two or more
committees. Precedents in both chambers did not allow divided or joint referrals,
regardless of bill content. Instead, bills were assigned to committees based on the
preponderance of their subject matter. Because much of the President’s proposal dealt
with economic policy, what became the Defense Production Act was assigned in 1950 to
the House and Senate Committees on Banking and Currency (their successors are the
House Committee on Financial Services and the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing,
and Urban Affairs).
Use of DPA Authorities
During the half-century that the DPA has existed, its authorities have been invoked
in a variety of circumstances.
Application of Title I. Title I authorities have occasionally been employed to give
priority to certain defense systems. This has been done in order to ensure that companies
do not divert design or production capacity from government contracts to potentially more
lucrative commercial contracts, disrupting weapon development or production. For
example, during the 1970s, the highest priority rating, “DX,” was assigned to the M11
Abrams tank. Under development by Chrysler Corp., a company then suffering severe
financial difficulties, the Abrams’s DX rating ensured that the program would continue
to receive full company support. During January 2001, both Presidents William J. Clinton
and George W. Bush invoked DPA powers, in conjunction with those granted in the
Natural Gas Policy Act of 1978 (P.L. 95-621, 92 Stat. 3350), to ensure that emergency
supplies of electrical power and natural gas continued flowing to California utilities,2
deflecting threatened electrical blackouts. More recently, Title I was used in 2003 to
prioritize supply of Precision Lightweight Global Positioning System Receivers to British3
forces operating in Iraq.
Application of Title IV. Title IV authorized the President to impose wage and
price controls as needed for the national defense. Immediately after enactment on
September 8, 1950, President Truman did so as part of the Administration’s effort to
support anticipated defense needs in Korea, creating the Economic Stabilization Agency
1 All prime contracts, subcontracts , or purchase orders supporting an authorized DOD program
are assigned a priority rating under the Defense Priorities and Allocation System (DPAS). A DX
rating, which must be approved by the President, is reserved for programs of the highest national
priority. Those considered vital to national defense may be assigned a DO priority by the
Secretary of Defense. All other contracts and orders are considered unrated. The Department of
Defense Priorities and Allocations Manual (DOD 4400.1-M) explains the system in detail.
2 Unattributed, “Bush Administration Extends Emergency Orders Requiring Electricity and
Natural Gas Shippers to Continue Supplying California Utilities,” Foster Electric Report 209,
January 31, 2001, p. 6. The use of these authorities was criticized by some as improper. Bart
Jansen, “Gramm Raps Cold War Law,” San Antonio Express-News, February 10, 1001, p. 19A.
DPA prioritization and allocation authorities were not available to support military deployments
during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991. DPA authority expired on
October 20, 1990, and Congress did not reauthorize the statute until August 17, 1991. In issuing
Executive Order 12742 on January 8, 1991, “to achieve prompt delivery of articles, products, and
materials to meet national security requirements,” President George H.W. Bush cited different
law (50 U.S.C. Appx 468, 10 U.S.C. 4501 and 9501, and 50 U.S.C. 82). Executive Order 12742,
“National Security Industrial Responsiveness,” 56 Federal Register 1079, January 8, 1991.
3 Mark Selinger, “DHS Preparing Guidance for Using Defense Production Act,” Aerospace
Daily, June 6, 2003, p. 5.
(ESA) to resurrect the kind of economic controls that had moderated market disruptions
during World War II.
Disputes arising from the controls placed on wages and prices soon embroiled ESA’s
subsidiary Wage Stabilization Board (WSB) in a contract dispute between labor unions
and steel manufacturers. The WSB proved unable to bring the sides to agreement, and the
unions announced a nationwide steel strike beginning on April 9, 1952. Truman issued
an executive order on April 8 nationalizing the steel industry and averting the strike.4 The
Supreme Court eventually found that the President had overreached his authority in
seizing the steel mills.5 When the mills were returned to their owners in June, the unions
struck, precipitating an industrial crisis across a number of supply and manufacturing
sectors of the nation’s economy. Congress terminated several major portions of the DPA,
including Title IV, in 1953.
Application of Title VII. The general provisions of Title VII support a number of
programs and commercial activities. For example, one section immunizes companies
against liability for legal damages or penalties as a result of complying with any rule or
regulation authorized by the DPA, such as giving priority to fulfilling government
contracts, even if that rule or regulation is later held to be invalid. Another protects
companies that take part in voluntary agreements for preparedness programs and
expansion of production capability and supply against antitrust litigation.
It is this latter provision (50 U.S.C. Appx § 2158), for example, that enables U.S.-
flag commercial carriers to join the Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement (VISA).
VISA provides an opportunity for operators of militarily useful coastal and seagoing
vessels to pre-negotiate contracts with DOD’s U.S. Transportation Command
(USTRANSCOM) and the Maritime Administration (MARAD) to commit assets (such
as tug/barge combinations) to government use if contingencies warrant. The VISA
arrangements are the maritime analogue to the more familiar Civil Reserve Air Fleet
(CRAF), also created under the DPA umbrella, to which U.S. airlines dedicate certain
aircrew and aircraft to supply government airlift when required.
