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

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Chapter 4
The Problems of Administration, 1933-1937

The relationship between the Office of the Director of the CCC and the four co-operating federal departments could in some ways be likened to that between a holding company and its far larger components. Fechner's office was limited in size and in function. The technical services and the War Department were immediately responsible for work and administration; they hired and fired employees, and they implemented camp policy. The director's task, in this respect, was simply to co-ordinate their efforts. [1]

There were, however, certain branches of CCC work directly controlled by Fechner's office, and there were two other assistant directors in addition to McEntee. One was Fechner's legal and administrative adviser, Charles H. Taylor, who also directed the preparation of reports and correspondence. The other was Guy D. McKinney, director of publicity, in charge of press relations and general publicity work. His skilful efforts played an important part in molding a favorable public reaction to the CCC. Other special assistants advised Fechner on procurement and specific legal matters. [2]

Within the central organization there were four separate subagencies, each with its clearly delineated role. They were the Statistical, the Information, the Investigation and Correspondence, and the Safety divisions. The Statistical Division and the Information Division both worked under McKinney's direction. It was the responsibility of the former division to edit and supervise Fechner's reports to the President, while the latter division prepared and distributed information on all CCC activities and helped to co-ordinate the work of the technical agencies. The Investigation and Correspondence Division prepared camp inspection plans, evaluated inspectors' reports, and dealt with general office correspondence. The Safety Division directed the safety program, which was conducted through a committee in each camp. Including clerks, secretaries, and messengers, there were about fifty people employed in the Washington office of the CCC. [3]

In the field, Fechner's office employed liaison officers, who were hired by the technical services, special investigators, and inspectors. One liaison officer was attached to each of the nine Corps area headquarters, his main duty being to co-ordinate the activities of the participating federal departments. The special investigators were responsible for scrutinizing the administrative conditions in each camp, while the inspectors checked on the work projects to see that they conformed to legal requirements. [4]

Probably more important than the Director's Office as a co-ordinating agency for the whole program was the Advisory Council to the director, authorized on April 5, 1933, by Executive Order No. 6101. The intention in creating the council was that it would become a forum for debating policy matters between the director and the four federal departments, a platform where opposing points of view could be heard and reconciled, thus reducing the chance of tension in the field. To this end, each department was originally invited to send one representative to the meetings, but because both McEntee and Fechner wished to attend, the departmental representatives were also allowed to bring an assistant, membership thus rising to ten.

In a comparatively short time, the council grew so large that it was almost unable to function effectively. The Veterans Administration, the Office of Indian Affairs, and the Office of Education all sent representatives to its meetings once they had become connected officially with the CCC. Technical services and War Department membership were therefore increased as a counterweight, until in 1935 twenty-five members were present at one meeting. Attendances of twenty-two were quite common. [5] Though he was a reluctant administrator, Fechner recognized the need for streamlining. On October 9, 1936, therefore, a greatly reduced council met. The number present had been cut back to ten: Fechner, McEntee, and two representatives from each of the four federal departments. Attendance was held at this level for the rest of the CCC's existence, though special representatives could be invited to speak if and when the occasion demanded. [6] The council met irregularly, depending on the pressure of business. During the trouble over selection policy in 1935, for example, it met every two or three days, [7] but at other times months would elapse between sessions, often because of Fechner's absences from Washington on visits to camps. Lapses of three to four weeks between meetings were common. [8]

The establishment of the council was a happy decision, for it certainly prevented unnecessary friction in what was already an extremely complex organization. All important policies were thoroughly discussed in advance, points of view expressed, and objections met. The basic decisions concerning selection policy were always propounded at the council meetings, where the War Department's selection and mobilization proposals were closely scrutinized. Departmental suggestions for improving the effectiveness of the work or the camp environment were always given the closest attention. [9]

