Initial Federal Budget Response to the 1941 Attack on Pearl Harbor
CRS Report for Congress
Initial Federal Budget Response
to the 1941 Attack on Pearl Harbor
Specialist in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, occurred as the federal
government was half way through FY1942. Congress and the President immediately
responded by enacting into law declarations of war against Japan, Germany, and Italy,
in which the President was directed to prosecute the war to its successful conclusion and
Congress pledged “all of the resources of the country” to the effort. Two relatively
modest FY1942 supplemental appropriations acts for national defense were enacted later
in December, but not as part of any planned response to the Pearl Harbor attack.
The first major budgetary response to the attack (and the outbreak of hostilities
generally) was the submission by President Franklin D. Roosevelt of his budget for
FY1943 to Congress on January 5, 1942. The President described his budget as a “war
budget,” which included “an initial request for a war appropriation” for FY1943 of
$13.6 billion, on top of $45 billion that had been added to the defense budget in FY1942
(largely to fund a “huge” armament program). The President only identified total
defense appropriations due to the need for secrecy. Outlays for national defense surged
from $6.4 billion for FY1941, to $25.7 billion for FY1942, and to $66.7 billion for
FY1943; defense outlays peaked at $83 billion for FY1945 before dropping markedly
in postwar years. A regular appropriation bill for FY1943, for the Navy Department,
was enacted on February 7, 1942, and other regular appropriations bills for the fiscal
year were enacted later in the session.
President Roosevelt did not seek, and Congress did not provide, a “blank check”
for war spending. Instead, the President made specific requests for funds, which
Congress dealt with through the usual annual appropriations process. Supplemental
defense appropriations for FY1942, as well as regular and supplemental appropriations
for FY1943 and later years, were provided in the regular form — that is, as specified
dollar amounts for specified accounts. This report will be updated as developments
warrant. (For related information, see CRS Report RS20182, Suspension of Budget
Enforcement Procedures During Hostilities Abroad.)
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred on December 7, 1941. The following
day, the United States officially declared war on Japan. A directive to the President to
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
prosecute the war to a successful conclusion and a pledge of resources were included in
the declaration of war (Public Law 328; 55 Stat. 795; 77th Congress, 1st session):
Whereas the Imperial Government of Japan has committed unprovoked acts of war
against the Government and the people of the United States of America: Therefore
Resolved by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of
America in Congress assembled, That the state of war between the United States and
the Imperial Government of Japan which has thus been thrust upon the United States
is hereby formally declared; and the President is hereby authorized and directed to
employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of
the Government to carry on war against the Imperial Government of Japan; and, to
bring the conflict to a successful termination, all of the resources of the country are
hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States.
On December 11, 1941, the United States officially declared war on Germany and
Italy (Public Laws 331 and 332, respectively; 55 Stat. 796-797). The same directive to
the President and pledge of congressional support were included in these two declarations
At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States had been investing
significant sums in military spending for the preceding year and a half, particularly with
regard to infrastructure needs. Within ten days of the attack, President Roosevelt signed
the “Third Supplemental National Defense Appropriation Act, 1942” into law (Public
Law 353; December 17, 1941; 55 Stat. 810-812). The measure provided relatively
modest amounts of appropriations previously requested and did not represent the initial
response to the Pearl Harbor attack.
The next day, on December 18, 1941, the President signed into law one of the first
major legislative responses to the attack other than the declarations of war. The “First
War Powers Act, 1941” (Public Law 354; 55 Stat. 838-841) was intended “to expedite the
prosecution of the war effort” by empowering the President to, among other things,
redistribute functions among executive agencies and bar activities that amounted to
trading with the enemy. Section 3 of the act stipulated that funds spent by agencies under
a redistribution of functions still had to be spent within the original legislative framework:
Sec. 3. That for the purposes of carrying out the provisions of this title, any
moneys heretofore and hereafter appropriated for the use of any executive department,
commission, bureau, agency, governmental corporation, office, or officer shall be
expended only for the purposes for which it was appropriated under the direction of
such other agency as may be directed by the President hereunder to perform and
execute said functions, except to the extent hereafter authorized by the Congress in
appropriation Acts or otherwise.
