War Organization of the Government

September 23, 1941

Report Outline
Effort to unify defense organization
Emergency Organization in World War
Evolution of Defense Set-Up Since 1939

Effort to unify defense organization

Creationd of the Supply Priorities and Allocations Board late in August represented the beginning of the third major stage in the development of governmental defense machinery since the outbreak of the war in Europe in the autumn of 1939. In the first stage, limited power to coordinate most of the emergency defense activities of the government was vested in the Advisory Commission to the Council of National Defense. As the size of the defense program increased, the second stage began with the gradual transfer of the functions of the Advisory Commission to new agencies, established to supervise separate phases of the defense effort. Thus the Office of Production Management took over the job of supervising armament and basic industrial production, the Office of Price Administration and Civilian Supply undertook to minimize the impact of the huge arms program on the country's domestic economy, and the Office of Civilian Defense undertook to coordinate activities for the protection of civilian life and property. By May, 1941, a year after its establishment, the Advisory Commission had ceased to exist. The dozen or more separate agencies which replaced it, however, were subject to no overall authority except the President himself. Establishment of the new S. P. A. B. signified an effort to integrate the activities of some of the more important defense agencies by centralizing the function of determining basic policy in a board made up of the heads of these agencies.

Whether the new arrangement will bring about the unity of direction needed for efficient prosecution of the defense effort remains to be seen. On September 4, a week after the reorganization had been announced, Bernard M. Baruch, chairman of the War Industries Board in 1918, described it as “a faltering step forward.” His objection to the S. P. A. B. was that “no one has final authority.” After a conference the following day with Donald M. Nelson, executive director of the S. P. A. B., Baruch said: “If he [Nelson] is permitted to proceed with full backing, and moves in the right direction, he might furnish in himself the solution of the need for one-man control of defense under the President.”

Action taken by the S. P. A. B. during the first weeks of its existence indicated that the board would be able to bring about a greater degree of over-all coordination than had previously been attained. The S. P. A. B. has ordered Nelson to undertake a survey of the country's total requirements of materials, labor, and machinery, including requirements for military defense, civilian supply, lend-lease aid to foreign countries, and economic warfare. Announcing this move, September 10, Vice President Wallace, chairman of the board, said: “In calling for this long-range all-inclusive survey of the nation's total needs under the defense program, S. P. A. B. followed the view that there must be one authority to develop the official requirement figures on both levels[i. e., civilian and military needs], holding that there would be confusion otherwise, because the several parts of the requirement picture must be developed by separate agencies.” The S. P. A. B. has already made a number of important decisions on priorities. Through the exercise of the powers it holds in this field the board is likely to develop into the central executive body of the entire defense organization.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
U.S. Preparation for World War II
Aug. 22, 1947  Industrial Mobilization
Sep. 23, 1941  War Organization of the Government
Aug. 02, 1941  Daylight Saving
Jul. 24, 1941  Conservation of Strategic Materials
Jun. 27, 1941  Atlantic Islands and American Defense
May 27, 1941  Production of War Materials
May 21, 1941  Rearmament and Work Relief
Mar. 15, 1941  War Aims
Feb. 20, 1941  War Orders and Decentralization
Feb. 05, 1941  Regulation of Priorities
Jun. 03, 1940  Methods of Financing War
Dec. 27, 1938  American Rearmament
Feb. 20, 1937  War Profits and Industrial Mobilization
Defense Personnel
General Defense and National Security