The council was, as its name implied, purely advisory. None of its decisions was binding on Fechner, and all were subject to veto by the President. Fechner never tried to dominate the council; he used it frequently and respected its advice, though not necessarily agreeing with it. [10] Occasionally, however, Fechner authorized a policy which he personally did not favor, purely because the council had approved it. The safety program was established, for example, in spite of Fechner's strong reservations. [11] Fechner's willingness to use the council helped to maintain the relatively stable relations between the co-operating agencies which were so essential to the success of a complex organization like the CCC. Indeed, one of the reasons for the increased tension between the director and federal departments in the Corps' last years was Fechner's and McEntee's increasing reluctance to air important policy matters before the council. Meetings were held only rarely, departments were ill-informed on program changes, and the reservoir of good will and co-operation built up earlier began to disintegrate. [12]

Much of the work of the director of the CCC was performed at the direction of the President. Fechner developed in detail policies sketched in outline by Roosevelt; he also issued regulations at the President's behest. In certain fields Fechner had final authority, subject to later presidential review. These principally involved the re-location of work projects and decisions on the type of work to be done on them. [13] Though he sometimes complained about his lack of authority, the director was certainly the most important figure in the CCC organization. [14]

Fechner was painstakingly thorough in his work and devoted to it. At his desk by seven A.M. every working day, he set an example few government officials cared to emulate. [15] Much of his time, however, was spent out of Washington visiting the camps, and it was during these jaunts that he was happiest, returning with long and glowing reports for the President about the success of the work. Indeed, Dean Snyder, assistant to Persons in the Selection Division, thought that Fechner's chief contribution to the CCC organization was in his thorough knowledge of camp conditions, something most Washington officials had little chance to acquire. [16] To the enrollees he was "big boss," and they both respected and loved him. One enrollee expressed his sentiments in the CCC newspaper when he wrote: "The other day, while on his way through Skyland Drive, there was a visitor who stopped to have a talk with us—and a friendly talk it was. As he walked about here and there through the Company Street I was impressed with his kindly attitude toward the men in our camp. . . . This man is Mr. Robert Fechner." [17] That was Fechner's way. He loved to visit a camp without ceremony, talk to the boys, commend them, and then move on.

Fechner was no dynamic innovator. He seldom proposed any bold new policies for the Corps himself, and indeed he discouraged others from doing so. This quality of caution, almost certainly a legacy of his long days as a labor conciliator, irritated his younger, university-trained, idealistic colleagues. Snyder thought the director did not sense the possibilities inherent in the CCC. Under Fechner, he was certain that the program suffered "from a lack of co-ordination and integration" in both purpose and organization, and he complained that "Mr. Fechner's office does not seem to tie the program together in an effective way." He thought that Fechner, by being content to coast along instead of grasping the initiative, was "losing an opportunity for constructive action." As an alternative, Snyder looked to the Office of Education to provide some sort of centralizing authority through the education program. [18] Rexford Tugwell also believed Fechner to be unimaginative, and Hopkins claimed he could run the camps for 60 per cent less than Fechner could. [19]

Some of these assertions were doubtless true. Fechner was indeed unimaginative, at least in the sense that he did not share with individuals less close to the Corps their lofty aspirations as to its aims and possibilities. For Fechner, the Corps always had "just two principal objectives—the relief of unemployment, and the accomplishment of useful work." Anything else was "incidental." [20] Furthermore, he had adopted a policy toward Negro enrollees which was not only an unfortunate stain on the CCC's record, but also indicated his imperfect grasp of the possible value of the Corps as a job retraining agency. [21]

It is also true that Fechner seemed inclined to stumble along administratively, making little attempt to strengthen his own position relative to the co-operating departments, nor to co-ordinate work more effectively. Although he occasionally demanded "more definite authority over the co-operating Federal Departments," there is little evidence to suggest that his situation worried him greatly during the first four years of the CCC. [22] In fact, the only administrative proposal which he pressed with any degree of consistency was his unsuccessful demand that the Civil Service provisions be extended to cover Corps employees and that all future employees first take a non-competitive examination. [23]

Fechner cannot be described as a New Dealer in the same sense as Harry Hopkins, Donald Richberg, or Aubrey Williams, head of the CCC's sister organization, the National Youth Administration. [24] He was never a member of the "inner circle"; his Southern, unionist background stood in stark contrast to those of the Northern, city-bred, Harvard-educated young lawyers who swarmed to Washington in early 1933 and who stayed to administer the New Deal agencies. Unlike them, Fechner had not been trained to innovate, but to conciliate; not to lead, but to suggest. Fechner's background, however, may explain in part why the CCC escaped with so little congressional criticism. Often an agency was branded because of its head. Many congressmen from the South or rural areas distrusted the "new men" who directed most of the New Deal projects. Fechner, by having an environmental rapport with critics of Administration programs, may perhaps have disarmed them and drawn criticism away from the CCC.

