Public Buildings Administration (PBA) (1939)

The Public Buildings Administration (PBA) was created by the Reorganization Act of 1939 and President Roosevelt’s subsequent Reorganization Plan No. 1, approved by Congress on July 1, 1939. The PBA was one five programs placed under the newly-created Federal Works Agency – the others being the Works Progress Administration (WPA) (renamed “Work Projects Administration), the Public Works Administration (PWA), the Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) (renamed “Public Roads Administration”), and the U.S. Housing Authority (USHA). The PBA took over the duties and responsibilities of the Treasury’s Public Buildings Branch (PBB), as well as those of the Branch of Buildings Management of the National Park Service [1]. (See our summaries of the above listed programs for more information.)

During its 10-year life, the PBA’s main duties were to construct, maintain, operate, and protect federal buildings (except those on military installations). With respect to construction work, PBA would typically provide the planning, architectural, or engineering expertise, and then take bids from private contractors for the brick and mortar work. The PBA also leased space, acquired land for new buildings, and disposed of excess property. Further, from 1939 to 1943, its Section of Fine Arts, which had been transferred over with the PBB, planned “appropriate mural or sculptural decorations, the commissions for which [were] awarded to artists selected through anonymous competitions” [2]. (See our summary of the Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture for more information.)

During its existence, the PBA carried out over $350 million in construction work, including new buildings, extensions, remodeling, and major alterations (about $4.5 billion in 2014 dollars) [3]. Many of PBA’s most interesting projects were in the Washington, D.C. area, including the Social Security Board Building, Railroad Retirement Board Building, War Department Building, Annex No. 3 of the U.S. Government Printing Office, a restaurant for the National Zoo, terminal and hangars at Washington National Airport, and George Washington University Hospital. Interesting projects elsewhere included architectural and engineering services for the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library (Hyde Park, New York), monitoring stations for the Federal Communications Commission, and numerous courthouses, marine hospitals, and post offices [4].

The PBA played an important role during World War II, including construction of residential housing projects for war industry workers and their families and special living quarters for women, “especially for unmarried women who came in great numbers to the District of Columbia” [5]. Residence halls for the latter included infirmaries, recreational centers, cafeterias, beauty shops, dress shops, classrooms, and outdoor areas for baseball and shuffleboard [6].

W.E. Reynolds, who had been the assistant director of the Treasury’s Procurement Division, was placed in charge of PBA and served during its entire existence, 1939 to 1949 [7]. Pursuant to the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act of 1949, which became law on June 30, 1949, the Federal Works Agency was terminated and the duties and responsibilities of all its subordinate branches were taken over by the newly-created General Services Administration (GSA) [8]. W.E. Reynolds remained as the Public Buildings Service Commissioner under the GSA, serving from 1949 to 1954 [9].

Sources: (1) FWA, Annual Report, 1940, pp. 4-5, 66. (2) See generally, FWA, Annual Reports, 1940 through 1948. (3) Based on statistical tables, FWA, Annual Reports, 1940 through 1946. (4) See note 2. (5) FWA, Annual Report, 1942, pp. 29-31. (6) FWA, Annual Report, 1943, pp. 20-21. (7) Antoinette J. Lee, Architects to the Nation: The Rise and Decline of the Supervising Architect’s Office, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 273. (8) For the full text of the law, see http://www.epw.senate.gov/fpasa49.pdf, U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (accessed July 2, 2015). (9) U.S. General Services Administration, “Public Buildings Service Commissioners,” http://www.gsa.gov/portal/content/150863, accessed July 2, 2015. (In this source list, “FWA, Annual Report…” refers to the various fiscal year annual reports of the Federal Works Agency. These reports can be found at Hathitrust, http://www.hathitrust.org/, accessed July 3, 2015).