The Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942:
A New Deal Case Study

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Chapter 10
Progress, Consolidation, and Dissension, 1937-1939

During the passage of the act of 1937, Congress had inserted a clause specifically encouraging vocational education and had criticized educational work in the CCC as it then stood. It was clear, therefore, that a pressing task for the director was to investigate thoroughly the whole training program. As a beginning, Fechner solicited the commissioner of education, J. W. Studebaker, for suggestions. Studebaker recommended that the work week be shortened, specifically that the Wednesday afternoons and Saturdays be devoted to education; instruction in the evenings would also be continued. [1] Studebaker was strongly supported by Ickes in advocating the change, but both Fechner and the President stood firm against it. "Of course I want the Office of Education to continue their fine work among the CCC boys," said Roosevelt, "but this work must be under the final control of the director, Mr. Fechner. In other words, Mr. Fechner is the responsible head and he must have the final say." Mr. Fechner said "no" most emphatically to any reduction in working hours for teaching purposes. [2]

The director was more receptive to another proposal from Studebaker. This was to remove the ultimate responsibility for education from the War Department, placing it in the Office of Education. The Office of Education would thus be on an equal footing with the Army and the technical services, each with its own particular sphere of responsibility. [3] Fechner greeted this suggestion with enthusiasm, and the Advisory Council soon evolved a new plan for the organization of educational work. The director of CCC education was to be directly responsible to Fechner's office, and the role of the War Department was correspondingly reduced. The Army now merely had to insure that floor space would be available for educational purposes in each camp and that all enrollees had the opportunity to attend classes. [4] Delighted, Studebaker exulted that the plan enabled him "not only to place the full force of the U.S. Office of Education, but the whole educational system in the country, behind you and your efforts to give the enrollees the very best educational program possible." He eagerly awaited its early implementation. [5]

Unfortunately, the program was never to develop past the paper stage. As early as August 6, 1937, the Army officer in charge of CCC disbursement intimated to Fechner that the proposed scheme might run into constitutional difficulties. He doubted if the provisions of the act of 1937 would enable Fechner to bring the director of CCC education, Howard Oxley, into his office. [6] The blow fell on August 30. Assistant Director Taylor, after conferring with the comptroller general, bluntly informed Fechner that the new program would have to be dropped. There was no authority to transfer the funds needed for its implementation to the director's office, nor could the President do so by Executive Order. [7] Accordingly, Fechner, after confirming Taylor's message, advised all co-operating agencies that the old educational organization was still to be followed. He stressed, however, that because congressmen had shown so much interest in CCC education, it was incumbent upon all Corps officials to make serious efforts to improve the program wherever possible. [8] Thus ended abortively the most serious attempt to increase even slightly the emphasis on education in the CCC's activities and to bring to the teaching program a modicum of cohesion.

The failure of the new education plan brought not unification, but renewed criticism. Much of it was due to antagonism between the technical services and the Office of Education, dissension which had reached such a pitch by October, 1937, that McKinney, the CCC publicity director, complained that it was even intruding into official publications. [9] In December a long report prepared by Frederick Morrell of the Forest Service and Conrad Wirth of the National Parks Service sweepingly criticized the whole concept and orientation of education in the CCC. Morrell and Wirth advocated scrapping the existing program entirely and removing the educational advisers, substituting on-the-job training, which they thought to be the only type of education suitable in the camps. Men should be trained for work, they believed, not for high school diplomas. [10] The Director's Office was dismayed at the tone of the report, but recognized that it had some validity. Oxley, according to Taylor, had often treated the technical services cavalierly, and was now reaping the whirlwind. Still, such dissension, if left unchecked, could wreck the educational work entirely, dependent as it was on interservice co-operation. [11]

The Office of Education was equally dissatisfied with the current state of affairs. Studebaker was bitterly critical of the technical services. They were not pulling together, he claimed, and he indicated that he was not inclined to favor anyone "telling our men in the camps what they should do." Job training, while important, was, he believed, only part of the totality of CCC education, and he had no intention of increasing the emphasis on it. [12] Conditions were deteriorating steadily.