Moreover, Fechner must not be accounted a complete administrative failure. In fact, by refusing to stretch his authority, he probably acted more wisely than he knew. His position was circumscribed, not only by presidential policies, but also by the very size and tradition of the four government departments which co-operated in the CCC enterprise. By attempting to strengthen the Corps' central organization and arrogate more power to himself, he might have created such tensions between the federal departments and the Director's Office that the whole enterprise would have suffered acutely. For the most part, his union experience led him to let sleeping dogs lie, to patch up holes in the organization as they appeared, but not to attempt to change its structure. The Corps functioned reasonably well because of the administrative efficiency and experience of the federal departments. Generally, Fechner was content merely to perpetuate this arrangement, imperfect though it was in some respects. He saw that changes, apparently beneficial, could have unanticipated results—results harmful to the CCC and director-department relations. It is worth noting that when Fechner and his successor, McEntee, attempted some consolidation in the agency's final years, they only succeeded in disrupting existing relationships entirely, to the great detriment of the CCC. [25] Moreover, Fechner had to maintain a working relationship, not only with the co-operating departments, but also with a whole host of government officials, presidential advisers, and, of course, the President himself. In all such dealings he conducted himself with the best interests of the Corps as his guide.

Fechner and Roosevelt had a relatively harmonious relationship. The President sketched broad policy lines, and Fechner translated them into administrative detail. There was a strong common bond between them, in that they were both delighted at the success of the Corps and committed to its progress. Roosevelt always took great encouragement from Fechner's lengthy reports about camp conditions; he enjoyed discussing the progress of the work with him, and Fechner, for his part, found him a good listener. [26] Both Fechner and the President held similar views concerning the aims of the CCC. Roosevelt, too, believed that conservation work and unemployment relief were its principal objectives; thus, he implicitly rejected many of the more sophisticated roles suggested from time to time by other Administration officials. For example, he sometimes expressed dissatisfaction with the education program, thinking it to be "too costly and complicated" and likely to interfere with the more important aspects of Corps life. He would never permit working hours to be shortened to allow more teaching. Thus, he usually supported Fechner against any attempt to complicate Corps life or to increase the scope of its endeavor. [27]

It is a commonplace now to assert that the invariably amicable treatment which Roosevelt accorded his officials did not necessarily indicate the depth of his feeling toward them, yet it is probable that his regard for Fechner was indeed genuine. After Fechner's death the President called him a "faithful friend," a man who "did a difficult job admirably." [28] Indeed, in 1939 when Fechner resigned his position because of Roosevelt's administrative reorganization plan which placed the CCC under the Federal Security Agency, the President refused to accept it. He suggested that the director "take an extended leave and rest up, and enjoy it, and then come back," advice which Fechner eventually followed. [29] The regard the two men had for each other was based on mutual respect, mutual love of the land, and mutual participation in the success of the CCC.

Nevertheless, Fechner found the President extremely difficult to work with at times. His bland disregard for rules he himself had made and his penchant for proposing often conflicting policies without considering their implications and impediments greatly irritated Fechner. [30] Thus, though Roosevelt insisted that costs be kept as low as possible, he still arranged with the commander of the Salvation Army to have wood delivered from the camps to the nearest city free of charge, at a cost to the Corps which, Fechner wrote in anguish, "would be prohibitive." Fortunately, in this instance, Harry Hopkins agreed with him, and the operation was restricted to Washington, D.C. [31] The President's frequent requests that Fechner provide camps to suit deserving congressmen were other irritants. In October, 1933, for example, he asked Fechner to "get one or two camps for Congressman Algood's district" and blithely disregarded Fechner's plea that to do so would upset arrangements on camp distribution which Roosevelt had originally approved. [32] In time Fechner came to view these requests as an "occupational hazard," yet he never failed to be angered by them.

