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NPS Expansion: 1930s







New Deal



NPS 1933-39




Expansion of the National Park Service in the 1930s:
Administrative History

Chapter Two: Reorganization of Park Administration
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B. Early Efforts to Transfer War Department Parks

With passage of the National Park Service enabling act in 1916, a new personality emerged as a leader in the campaign to consolidate administration of the parks and monuments. More than anyone else, it was Horace Albright who kept the movement alive for seventeen years, and it was his political acumen that was largely responsible for the final success in 1933.

Under Albright's leadership, the focus of the campaign shifted. As indicated, before 1916 efforts had been directed largely toward consolidating administration of the national monuments under one agency. Albright, on the other hand, would be concerned primarily with transferring the national military parks and battlefields under the jurisdiction of the War Department to the National Park Service.

The new emphasis reflected Albright's long-standing interest in history. He argued, too, that coordination of the administration of those areas would assist in capturing American tourists who would spend their money at home, rather than in Europe, now that the great war was over. [9] More important than either of these, however, was Albright's belief that such a transfer was necessary to insure the continued independence of the National Park Service. Almost all the War Department's areas were east of the Mississippi River, while Park Service areas were confined without exception to the western states Absorption of the military parks would allow the Service to extend its influence nationwide, and to build a national, not regional constituency. Such a national constituency would effectively guarantee that the National Park Service would not be absorbed by another federal agency. [10]

Albright lost no time, once passage of the National Park Service enabling act was assured and the organization was in place, in undertaking a publicity campaign aimed at securing transfer of the military parks. In the first annual report of the director of the National Park Service, Albright outlined his views in a section entitled, "National Parks in the War Department, Too:"

This discussion brings me to a similar question that deserves consideration soon. It has arisen numerous times during the past year when this Service has been requested for information regarding the military national parks--where they are located, how they are reached, what trips to them would cost, etc. The question is whether these parks should not also be placed under this department in order that they may be administered as a part of the park system. The interesting features of each of these parks are their historic associations, although several of them possess important scenic qualities. Many of the monuments and at least three of the national parks were established to preserve the ruins of structures that have historic associations of absorbing interest, or to mark the scene of an important event in history. [11]

Each succeeding annual report included some similar statement. [12]

At the same time, Mather and Albright began to lobby with their counterparts in the War Department as well as with influential members of Congress. In August 1919, for example, Albright reported to Mather that he had been able to convince Senator Kenneth D. McKeller of Tennessee to support the principle of transfer of the military parks. [13]

The campaign carried on by Park Service officials was paralleled outside the government. As had been the case in the campaign to secure passage of the National Park Service enabling act, leadership here was provided by Horace J. McFarland, president of the American Civic Association. Never one to mince words, McFarland declared:

We want unification in national park management. It is now the fact that there are three departments handling national parks--an obvious absurdity. If the departments do not soon fix it up between themselves, some independent agency like the American Civic Association, not caring whose toes it treads on will soon need to try to eliminate some of the duplication. [14]

The first viable opportunity to effect a transfer of the War Department parks and monuments came on December 17, 1920, when the two houses of Congress established a joint committee to study a general reorganization of the executive departments. [15] Nearly three years later, on February 13, 1923, President Warren G. Harding outlined the major reorganization proposals recommended by his cabinet. Along with such recommendations as the coordination of military and naval establishments under a Department of National Defense and a new Department of Education and Welfare was the transfer of nine national military parks to the Department of the Interior. [16] The last recommendation had been prepared by Park Service officials and transmitted by Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall. [17]

Officials in the War Department generally supported the Park Service's efforts to effect the transfer of areas under their jurisdiction, largely because they were concerned over the expense generated in their administration. Secretary of War John W. Weeks testified in favor of the proposed transfer before the Joint Committee on Reorganization. While admitting under sharp questioning by the committee that there may have been cases where a battlefield should remain under the jurisdiction of the War Department, Weeks nevertheless was firm in his opinion that "the entire park system should be under one control." [18]

Members of the committee expressed skepticism at Weeks' assertion, however. Of particular concern, as evidenced by the questions they asked, was the apparent difficulty in clearly separating the military parks from military cemeteries. Transfer of the military parks to the Department of the Interior, they quite clearly believed, would inevitably lead to civilian control over military cemeteries. [19]