Confusion and conflict at the center were reflected in the camps. Educational advisers renewed their protests about unsatisfactory programs and technical service hostility. One of the most articulate of these was C. T. Clifton, of Camp SC-16, Yellow Springs, Ohio. His trenchant criticism of the program, adumbrated in a long letter to Fechner, was widely circulated among CCC officials [13] because it summed up forcefully the accumulated grievances of Corps educational advisers. Clifton paid tribute to the real accomplishments of CCC education, but he was more concerned with what it had failed to do, particularly in the field of vocational training which he categorized as "weak." He attacked Fechner for not having stimulated more interest in this aspect of the Corps' work. Clifton was also bitterly hostile to the Army, claiming that free discussion was effectively muzzled in the camps and with it any chance of embarking on "the ambitious program of social and economic education" which the CCC was peculiarly fitted to supply. Education had become the "Cinderella" of Corps life, he complained, and few could miss his implication that the Director's Office and the War Department were the two "ugly sisters." In concluding, Clifton called for a "new liberal CCC program of work, study, and play," with more emphasis on training and less on relief. [14]

The dissension between the technical services and the Office of Education, the discontent in the camps, and the confusion about the education program's aims and methods could not continue unchecked. In June, 1938, therefore, Fechner appointed a special committee to investigate education in the CCC in the hope that its findings would provide guidelines for a revised program. [15] The six members included representatives from the technical services, the Department of Labor, and the Office of Education. [16] The committee reported to the director in January, 1939, after having studied camp education in four of the nine Corps areas. The report paid glowing tribute to certain facets of the work accomplished in the camps and to the dedication of most educational advisers, but it was sweepingly critical of the organization and objectives of the program as a whole. It stated that "the chief justification for a camp program was to make the boys more employable," and this it was often failing to do. [17] To reverse this tendency, the report advocated more emphasis on job training and urged that the foremen be given teacher training courses in order to provide such instruction more efficiently. [18] Other specific shafts were aimed at the unsuitability of the hours allotted to instruction and at the dual administrative organization of the camp program, which rendered it difficult to define concise educational objectives. [19] The committee asserted that if the program were to be made more effective, classes should not be held in the evenings, as by then the enrollees, tired after their day's work, were least willing to co-operate. [20] Committee members found that educational advisers were all to often grossly underpaid, overworked, and inadequately trained, while their freedom of action was circumscribed by Army control. [21] The whole import of the committee's findings was, first, to stress the need for a change of emphasis within the program, specifically a shift to vocational and on-the-job training, and second, to suggest that before educational work could be really successful the whole organization of the camps would have to be altered—the Army would have to be removed, and educational endeavor placed on an equal footing with the work program of the CCC. [22]

Similar shortcomings were described by the American Youth Commission, an agency established with Rockefeller Foundation money to study youth problems. It carried out a private investigation of CCC education at the same time as the special committee and, in its first report, also indicated the need for more vocational training, for better-paid advisers, and for less Army control. [23] The Youth Commission was at pains to point out, however, the "definite benefits" that the present system afforded enrollees, and in particular it praised the work done with illiterates. Furthermore, the commission believed that since 1937 greater emphasis had, in fact, been laid on training for employment, though such trends needed acceleration. [24]

The official response to these two reports was muted and generally unfavorable. The Selection Division considered them "misleading" and, while admitting that they contained some useful suggestions, thought they "were not based on careful study" and included too many generalizations "from a sample only." [25] Fechner made it clear that the special committee's recommendation had not changed his resolute opposition to shortening the hours of work. Likewise, he intended ultimate Army responsibility for education to continue. [26] Many of the main conclusions of the reports, proposals aimed at removing the basic grievances of educational officials, were thus disregarded or disavowed.