More important, however, were Roosevelt's ventures into the broad field of expansion policy, actions which have already been considered and which showed clearly the President's preference for the grand design and his lack of appreciation of the full consequences of his proposals. Fechner argued in vain that only unfortunate effects would come of the decision in 1935 to reduce enrolment from 500,000 to 300,000 by July 1, 1936. The President stood firm beside his plan, and Fechner, despite his objections, had to work out the details. Indeed, it took the congressional revolt of 1936 to change the President's mind. Still, in spite of occasional friction, Fechner and Roosevelt maintained a good working relationship. In his dealings with some of the President's advisers, the director was perhaps less fortunate.

With the departure of Louis Howe from the center of the Administration because of illness, and especially after the passage of the $4.8 billion relief measure, the man with most influence on CCC policy was Harry Hopkins, director of the WPA. His attempt to control enrolment in 1935 was thought by Fechner to be only the most blatant example of Hopkins' unwarranted interference into CCC affairs. [33] Their rivalry had begun in 1934, when they had disagreed over drought relief policy. Hopkins at this time had told Fechner that the cost structure of camp operation was too high and boasted that he could run the camps for one-third less. [34] Direct contact between the two men was less frequent after July, 1936, when the CCC was no longer provided for out of the multipurpose relief appropriation, but there is no evidence to suggest that they ever became friends. Though engaged in similar work, their differences in character, outlook, and abilities were too great to admit of any sustained personal contact.

Similarly, Fechner had his troubles with the Bureau of the Budget. Here the problem was not so much one of a personality clash as of the complete antipathy of the budget director, Lewis Douglas, to New Deal fiscal policies. Douglas opposed spending and public works; he therefore opposed the CCC and often entreated the President to dissolve the organization. "History demonstrates," he once wrote, the futility of attempting to beat depression by "huge government expenditures," and the CCC fell "naturally within the category of those things which we might like to do, but which in the public interest we cannot and should not do." [35] Because of his attitude, any scheme for the CCC which involved spending was bound to be vehemently opposed. Douglas deplored the purchase of land for reforestation purposes, for instance, and disapproved of extending the work to Alaska. To Fechner, his resignation in August, 1934, must have brought great relief; under his successor, Daniel Bell, the Bureau of the Budget proved much more co-operative. [36]

Fechner also had difficulties within the CCC organization proper, especially with those officials connected with the education program who were bitterly critical of his casual attitude toward the development of camp educational work. Matters came to a head when Fechner barred a booklet, You and Machines, published by the Office of Education, from use in the camps. The work, written by William C. Ogburn of the University of Chicago, purported to stress to the enrollees the need for them to adjust to the machine age or "machines will enslave government, family and church." [37] To Fechner, the whole message of the pamphlet was "too gloomy." It would "inculcate a philosophy of despair, not a healthy questioning attitude"; consequently he ordered its removal from all camps. [38] This action brought the wrath of such groups as the National Education Association and the American Association of University Professors upon his head, but he refused to rescind the order. [39] The booklet remained banned, and another link was forged in the chain of animosity between Fechner and the Office of Education.

Fechner's relations with the War Department and the technical services were remarkably good during the first few years of the CCC's existence, because he made no attempt to direct too closely their operations in the camps but merely kept a supervisory eye on the whole enterprise. From time to time, of course, dissension arose, most of which was settled at the Advisory Council level without causing the CCC much pain. The War Department, always jealous of its authority, seriously objected to Fechner's position on enrollee discipline. At one time Fechner had reinstated about 50 per cent of the enrollees dropped by the Army for breaches of regulations, and this action was considered so damaging to military authority that the War Department's Advisory Council representative, Colonel Major, threatened that "it will be brought to the attention of the President." The matter was settled by compromise, and a possible disruption of relations was averted. [40] Later the Army would occasionally insist that some policy considered detrimental to military interests be modified, but in general the War Department restricted its role to administering policy, not formulating or criticizing it. [41]

Fechner's relations with the secretary of agriculture and his field representatives were similarly harmonious. The Department of Agriculture had the lion's share of the camps, and the secretary, Henry Wallace, enthusiastically supported CCC work, backing Fechner completely in his protests against camp closings in 1935. [42] As long as Fechner refrained from attempting to direct specific work policy too closely, the Department of Agriculture was well satisfied.

