Federal Works Agency (FWA) (1939)

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On April 3, 1939, President Roosevelt signed the Reorganization Act of 1939. The purpose of the law was to restructure the executive branch, with the goal of reducing expenditures, increasing efficiency, and eliminating overlapping services [1]. On April 25, 1939, pursuant to the new law, Roosevelt sent Congress his Reorganization Plan No. 1 and wrote, “It is our responsibility to make sure that the peoples’ Government is in condition to carry out the peoples’ will, promptly, effectively, without waste or lost motion” [2]. Congress approved the plan and, among other changes, the Federal Works Agency (FWA) came into existence July 1, 1939 [3].

Several New Deal public works agencies were placed under the FWA’s “general direction and supervision”: the Public Buildings Administration (PBA), a newly-created office that took over many of the construction and art activities that were performed by the U.S. Treasury; the Public Roads Administration (PRA), which was previously named the “Bureau of Public Roads”; the United States Housing Authority (USHA), an agency that had facilitated the construction of affordable public housing since 1937; the Public Works Administration (PWA), which had funded thousands of infrastructure projects across the nation from 1933 to 1939; and the Work Projects Administration (WPA), previously named the “Works Progress Administration” – an agency that had already employed millions of jobless Americans on public work projects [4]. The exact years these agencies were under FWA supervision are: PBA (1939-1949), PRA (1939-1949), USHA (1939-1942), PWA (1939-1943), and WPA (1939-1943).

During its ten-year existence, the FWA also supervised several non-New Deal agencies: the Federal Fire Council (1939-1949); the Division of War Public Works (or “Division of Defense Public Works”) (1941-1945); the Division of War Public Services (1941-1945); and the Bureau of Community Facilities, which took over the duties of both war service divisions after the conflict ended (1945-1949) [5].

Through its component units and its own independent work, the FWA engaged in a number of interesting projects, including: a “War Public Works” program (pursuant to the Lanham Act of June 1941) to construct housing, roads, hospitals, schools, and other infrastructure for millions of defense industry workers and their families during World War II; the commissioning of artists to create murals and sculptures for public buildings; the Alaska Highway; a work relief program in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, conducted after the WPA’s termination; highway projects in Central America (e.g., the Pan American Highway and road projects to help defend the Panama Canal); post-war infrastructure work in Turkey and the Philippines; traffic & vehicle studies; and, of course, road, bridge, airport, and other infrastructure work all across America [6].

The administrators of the FWA were John M. Carmody (1939-1941), Philip B. Fleming (1941-49), and Jess Larson (1949) [7]. The FWA was terminated on June 30, 1949, and its duties & responsibilities taken over by the newly-created General Services Administration (GSA) [8].

Sources: (1) “First Annual Report, Federal Works Agency, 1940,” pp. 8-10, available at https://www.hathitrust.org/. (2) “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 29, 2015. (3) See note 1. (4) See, e.g., note 1 at p. 13. (5) See, annual reports of the Federal Works Agency, fiscal years 1940-1948, available at https://www.hathitrust.org/; “Records of the Public Housing Administration,” National Archives and Records Administration, https://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/196.html, accessed August 29, 2015; and “General Records of the Federal Works Agency,” National Archives and Records Administration, https://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/162.html, accessed August 29, 2015. (6) See note 5, “annual reports of the Federal Works Agency…” (7) “Federal Works Agency…Organization Authority Record,” https://research.archives.gov/id/10486865, accessed August 29, 2015. (8) “General Records of the General Services Administration,” National Archives and Records Administration, https://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/269.html, accessed August 29, 2015.

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