Some of the specific recommendations, however, were adopted. Serious attempts were made to improve the system of teacher training in camps, [27] and Fechner emphatically directed that more vocational education be included in camp programs. [28] A policy of directing enrollees to selected camps where they could best profit from the training opportunities was also instituted. [29] It is likely that even more of the recommendations would have been implemented had the CCC not been placed on a non-combatant footing in 1940, a move which changed completely the whole objective of CCC education and training. [30]

Many of the recommendations of both investigating bodies were indeed balanced and reasonable. Others took an unrealistic approach to the CCC situation. Suggested improvements within the existing organization were subordinated to sweeping denunciations of the whole structure of the Corps. The removal of the Army, or the shortening of the work week in order to add more classes, no matter how desirable in principle, would nevertheless have meant a radical reconstruction of the Corps' framework as delineated by statute and tradition. Such recommendations were thus beside the point, at least until the future of the Corps had been settled. What was now needed was improvement within the existing framework, not the abolition of the framework.

Furthermore, the reports of both the special committee and the American Youth Commission, through concentrating on the weakness of CCC education, tended to gloss over the very real areas of accomplishment. The special committee made little mention of the CCC's excellent work with illiterates, and neither body discussed the achievement in giving youths a second chance to complete their high school education or to continue with college work. In the fiscal year 1938-1939 alone, 8,445 enrollees were taught to read and write, and 763 were awarded college scholarships. [31] Despite the fact that vocational training facilities were considered inadequate, the CCC still managed to produce 45,000 truck drivers a year, 7,500 bridge builders, 2,000 bakers, and 1,500 welders. [32] One cannot discount the real success of the Corps in providing a measure of useful training for at least some of its enrollees, and improving, even indirectly, the employment prospects of almost all.

Nevertheless, education must be counted one of the less successful fields of CCC endeavor. The program always suffered from its initial handicap of being a late starter in a competitive field. The Office of Education could never really convince the CCC authorities that its work was anything more than an afterthought, an extra to be accommodated if possible, but ignored if necessary. Neither the President nor Fechner, when it came to the pinch, was prepared to improve the position of the educational advisers in relation to the War Department or the technical services, either by giving them more money or by setting aside certain hours during the day for instruction. Moreover, though many of the problems plaguing CCC education were insoluble while the Corps retained its original form, it may fairly be said that, even in the limited sphere where it could operate effectively, the program often failed to meet fully the needs of the enrollees. Academic courses, while doubtless interesting in themselves, were of limited practical value to youths who would almost certainly lead non-academic lives, while one can legitimately question whether instruction in digging ditches and building dams was fitting the enrollees for life in an increasingly urbanized society. Though education in the CCC was emphatically not a total failure, its deficiencies were undoubtedly grave, and the blame must be shared by the President, the CCC organization, and the education officials themselves.

The organization of educational work was not the only policy matter called into question in 1937 because of the new legislation. Now that the relief provision was no longer a condition of enrolment, the President, in the interests of economy, wanted the base monthly pay rate reduced from $30 if at all possible. [33] Fechner put the matter to the Advisory Council, where once again there was substantial disagreement. The technical agencies and the War Department supported a dual pay system, advocating that veterans should still receive $30 monthly, and all others should be cut down to $21. [34] The Selection Division could not support the idea of reducing the pay of all junior enrollees to $21 because of the opposition from state selecting agencies. It would mean the end of the $25 allotment to families. Snyder and Persons proposed instead that junior enrollees from families on relief should be paid the full $30 as before, but that those from families not on relief should receive only $15. [35] Both plans were sent to the President for perusal, but despite the fact that the suggestion to revise pay scales was his own, he changed his mind, discarded both, and decided to continue with the old scheme. [36] The $30 monthly pay rate lasted until the Corps was dissolved.

It was in 1937, too, that the first significant attempts were made to develop a workable re-employment service for discharged enrollees. The initial moves were made on the state level, the most important being the structure developed in Arkansas. Here the state director of CCC selection, Edward Bethune, co-operated with the Arkansas branch of the United States Employment Service in producing a monthly bulletin on discharged CCC enrollees, giving full particulars of height, weight, race, accomplishments, previous experience, interests, and reaction to camp life. These brochures were then sent to business firms and other prospective employers. [37] The arrangement was an outstanding success. By 1939 the Arkansas Employment Service was having little trouble in placing former enrollees. [38]

Officials of the Selection Division of the CCC were quick to see the merits of the Arkansas plan. They sent full details of its operation to all state selection agents, [39] and by 1939 most of them had adopted it. [40] They were not always as successful as Arkansas, but where co-operation between selection director and employment agency was wholehearted, the prospect of former enrollees returning home to unemployment was greatly reduced.