Section 401 of the act provided that the delegation of special authority to the
President should “remain in force during the continuance of the present war and for six
months after the termination of the war, or until such earlier time as the Congress by
concurrent resolution or the President may designate.”
Another supplemental appropriations act, for “Additional National Defense
Appropriations, 1942, 1943,” was enacted into law on December 23 (Public Law 371; 55
Stat. 855-857). The measure provided relatively modest amounts of appropriations for
non-military needs related to national defense.
On January 5, 1942, President Roosevelt submitted to Congress his budget for
FY1943.1 In his budget message, the President described his submission as “the budget
of a nation at war in a world at war”2 The budget represented a comprehensive response
to the Pearl Harbor attack and other hostilities facing the United States throughout the
world. After citing efforts in the preceding 18 months to develop a “huge armament
program” and “to shift the economy into high gear,” the President outlined his budget
proposals for the military. The President described his budget as a “war budget,” which
included “an initial request for a war appropriation” for FY1943 of $13.6 billion, on top
of $45 billion that had been added to the defense budget in FY1942 (largely to fund a
“huge” armament program). The President only identified total defense appropriations
due to the need for secrecy:
This is a war budget. The details of a war program are, of course, in constant
flux. Its magnitude and composition depend on events at the battlefronts of the world,
on naval engagements at sea, and on new developments in mechanized warfare.
Moreover, war plans are military secrets.
Under these circumstances I cannot hereafter present details of future war
appropriations. However, total appropriations and expenditures will be published so
that the public may know the fiscal situation and the progress of the Nation’s effort.
The defense program, including appropriations, contract authorizations,
recommendations, and commitments of Government corporations, was 29 billion
dollars on January 3, 1941. During the last 12 months 45 billion dollars have been
added to the program. Of this total of 75 billion dollars there remains 24 billion
dollars for future obligation.
In this Budget I make an initial request for a war appropriation of $13.6 billion
dollars for the fiscal year 1943. Large supplemental requests will be made as we
move toward the maximum use of productive capacity. Nothing short of a maximum
will suffice. I cannot predict ultimate costs because I cannot predict the changing
fortunes of war. I can only say that we are determined to pay whatever price we must3
to preserve our way of life.
The first significant legislative response to the President’s defense requests in the
FY1943 budget was the “Fourth Supplemental National Defense Appropriation Act,
1942” (Public Law 422; 56 Stat. 37-39), signed into law on January 30, 1942. The
measure provided several FY1942 and FY1943 appropriations for military and non-
military purposes, including $9.0 billion for the Army Air Corps and $1.5 billion for
Army Ordnance Service and Supplies.
The completion of action on the supplemental appropriations act at the end of
January was followed quickly by enactment on February 7 of the regular appropriations
act for FY1943 for the Navy Department (Public Law 441; 56 Stat. 53-82). The act
1 At that time, the federal government employed a July1-June 30 fiscal year cycle. Accordingly,
FY1943 began on July 1, 1942.
2 Budget of the United States Government for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1943,
(Washington: 1942), page v.
3 U.S. Budget, FY1943, ibid., page vi.
provided regular appropriations for FY1943 for many Navy Department accounts, as well
as many supplemental appropriations for FY1942.
President Roosevelt did not seek, and Congress did not provide, a “blank check” for
war spending. Instead, the President made specific requests for funds, which Congress
dealt with through the usual annual appropriations process. Supplemental defense
appropriations for FY1942, as well as regular and supplemental appropriations for
FY1943 and later years, were provided in the regular form — that is, as specified dollar
amounts for specified accounts. These amounts ranged from very small items, tantamount
to what would be regarded as “line items” today, to much larger amounts that represented
the “lump-sum” approach more commonly used at present. For example, the regular
appropriations act for the Navy Department for FY1943 appropriated $2,000 to the Naval
War College and $39,000 for the care of lepers on Guam, as well as $2.9 billion for Naval
Ordnance and Ordnance Stores and $4.0 billion for construction and machinery costs for
the replacement of naval vessels.