Whether as a result of this concern, or whether as Horace Albright later wrote, the proposal "got lost in the shuffle," transfer of the national military parks to the Department of the Interior was not included in the report issued by the Joint Committee on Reorganization. [20]

While the National Park Service hoped to use the general reorganization of the executive departments as a means of acquiring the national military parks, Secretary of Agriculture Henry C. Wallace advanced another proposal. In testimony before the joint committee, Wallace asserted that administration of the public domain, and that included the national parks and all national monuments, should be solely the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture. [21] Wallace admitted that he was not prepared to say whether any economy would result from his proposal. Nevertheless, he argued that many of the problems facing the parks and forests were similar, and "as far as the parks are concerned, it would be practicable." [22]

Senator Reed Smoot of Utah, a long-time friend of the National Park Service, observed that any reorganization plan that proposed transfer of the national parks to the Department of Agriculture would not pass. With that observation, Secretary Wallace's suggestion died. [23]

Failure to secure transfer of the national military parks as part of a general reorganization of executive departments did not long deter Park Service officials. After 1924, according to Horace Albright, he and Mather worked hard to insure that a proposal calling for transfer of the national military parks would be a part of the program developed by President Calvin Coolidge's National Conference on Outdoor Recreation. [24]

Secretary of War Weeks resigned on October 12, 1925. Albright, Mather, and the new Secretary of the Interior, Hubert Work, immediately contacted his successor, Dwight F. Davis, to resume inter-departmental talks regarding transfer of the military parks. [25]

Despite some growing opposition at the lower echelons of his department, Davis was swayed by their arguments, and indicated that he would support another attempt to transfer the military parks. On April 20, 1928, a bill that had been drafted jointly by Interior and War Department staffs was sent to Congress, along with a letter signed by the two secretaries. [26]

Introduced by Senator Gerald P. Nye of North Dakota, Chairman of the Committee on Public Lands, S. 4173 went further than previous efforts, proposing to transfer all military parks, national parks, and national monuments from the War Department to the Department of the Interior. [27] In addition, the bill provided for the transfer, as well, of all civilian employees and unexpended appropriations. [28] Of particular interest, because it was apparently the first time the term was used, the bill provided for a new unit in the Park System--the National Historical Park. [29] It is quite probable that this term reflected the direction of Horace Albright's thinking.

Senator Nye's committee supported the proposal and reported it to the full Senate within two weeks, on May 3, 1928. [30] In the House, however, the reception was quite different. Hearings were not held until the following winter. [31] Although the bill was originally sent to the Committee on Public Lands where it would have been received more favorably, hearings were held before John M. Morin's Committee on Military Affairs. Horace Albright later wrote that the committee "was mildly hostile . . ., or at least the members present were not favorably disposed." [32] Had the secretaries of War and Interior appeared before the committee in person, he continued, the result might have been different. [33] An examination of the record of the hearings, however, suggests that in this case, the normally realistic Albright cast events in a too-favorable light. Congressmen Otis Bland, E.L. Davis, and S.D. McReynolds all either wrote letters or testified against the bill. Congressman Bland said that transfer of the military parks made "as much sense . . . as putting military instruction in a medical school," and Congressman McReynolds speculated that the National Park Service would "put yellow buses and [hot-dog] stands throughout . . . ." [34] Clearly these congressmen and those on the committee believed that the purpose of areas administered by the two agencies was so different--the War Department areas for military instruction and memorialization while the National Park Service's areas were "pleasuring grounds"--that one agency could not possibly be equipped to deal with both. [35] As had been the case in 1924, both the congressmen who testified against the bill and committee members were particularly concerned that the transfer would lead to civilian control of military cemeteries. [36]

Horace Albright, who was by now the Director of the National Park Service, and Charles B. Robbins, Assistant Secretary of War, testified as best they could under sometimes almost sarcastic questioning. They could not, however, overcome the opposition of the committee. The tone of the hearings was a clear signal of the outcome, and, as expected, the committee took no action. Albright did attempt to secure another hearing, but when that failed the bill died in committee. [37]

Disappointed as he must have been over the failure of the House committee to act on S. 4173, Horace Albright was not one to long nurse his bruises. In March 1929, a new president, Herbert C. Hoover, was inaugurated. Within weeks Albright initiated discussions regarding transfer of War Department areas with the new secretaries of War and Interior, John W. Good and Ray L. Wilbur. [38]