Franklin Roosevelt had never sounded firmer in his desire to curb the spending policies characteristic of the early years of the New Deal than in the summer and fall of 1937. Even in the face of rising unemployment, he still spoke in terms of a balanced budget, an end to "pump priming," and a general reduction of federal expenditures. [41] The CCC inevitably felt the force of the economy drive. The director of the Bureau of the Budget advised Fechner in November, 1937, that the CCC's estimates for the 1938-1939 fiscal year had been slashed by $125 million. [42] Fechner vainly protested that this cut would mean the closing of 104 camps before December 30, and some 300 more by July 1, 1938, leaving only 1,200 in operation. [43] The President in his budget message of January 3, 1938, recommended that the CCC be reduced. [44] A few Democratic congressmen, led by Representative Jed Johnson of Oklahoma, attempted to bring about a revolt and restore the full appropriation, but the drive for economy was too strong and the House defeated their attempted amendment by voice vote. [45] In February, Fechner announced that more than one hundred camps had already been closed and that on March 1 he would begin to close three hundred more, until by July the reduced enrolment would stand at 250,000 men in 1,200 camps. [46]

The balanced budget, however, was sacrificed to the exigencies of the steadily worsening economic situation. The recession of late 1937 showed signs of developing into a full-scale depression. Stock prices plummeted, and unemployment rose from under five million in August, 1937, to more than nine million in May, 1938. [47] Faced with the starkness of a collapsing economy, the President abandoned deflation for the well-tried policies of increased federal spending. [48] On April 14 he went before Congress seeking additional money for work relief, for the WPA, the NYA, and the CCC. Specifically, he asked that $50 million be voted for the Corps to keep the three hundred camps from closing and to maintain the number of camps at 1,500. [49] A resolution to this effect, introduced by the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Representative Clifton A. Woodrum, Democrat of Virginia, on March 23, [50] had already passed the House by the lopsided majority of 326 to 6. [51] It was approved by the Senate on April 19. [52]

Thus, the recession, though it destroyed Roosevelt's hope for a balanced budget, saved the CCC from further reduction. The Corps remained steady at 1,500 camps and 300,000 enrollees for the rest of 1938, and no cuts were planned for the 1939-1940 fiscal year. [53] Numerically at least, it was maintaining its strength.

The same could not be said for the organization of the CCC. Serious disagreements between the director and the technical services threatened to disrupt the agency's high level of performance. For the first four years of the Corps' existence, Fechner had made little attempt to direct the policy of the co-operating agencies in any way; he had allowed them to function very much according to their own methods and traditions. Now, secure in his office and concerned with what he regarded as a challenge to his authority by men like Ickes, Tyner, Morrell, and Persons, he attempted to reverse this trend and began a policy of gradually extending his authority over the technical services and even the War Department. The first signs came in July, 1937, when Fechner announced to the Advisory Council that he had decided to transfer to his office the CCC's liaison officers, presently hired and paid by the technical agencies. [54] The decision was bitterly fought by the Departments of Agriculture, the Interior, and War, not so much because of its intrinsic significance, but because the transfer would constitute a precedent for further centralizing action. Fechner took little notice of their protests and proceeded with the arrangement. Only when it was pointed out that its cost would be excessive did he drop the matter, to the relief, though not to the satisfaction, of the co-operating departments. [55]

The attempted transfer of liaison officers set the stage for greatly increased tension between Fechner and the federal agencies. The director's relationship with the acerbic Ickes had always been uneven; now it became positively stormy. Ickes accused him of discriminating against the Department of the Interior in allotting camps and of attempting to "curtail" the secretary's authority. [56] Oscar L. Chapman, acting secretary of the Department of the Interior, claimed that Fechner was attempting to "take over responsibilities which are delegated to other departments and which rightfully belong to them." [57]

The director's clash with Department of the Interior officials was soon dwarfed, however, by a full-scale row which broke out when he attempted to dictate terms to the Department of War. The struggle, the only one of its kind during the whole of the Corps' existence, was precipitated by a difference of opinion over the rotation of Reserve officers in the camps. By 1937, high Army officers were convinced that the CCC experience was of real value to those Reserve officers who were used in the camps; therefore, in order to spread these benefits over as broad an area as possible, they decided to replace all those who had been on duty for more than eighteen months with a fresh batch of younger men.