It was with the Department of the Interior and its irascible secretary, Harold L. Ickes, that Fechner experienced the most trouble. Ickes and the director were not personally compatible; Ickes rarely found Fechner "co-operative." [43] More important, the secretary was most dissatisfied with the Corps' organization, and particularly with the subsidiary role of his department in relation to that of the Department of Agriculture. Ickes, who had himself wanted to head a Department of Conservation, was convinced that the number of camps allotted to the Department of the Interior (for instance, 497 out of a proposed 1,456 in 1936-1937) was always far too meager, [44] and he frequently badgered Fechner for more. The director usually ignored Ickes' complaints, and as Fechner had the firm backing of the President, the secretary could do little about it. [45] Ickes always regarded the Director's Office with acute disfavor, and in later years he was to advocate its abolition. [46] Other officials of the Department of the Interior were less antagonistic. For example, Conrad Wirth, Advisory Council representative, thought the "CCC was well-organized, and that the co-operation of all participating agencies and officials was excellent" because of "Director Fechner's ability and leadership." [47]

Apart from a disagreement on Negro selection policy, [48] Fechner had few differences with the Department of Labor, which acted as the chief agent for CCC selection. Though Persons, the director of CCC selection, did oppose Fechner's plan in 1935 to extend the age limit to thirty-five, most of the difficulties which the Selection Division had to surmount were encountered at the state and local level. [49] There the job was to convince local agents that the CCC was not to be regarded as a dumping ground for delinquency cases, parollees, or youths who were obviously under seventeen years. This task was attempted mainly by moral suasion. Letters were sent frequently to all agents stressing the need to select the "best available young men, and explaining that "the selection of those likely to be unadaptable to camp life and who would quickly eliminate themselves from the Corps is to be avoided as both unsuitable to such young men and as a loss to the government and the community." [50] Such warnings were usually effective enough, but in the last resort quotas could be withheld pending compliance with regulations. [51]

There were, of course, certain tensions—not of Fechner's making—between the federal departments. The troubles arose out of a long history of interdepartmental rivalry transferred to the context of the CCC. Most had to do with the overlapping of functions between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior. Probably the most significant, as it affected the CCC, was the dispute over soil erosion work. By 1935 it was apparent that there was considerable duplication of function between erosion camps working under the Forest Service and those of the Soil Conservation Service in the Department of the Interior. [52] The matter was brought to the conference table, where representatives of both departments recognized the division of responsibility but could not agree on a solution. The President intervened, strongly backed by Fechner, and the result was the transfer of the Soil Conservation Service to the Department of Agriculture, an administrative move which did nothing to improve relations between the secretary of the interior and the director of the CCC. [53] There were other minor disputes, especially the frequent complaint of the Forest Service that the Army was usurping its prerogative in the field, but such squabbles were to be expected in such an organizational amalgam. [54]

By far the biggest task in the CCC program, that of administering the camps, was, of course, the War Department's responsibility. For this purpose the country was divided into nine Corps areas, each one usually commanded by a major general or brigadier general. The Corps areas were in turn divided into districts (comprising one or more states), whose commanding officers were stationed at designated Army posts. Their chief function was to interpret the voluminous messages from Corps area headquarters to the individual camps. At each district headquarters there was usually an executive officer, an adjutant, a chaplain, and a medical officer. [55]

The final administrative unit was the camp. Here the commanding officer was most often a captain or first lieutenant in the Regular Army or Army Reserve, assisted by one or more younger officers and a varying number of enrollee leaders. The officer's tour of duty was supposedly six months, but it was almost always extended indefinitely. The commanding officer's functions included the complete charge of the camp, the personnel administration, and the welfare of the men. He was responsible for all matters of discipline and was authorized to implement a range of punishments from simple admonition for minor offenses to dishonorable discharge for more serious misdemeanors such as refusal to work, desertion, or unwillingness to abide by camp rules. [56] The second in command had a variety of duties to perform, frequently combining the functions of finance officer, motor transport officer, quartermaster, and, before the educational advisers were appointed, welfare officer. There was also a medical officer, again usually taken from the Regular Army or the Army Reserve, for every two or more camps; he was assisted by two first-aid men selected from the enrollees. [57]