Both men, who were old acquaintances of Albright's, proved receptive to the idea. Wilbur further indicated that President Hoover intended to seek authority from Congress for a general reorganization of the executive departments. He assured Albright that any reorganization would include transferring "historic sites from other agencies" to the National Park Service. [39]

President Hoover, himself, obviously intended to transfer the national monuments from the War and Agriculture Departments to the National Park Service. On May 15, 1929, he wrote his Attorney General William D. Mitchell, requesting his opinion as to whether such an action could be taken without specific legislative authority. [40] On July 8, 1929, Mitchell replied that in his opinion, such an action would infringe on the constitutional prerogatives of Congress, and would be illegal in the absence of legislation to that effect. [41]

Meanwhile, work on a general reorganization of the executive continued. In October 1929 Secretary Wilbur sent an Interior Department plan to an interdepartmental coordinating committee created to evaluate such proposals. Included in Wilbur's reorganization plan was a request to transfer "historic sites and structures in other departments, especially the War Department" to the National Park Service. [42] A new element was added to the proposed transfer when Wilbur requested that the parks and buildings in Washington, D.C., also be transferred to the National Park Service. [43]

From time to time, over the next several years, President Hoover sent messages to Congress regarding reorganization of the executive branch. It was not until June 1932, however, that Congress finally provided him with the specific authority he needed to proceed. [44]

On December 9, 1932, one month after he had been defeated at the polls, President Hoover submitted a general reorganization proposal to Congress, as required. Included were some, but not all, elements of the Interior Department's reorganization plan submitted three years earlier. The proposal would have created a number of divisions within Interior. Among those agencies grouped under a Division of Education, Health and Recreation, were the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Public Health Service, Division of Vital Statistics, and National Park Service. [45] As Park Service officials hoped it would, the plan would have transferred the national parks, monuments, and certain national cemeteries in the War Department to the National Park Service. [46] Although Secretary Wilbur had proposed transferring the National Capital Parks, the Office of Public Buildings and Parks, which administered those parks, would have been transferred from its position as an independent agency to the proposed Division of Public Works in the Interior Department. [47]

From the first days of the Hoover administration it had been anticipated, apparently, that President Hoover's proposed reorganization proposal would provide for the transfer of the Forest Service to the Department of the Interior, or possibly for the establishment of a Conservation Department which would combine all federal land-use agencies. [48] Former Representative Louis Cramton, who now served as a special attorney on the staff of Secretary Wilbur, proposed the former, while President Hoover had noted the wisdom of the latter in a December 3, 1929, message to Congress. [49]

Both proposals were highly controversial, and either would have raised considerable opposition both in Congress and outside the government. The decision not to include either in a general reorganization proposal was certainly a wise one.

The legislation that provided President Hoover with the authority to reorganize the executive branch included a provision requiring that the proposals be forwarded to Congress for sixty days before becoming effective. [50] Congress rarely has been willing to give much cooperation to a lame-duck president, particularly when one was as thoroughly repudiated by the voters as Herbert Hoover was in 1932. It should not have been surprising to anyone that a broad-ranging reorganization such as the one he proposed would not be approved.

Earlier in the year, another bill, H. R. 8502, introduced by Representative Ross A. Collins of Mississippi, provided for transfer of the War Department parks and monuments to the Department of the Interior. [51] The bill, which was nearly identical to S. 4173, introduced by Senator Nye in 1927, was drafted by the Interior Department staff at Congressman Collins' request. [52]

The National Park Service prepared a favorable report on the bill, and in a January 28, 1932, letter to the Secretary of War, Interior Secretary Wilbur reaffirmed his support of the proposal. [53] Hearings were never held on the bill, however, quite possibly because of the anticipated reorganization of the executive branch. [54]

While President Hoover's reorganization proposal was before Congress, another bill, this one proposing transfer of the Forest Service to the Department of the Interior was before the House Agricultural Committee. [55] H.R. 13857, introduced by Representative Eaton, was apparently never given serious consideration.

Chapter Two continues with...
Reorganization of 1933


Last Modified: Tues, Mar 14 2000 07:08:48 am PDT

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