This was an extraordinarily unpopular decision. Hundreds of those due to be replaced had learned to look on their CCC jobs as permanent, and they were not about to give them up lightly. A petition to Roosevelt praying for his intercession on their behalf spoke of "the brutal and we believe thoroughly unwarranted, unwise, and altogether unjust order issued by the War Department . . . this callously brutal attempt to throw out of employment over 6,000 officers, most of them with families. . . . in order that the Regular Army shall not be marred by a permanent or semi-permanent force of 'we temporary gentlemen.'" [58] Fechner strongly supported the officers in their complaints because he feared that the mass replacement of camp commanders would inevitably have a disastrous effect on CCC morale. His arguments seem to have influenced the President, who put pressure on the War Department to rescind the order. The wrangle was eventually resolved by a compromise, the War Department reluctantly agreeing to replace only 50 per cent of the officers concerned. But Army feelings had been thoroughly ruffled by what was considered to be Fechner's blatant influence in a strictly departmental issue. Further conflict became almost inevitable. [59]

Smoldering Army resentment flared violently to life early in 1938, following a series of complaints from Fechner on specific points of administration. He was still not satisfied about the rotation of officers. Further, he suspected that the Army officials were spending CCC funds in an unauthorized way; he insisted, therefore, that he be allowed to inquire into the details of their disbursement. [60] The War Department had had enough. In a strongly worded memorandum, the acting secretary of war, Louis Johnson, refuted Fechner's charges and angrily asked, "how far should the Director, CCC inject himself into the details of the administration of the War Department?" Denying that the co-operating agencies were in any way subordinate to the director, Johnson asserted that since July 1, 1937, Fechner had ignored the advice of his Advisory Council, and had arrogated as much power as he was able to his office. Johnson thought that, if pursued further, this trend was bound to wreck the CCC as an efficient agency. [61]

No one doubted that such overt hostility between War Department and director could, in fact, paralyze the CCC. Accordingly, a conference, attended by Fechner, the new chief of staff, General Malin Craig, and members of the Advisory Council, was held on April 1 under the chairmanship of James Roosevelt. Roosevelt came down heavily on the side of the Army. He let it be known that the attorney general's opinion was that the co-operating departments were in no way subordinate to the director's office, and he strongly advised Fechner to concentrate on making policy and to leave its implementation alone. [62]

Fechner, for his part, had no intention of letting things end there. After being refused a copy of the opinion, he left the whole matter to the President. In a letter to Roosevelt, after emphasizing the need to maintain unity in the CCC, he asked for positive reaffirmation that final authority for all CCC matters, including the right to investigate and direct the policies of the technical services, lay with the director. [63] His request placed the President in a dilemma. Roosevelt balked at the idea of offending the Army, but he sensed that Fechner attached such importance to the issue that he would resign if his demands were not met. After a fruitless attempt to satisfy both sides by approving Fechner's request verbally only, he capitulated and in November put his signature to a document specifically stating that "All matters of policy will be initiated by, or approved by, the Director. The Director will satisfy himself, through such methods as he may deem appropriate, that his policies are being administered and executed as approved. If violations are established, corrective action thereon shall be taken at the request of the Director." [64] This authorization was all Fechner wanted. He was now able to stress to a chastened Advisory Council where power lay. Triumphantly, he asserted that "There is no higher authority than the Director except the President. I want that thoroughly understood—there is no higher authority above the Director other than the President in administering this Act." [65]

The outcome of the struggle between Fechner and the Army is important because of the light it throws on the whole question of the director's place within the CCC organization. It has been alleged that Fechner had no real power, that he was a public relations man only, and that the Army effectively controlled CCC policy. [66] While it is true that the Army ran the camps and that Fechner often accepted Army advice, it is equally true that in the last resort he, not the military, called the tune. That he normally chose to accede to the Army's wishes in the interests of harmony within the CCC organization did not mean that he was powerless to oppose them should he deem it necessary.