Initially, the Army had undertaken its CCC role with undisguised reluctance, and most top officers never regarded the Corps with complete favor. Nevertheless, by 1937 most of them were willing to concede that the connection had its good points. The CCC proved to be a valuable training ground in command techniques for both regulars and reservists. In fact, the secretary of war thought it the most valuable experience the Army had ever had. [58] In addition, most War Department officials were realistic enough to recognize that there was simply no other agency capable of administering a project as huge and complex as the CCC and that their continued association with it was inevitable.

For many liberal Americans the Army connection was something to be regarded with the gravest suspicion, and for some it was sufficient to render the CCC completely unacceptable. There were, of course, unpleasant sides to the Army's control of the camps. Interference with education programs, suppression of radical ideas, ambivalence on the question of Negro enrollment—all these charges can validly be laid at the military's door. In addition, some of the Corps area commanders were too fond of treating the CCC as a reservoir for the Regular Army. Major General George Van Horn Moseley, for example, commander of the Fourth Corps Area, who was strongly dissatisfied with the existing non-military arrangement, consistently advocated complete militarization of the Corps. [59]

Neither the excoriations of Moseley nor the equivocation of other high-ranking Army officers, however, represented adequately the scope of military attitudes toward the CCC. Effective contact was made principally at the camp level, and here the Army's role was much more positive. By 1936 only 3 per cent of the camp commanders were Regulars; the rest were from the Reserves. The majority of these had been through civilian colleges and were often non-military in their points of view. Not a few had themselves been unemployed, and their sympathies often lay more with the enrollees than with their superior officers. As camp commanders they effectively muted the harsher aspects of Army discipline and control. [60]

The attitude of the military is one of the reasons why close comparisons cannot be drawn between the CCC and the German Labor Service as it was modified under Hitler. By 1935 enrolment in the German agency was compulsory for all young men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six, regardless of their economic situation. Its function had also broadened. No longer simply involved with relief and conservation, it was now concerned with the molding of character along Nazi lines through massive indoctrination and with preliminary military instruction. The martial caste of Hitler's camps was frankly admitted and thoroughly emphasized. [61] The CCC did not develop similar characteristics; to have done so would have meant opposing the whole course of American history. The Corps always remained a voluntary organization concerned primarily with relief and conservation, with its wider functions never clarified. Despite close military participation in its organization, it was essentially non-military in concept when it began, and, in keeping with the basic beliefs of the Army officers themselves, it always remained so.

The organization of the camp field staff of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior closely paralleled that of the War Department, though differing in its regional characteristics according to the branch or service involved. There was a project superintendent in each camp, assisted by eight to ten foremen. He was responsible for developing the work project, drawing up instructions to aid his foremen, and organizing the enrollees into small work groups. [62] The actual organization varied, depending again on the particular service. The Forest Service usually divided its camp complement into two platoons of ninety-five or ninety-six men, which were in turn divided into three sections each under a section foreman. The sections were further divided into subsections with an enrollee in charge of each, and the subsections were broken up into squads of six or seven men. [63]

The field organization of the National Parks Service was slightly different. Each camp had attached to it an experienced engineer, a technical forester, trained landscape men, and history and wildlife technicians, all of whom worked under the direction of the project supervisor. The company was divided into sections and subsections, each led by one of these men, and performing its own particular function. [64] Other services had similar organization policies. The Department of Labor had no such field service, apart from employing a selection agent in each state to co-ordinate local efforts. The bulk of the work was performed by local bodies, county and city relief and welfare agencies, whose services were unpaid. [65]

Obviously the success of such a complex field structure depended in large part on individual camp conditions. Where project superintendent and camp commander were able to co-operate, good work was done; where there was antagonism, the result was less satisfactory. Friction was no doubt often latent for reasons as numerous as there were camps, but the outstanding work record of the CCC would indicate that harmony between the Army and the technical service was probably the norm.


The Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942: A New Deal Case Study
salmond/chap4.htm — 03-Jan-2008

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