Federal Security Agency (FSA) (1939)

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The Federal Security Agency (FSA) was created by the Reorganization Act of 1939, signed by President Roosevelt on April 3, 1939, as well as several reorganization plans that the president submitted to Congress pursuant to that law [1]. This reorganization of the executive branch was intended to save money, increase efficiency, and eliminate overlapping services.

Reorganization Plan No. 1, submitted on April 25, 1939, brought under the Federal Security Agency the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the National Youth Administration (NYA), along with the Office of Education, Public Health Service, and Social Security Board. Reorganization Plan No. 2, submitted on May 9, 1939, added to the FSA the Radio Service, the Film Service, and some financial and accounting responsibilities for the American Printing House for the Blind. Reorganization Plan No. 4, submitted on April 11, 1940, brought in the Food and Drug Administration, as well as some oversight responsibilities for St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Freedmen’s Hospital, Howard University, and the Columbia Institution for the Deaf (all located in Washington, D.C.) [2].

The FSA has an extremely complex administrative history, with component units such as the agencies and offices listed above frequently added, transferred, or terminated. A detailed administrative history can be found on the website of the National Archives and Records Administration [3].

Whereas the Federal Works Agency (FWA), another umbrella agency created by the 1939 federal reorganization, was primarily concerned with public works and construction activities, the FSA focused on social services, such as education, health, employment, financial security, and job training. It supervised a wide-range of programs, such as the continued work of the CCC and NYA (which included increasing amounts of national defense work); the improvement of K-12 and college education throughout the United States; vocational services for the physically disabled; and facilitation of radio and film education. It oversaw activities created under the Social Security Act, such as old-age insurance, unemployment compensation, and public health services (e.g., control of infectious diseases, stream pollution surveys, and cancer research), as well as food and drug safety testing, and much more [4].

The FSA showed special concern for the economic well-being of African Americans. In surprisingly candid terms for the day, it stated that they were “exposed in even greater degree than other groups to the ravages of insecurity and want. Their need is out of all proportion to their number, and the cause lies not in themselves but in the general attitude they encounter in the working world. They have been confined to small areas of our economic life, and their opportunities to earn a decent living have been severely restricted. They are a particularly disadvantaged group in the national economy to whom our responsibility is great.” Among other things, the FSA advocated for greater inclusion of African Americans in existing social safety net programs, more job training opportunities, and more African American doctors [5].

The administrators of the FSA were Paul V. McNutt (1939-1945), Watson B. Miller (1945-1947), Oscar R. Ewing (1947-1953), and Oveta Culp Hobby (1953) [6]. The FSA was terminated on April 11, 1953, and its duties and responsibilities were taken over by the newly-created Department of Health, Education, and Welfare [7].

Sources: (1) “First Annual Report of the Federal Security Administrator,” 1940, p. 1, and “Message to Congress on the Reorganization Act,” American Presidency Project, University of California – Santa Barbara, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=15748, accessed August 30, 2015. (2) Ibid., “First Annual Report…,” pp. 1-2. (3) “Records of the Federal Security Agency,” National Archives and Records Administration, https://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/235.html#235.2, accessed August 30, 2015. (4) See generally, the first and second annual reports of the Federal Security Administrator / Federal Security Agency (fiscal years 1940 and 41). (5) “Second Annual Report, Federal Security Agency,” 1941, pp. 9-11 and 33. (6) “Administrators of the Federal Security Agency,” National Institutes of Health, https://www.nih.gov/about/almanac/archive/1999/historical-data/administrators.html, accessed August 30, 2015. (7) “General Records of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare,” National Archives and Records Administration, https://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/235.html, accessed August 30, 2015. (Note: All annual reports of the Federal Security Agency can be found at https://www.hathitrust.org/.)

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