U.S. Treasury, Public Buildings Branch (PBB) (1933)

(called Public Works Branch, 1933-1935)

President Roosevelt’s Executive Order No. 6166, dated June 10, 1933, and subsequent executive branch actions, created the Procurement Division of the U.S. Treasury on October 9, 1933. Within this new Treasury division, two sub-offices were created: the “Branch of Supply” and the “Public Works Branch.” In 1935, the Public Works Branch was renamed “Public Buildings Branch,” the name we use here. [1].

In creating the Procurement Division, the president wanted to effect “certain regroupings, consolidations, transfers, and abolitions of executive agencies and functions thereof” [2]. The Public Buildings Branch (PBB) was given the former duties of the Office of the Supervising Architect (another Treasury office) and was ultimately responsible for the construction of new federal buildings, as well as the maintenance of most existing federal buildings – which had never previously been consolidated under one heading. The work included presenting information to Congress, acquiring land for construction projects, drafting building plans, reviewing bids and awarding contracts, supervising construction activities, and doing necessary repairs [3].

A significant portion of funding for the PBB came from two sources during the 1930s: the Public Works Administration (PWA) and emergency appropriations approved by Congress [4]. The PBB used these and other funds to build, repair, or manage post offices, courthouses, hospitals, and other government buildings. By the end of fiscal year 1939, the PBB had utilized about $75 million in PWA funding to construct or improve 439 buildings and about $160 million in emergency appropriation funding to construct or improve another 1,129 buildings (in 2014 dollars, the funding amounts would be $1.2 billion and $2.7 billion respectively) [5]. Because of this funding arrangement, PBB projects are often ascribed to the PWA and FERA.

Some prime examples of PBB construction work in the nation’s capital include the Internal Revenue Service building, the National Archives, the Interior Department, the National Zoo, and Washington National Airport. Other PBB works were scattered around the country, from Coast Guard air stations on the east coast to a cement plant in Puerto Rico to a post office and courthouse in Nome, Alaska. The PBB also created landscape designs in such places as the post office in Poughkeepsie, New York, and the Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland [6].

Furthermore, the PBB managed two New Deal art programs: the Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture (which was eventually called the “Treasury Section of Fine Arts”) and the Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP). (See our summaries of these two programs for more information.)

Extensive government reorganization in 1939 brought an end to the PBB. Under the president’s Reorganization Plan No. 1, submitted to the Congress on April 25, 1939 and effective July 1, 1939, the functions and personnel of the PBB were transferred to the newly-created Federal Works Agency [7]. The new office in the Federal Works Agency was called the Public Buildings Administration [8] (see our summary of this program for more information). In 1949, a new reorganization would put government buildings under yet another agency, the General Services Administration, which still exists today.

Sources: (1) “Annual Report of the Treasury,” fiscal year 1934, p. 125. (2) “Message to Congress Transmitting Executive Order 6166,” American Presidency Project, University of California – Santa Barbara, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=14659, accessed July 1, 2015. Also, for the text of the order, see “Executive Order 6166–Organization of executive agencies,” National Archives and Records Administration, http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/codification/executive-order/06166.html, accessed July 2, 2015. (3) See note 1, at p. 127. (4) See any of the annual reports of the Treasury, between fiscal years 1934 and 1939, under sections “Programs under the Public Works Administration” and “Emergency construction program.” (5) “Annual Report of the Treasury,” fiscal year 1939, p. 186. (6) Annual Report of the Treasury, 1936, p. 178; 1937, p. 183; and 1939, pp. 184-185. (7) See note 5, at p. 184. (8) Federal Works Agency, “First Annual Report,” 1940, p. 66. (In this source list, notes of “Annual Report of the Treasury” refer to various editions of the “Annual Report of the Secretary of the Treasury on the State of the Finances…” and are available to view at the Internet Archive, http://archive.org/index.php)