Once he had received presidential confirmation of his authority, Fechner embarked on the most ambitious centralization plan of all, again in the teeth of the strongest opposition from the co-operating services. The CCC used a vast amount of motorized equipment in the course of its extensive operations, the responsibility for repair and maintenance of which had always lain with the co-operating agencies. In 1939 Fechner decided to alter this policy, proposing to set up a huge chain of central machine repair shops directly under his control. All repairs of CCC machinery would henceforth have to be carried out there, and the director's office, not the technical services or Army, would hire and pay the mechanics and other employees. [67] Immediately there was a storm of protest from the technical agencies, directed at both the plan itself and at Fechner's decision to implement it without consulting the Advisory Council. The secretary of agriculture insisted that it be held in abeyance, [68] Ickes demanded an investigation by the Bureau of the Budget, [69] and Wirth, the Department of the Interior's Advisory Council representative, declared that the plan was "so decidedly adverse to departmental and CCC interests that every effort should be made to have it reversed. Since it is believed useless to request Director Fechner to reverse his decision, it is urgently requested that this matter be taken up with the President." [70]

The protests did convince Roosevelt to appoint a committee to investigate the efficiency and economy of Fechner's plan. [71] It was but a brief respite for the technical services, however, as the committee's report was highly favorable to the scheme, recommending its early adoption. [72] The plan was implemented almost immediately, a signal triumph for Fechner's centralization policies. It was also his last official act. His health had been poor throughout 1939, and in December he suffered a severe heart attack. He died in Walter Reed Hospital on New Year's Eve, after a three-week struggle for life. [73]

There were several applicants for the vacant position, with McEntee and Brigadier General Duncan Major, now retired, the two strongest candidates. McEntee was strongly supported by the AF of L, and was eventually selected for the post. It was probably the logical choice, for he had been Fechner's right-hand man since the Corps' earliest days, knowing both the details of the organization and the people who made it work. His thoroughgoing approval of Fechner's centralizing proclivities, however, were not calculated to endear him to the co-operating agencies, and administrative dissension was to plague the Corps for the rest of its existence. [74]

Fechner, in attempting his policy of centralization, was clearly acting within the limits of his authority. Nevertheless, he effectively damaged the easy relationship between director and federal agencies which had been a significant feature of the CCC's initial success. By exercising his authority to the full after four years in which he had been content to play a passive role, he encroached on areas which the technical services considered to be theirs by "right of occupation." It is hard to decide why Fechner embarked on his policy of centralization. One can only surmise that it was due to a clash of personalities rather than a yen for administrative efficiency. Fechner, growing old and ill, was becoming increasingly protective of the prerogatives of his office, increasingly suspicious of the attitudes and intentions of his technical service colleagues, and increasingly determined to reassert himself as undisputed head of the CCC hierarchy. Perhaps his short-lived resignation in 1939 in protest at the creation of the Federal Security Agency adds credence to this assertion. Fechner's centralization schemes may well have brought increased efficiency, but they did so at the expense of morale. Extended by McEntee, they contributed to the decline of the Corps after 1940.

Not even the controversy over the central repair shops caused as much concern to CCC officials in 1939 as did the establishment of the Federal Security Agency. For some years the President had wanted to implement a plan of administrative reform, but his schemes had invariably been frustrated by a recalcitrant Congress, fearful of losing power over patronage. [75] Not until 1939 did the President achieve some measure of success. In May, Congress passed by substantial majorities a watered-down reorganization proposal, to take effect on July 1, 1939. The bill consolidated the complex of federal agencies into administrative groups according to function and authorized the appointment of six administrative assistants to the President. [76] The most important agencies created were the Federal Security Agency, the Federal Works Agency, and the Federal Loans Agency, each presided over by an administrator. [77] Most federal agencies were to be placed under the jurisdiction of one of these consolidating bodies. The CCC, because of its achievements in the promotion of the welfare and education of its enrollees, was to come under the "direction and supervision" of the Federal Security Agency, which also regulated the U.S. Employment Service, the Office of Education, the Public Health Service, the NYA, and the Social Security Board. [78] The grouping itself is significant, for it revealed that in Washington at least, it was now considered that the CCC had more sophisticated functions—tasks concerned with the welfare and training of youth—than simply work relief, and that these were considered to be its most significant endeavors. If this were not so, the Corps would surely have been assigned to the Federal Works Agency, along with the PWA and the WPA.