Another section of Title VII (50 U.S.C. Appx § 2170) grants the President authority
to review certain corporate mergers, acquisitions, and takeovers, and to investigate the
potential impact on national security of such action. The statute empowers the President
to suspend for any period he considers appropriate, or to prohibit, transactions found to
threaten impairment of national security. This is the so-called Exon-Florio Amendment,
which designates a pre-existing interagency body, the Committee on Foreign Investment
in the United States (CFIUS) chaired by the Secretary of the Treasury, as the body through
which the President acts.6
4 Executive Order 10340, “Directing the Secretary of Commerce to Take Possession of and
Operate the Plants and Facilities of Certain Steel Companies,” 17 Federal Register 3139, April
5 Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579 (1952).
6 CFIUS, a cabinet-level body, was created by executive order on May 7, 1975 (Executive Order
Exon-Florio was enacted on August 23, 1988, as Title V, Subtitle A, Part II, § 5021 of the
Exon-Florio authority was first used by President George H. W. Bush in early 1990
to force the China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corp. (CATIC), an
export-import company associated with the Ministry of Aerospace Industry of the
People’s Republic of China, to divest itself of Mamco Manufacturing, Inc., a Seattle,
Washington, firm specializing in precision aircraft parts machining.7 In 2005, the threat
of a CFIUS review contributed to the decision by the directors of the China National
Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) to drop a planned takeover of Unocal (Union Oil Company
A second example of CFIUS review is that of the acquisition of British firm
Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co. (P&O) in February 2006 by Dubai Ports
World (DP World), a company owned by the emirate of Dubai. The transaction elevated
DP World to the position of third-largest container-port operator. The CFIUS review was
initiated because a number of P&O operations were located within the United States.
Although the acquisition was approved, DP World found it necessary to sell its U.S.
operation to a New York-based investment management company, AIG Global
Investment Group, before the end of the year.9
Amendments to the DPA
The DPA is temporary law requiring reauthorization approximately every two-to-
three years, though the most recent extension in late 2003 covered five years.10 These
frequent reviews have offered Congress a number of opportunities to amend the statute,
and its current form differs significantly from the original. In the wake of the 1952 steel
strike, Congress terminated Titles IV (wage and price stabilization) and V (settlement of
labor disputes) on April 30, 1953, and Titles II (authority to requisition) and VI (control
of consumer and real estate credit) two months later.
Titles I, III, and VII remain in effect, though they have evolved over time. A number
of provisions relating to energy supplies, such as defining energy as a “strategic and
critical material” and preventing the President from unilaterally instituting the rationing
of gasoline, have been added over the years. A1984 amendment requires firms contracting
for the sale of weapon systems or defense-related items to report to the government any
Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988 (H.R. 4848, P.L. 100-418, 102 Stat. 1425).
7 Michael Mecham, “Bush Overturns Sale to China of Seattle Parts Supply Firm,” Aviation Week
& Space Technology, February 12, 1990, p. 34.
8 CNOOC was reported to be 70% owned by the government of the People’s Republic of China.
Heather Timmons, “China Oil Giant Expected to Vote Today on Unocal Bid,” New York Times,
June 22, 2005, p. 4.
9 Neil King, Jr., and Greg Hitt, “Dubai Ports World Sells U.S. Assets,” The Wall Street Journal,
December 12, 2006, p. A2.
10 A five-year extension had been recommended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency
in a congressionally mandated 1997 report on modernizing DPA provisions. U.S. Federal
Emergency Management Agency, President’s Report to Congress on the Modernization of the
Authorities of the Defense Production Act, September 30, 1997.
required offset agreement exceeding a certain threshold value.11 As mentioned earlier, a
1988 amendment empowered the President, acting through CFIUS, to review certain
corporate mergers, acquisitions, and takeovers and to take actions needed to protect the
national security of the United States.
Expiration of DPA Authorities
50 U.S.C. Appx § 2166 provides for the termination of DPA Titles I, III, and VII on
September 30, 2008, with the exception of three sections, which would remain in effect:
!§ 2157 – company immunity from liability for complying with DPA-
authorized regulations or granting priority to government contracts;
!§ 2158 – immunity from antitrust liability for participation in voluntary
arrangements for preparedness programs or expansion of production
capacity and supply (such as VISA and CRAF); and
!§ 2170 – Exon-Florio, giving the President and CFIUS review authority
over certain corporate acquisition activities.
The continued use of DPA authorities testify to their utility in support of defense
activities and capabilities. The upcoming termination of much of the existing authority
may provide an opportunity to examine whether DPA authority would remain useful as
both U.S.’s economic policies and the nation’s defense industrial base adapt to changing
strategic, defense, security, and industrial realities.
The DPA was originally crafted as a comprehensive economic and industrial policy
approach to an immediate wartime emergency. Over time, the statute’s scope has
narrowed considerably while the nature of the threat to national security, the organization
of the military services, and the supporting industrial have fundamentally transformed.
Assessing the future efficacy of the DPA in its current or some amended form would
be a difficult and complex undertaking. Some could take a position that the domestic
industrial base the act supports no longer exists, having become part of a globalized
system of trade and international relationships, particularly with political allies aligned
with the United States. Others might argue that international trade and technology
partners, no matter how closely allied with the United States, might prove unreliable in
crises, and that the DPA represents the best means to ensure that domestic resources are
available when needed most.
11 An offset agreement requires the company making the sale to arrange an “offsetting” transfer
of value to the buyer. These transfers could take the form of reciprocal purchases, assistance with
unrelated sales, or almost any other transaction the buyer considers worthwhile.