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Setting the Stage

Since its inception, the operations of the federal government have not been limited to the capital city. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gave Congress the authority to establish post offices and post roads as well as forts, arsenals, and “other needful buildings.” These other buildings soon came to include custom houses in port cities to collect duties or taxes on imported goods, marine hospitals to care for the nation’s seamen, and courthouses in the various federal judicial districts to conduct federal trials. By the mid-19th century, the increasing need for such buildings throughout the country led to the creation of a unified federal building program.  The Office of the Supervising Architect, placed under the administration of the Department of the Treasury, was responsible for designing custom houses, courthouses, post offices, and other government buildings from 1852-1939. These buildings stood as visible representations of the strength and stability of the federal government and thus the nation as a whole. Reflecting the latest architectural trends, they often served as models for non-federal buildings and inspired civic pride in towns and cities across the nation.

Many of the buildings constructed under the Office of the Supervising Architect are still in use by the federal government today. These historic buildings are part of a huge inventory of federal buildings maintained by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). GSA was established in 1949 to help manage and support the basic operations of the federal government.  GSA's Public Buildings Service (PBS) is responsible for providing workplaces for federal agencies throughout the country. This task involves constructing new buildings as well as renovating existing buildings to accommodate approximately one million federal employees in more than 2,000 communities across the nation. By restoring and continuing to use historic government buildings, GSA is ensuring the legacy of the federal building program.



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