Fechner protested both the change itself and the placing of the CCC in the "welfare group." He pleaded with Roosevelt to allow the Corps to continue as "an independent agency, responsible directly to the President." If this continuation were not possible, it should be placed in the work, not welfare, category. To Fechner, the more complex definitions of function were immaterial, for the Corps, as far as he was concerned, had always been, and still was, primarily a "self contained work agency." [79] Nor did he realize immediately that the Federal Security Agency administrator would have authority over him. [80] When it became clear that this would be the case and also that the President had no intention of transferring the Corps to the Federal Works Agency, Fechner angrily submitted his resignation, effective July 1. [81] In explaining his action to the Advisory Council, he revealed clearly his bitter disappointment and frustration, not only because his own authority was to be superseded, but also because the Corps to which he had devoted six years, and which he had grown to love, was to be changed so drastically. No matter who was selected as administrator, Fechner claimed, he would be unable to run the Corps "without messing the thing up." The whole situation was "in such a fix" that Fechner had "lost interest in it and [did] not care to go on with it. . . . I think the greatest reason or factor in the success of the Corps is because the President let us run it. A new man who will not only have the responsibility of a number of other agencies, and also of the CCC will make a mess of it." He told the council that he had made arrangements to go back to his old job, "which is still waiting for me." [82]

Yet Fechner did not resign, though his failing health meant that increasingly he was director in name only. No doubt he acceded to the President's determination that he withdraw his resignation, [83] and perhaps the selection of Paul V. McNutt, a man whom he respected, to be Federal Security Agency administrator helped him change his mind. [84] The handsome, articulate McNutt, formerly governor of Indiana and regarded as a possible presidential nominee in 1940, [85] brought a wealth of ability and experience to his new job. His very presence, however, was galling to men who for a long time had been used to running their own organization in their own way, responsible only to the President. With the bluff, stubborn McEntee soon to take the helm of the CCC, the possibilities of increased administrative tension were great.

One other policy change in 1939 exacerbated the difficulties within the CCC ranks. Thoroughly alienated by Fechner's centralization policy, the War Department had redoubled its demands to be removed from the CCC organization. [86] Fechner welcomed this. He "would have no hesitation in taking over the functions in the Corps now exercised by the War Department," he declared. [87] The President was less confident of the director's ability to do so, but a development within Congress had made some action necessary. On April 3, 1939, against Roosevelt's expressed wish, Congress gave full disability benefits to Reserve officers on duty with the CCC. [88] The cost of this move to the government would be so great, and the risks involved in CCC work so small when compared to service in the Regular Army, that Roosevelt decided to replace all Reserve officers in the camps with civilians. Accordingly, he directed the secretary of war to implement a policy of gradually removing Reserve officers from duty, and the transfer was completed by the end of the year. [89]

Actually, the change was more apparent than real. The officers were replaced by civilians selected from Reserve officer lists by the War Department under the supervision of the director. [90] The War Department likewise remained in ultimate control of camp administration. Thus, it was merely a change in status, rather than personnel, but Army authorities were so bitterly hostile that another link in the chain of administrative dissension was forged. [91] Congressmen also added their protests, predicting dire consequences for the efficiency of the CCC. [92]

The CCC ended 1939 with little enough reason for self-congratulation. True, it was still very popular, but the death of the director, the truculent personality of his replacement, the loss of morale and enthusiasm among the co-operating agencies, the uncertainty due to the outbreak of war, and the slashing of the CCC budget for 1940-1941 in accordance with good election year practice [93] — all pointed to rocky days ahead.


The Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942: A New Deal Case Study
salmond/chap10.htm — 03-Jan-2008

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