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Context of 'January 12, 1951: President Truman Signs Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950'

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Franklin D. Roosevelt ushers in a massive expansion and reorganization of the federal government under his “New Deal,” in an attempt to counter the lasting effects of the Great Depression that began in 1929. Passed by Congress, the New Deal legislation greatly expands the federal bureaucracy (see September 8, 1939), and gives sweeping new powers over domestic issues to agencies contained within the executive branch and not always subject to Congressional oversight. The Supreme Court rules that many of these actions are unconstitutional, but when Roosevelt threatens to “pack” the Court by expanding its size and then appointing sympathizers to vote his way, the Court capitulates and upholds the New Deal legislation. In 2009, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write that the Court’s decision “enabl[ed] the rise of the modern administrative state inside the executive branch.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 18]

Entity Tags: Charlie Savage, Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 8248, reorganizing the Executive Office of the President. According to the order, “There shall be within the Executive Office of the President the following principal divisions, namely: (1) The White House Office, (2) the Bureau of the Budget, (3) the National Resources Planning Board, (4) the Liaison Office for Personnel Management, (5) the Office of Government Reports, and (6) in the event of a national emergency, or threat of a national emergency, such office for emergency management as the President shall determine.” The order creates the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), a civil defense unit responsible for protecting government functions in the event of a disaster. The President’s Secretary declares that in times of national emergency, “it has always been necessary to establish administrative machinery in addition to that required for normal work of the government.… Although these management facilities need be brought into action only when an emergency or serious threat of emergency exists, they must function in an integral relationship to the regular management arms of the President.” [Executive Order 8248, 9/8/1939; New York Times, 9/10/1939; New York Times, 3/28/1941; New York Times, 4/20/1941]

Entity Tags: Office of Emergency Management, Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Harry S. Truman signs Executive Order 10186, shifting many responsibilities of the National Security Resources Board (NSRB), which oversees federal emergency planning, to a new civil defense organization, the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA). The FCDA is placed within the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), an agency established as part of the Executive Office of the President years earlier by President Franklin Roosevelt (see September 8, 1939). The purpose of the FCDA, according to President’s Truman’s order, “shall be to promote and facilitate the civil defense of the United States in cooperation with several States.” [Executive Order 10186, 12/1/1950] The Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950 will be signed into law weeks later, establishing the FCDA as an independent agency and detailing the organization’s responsibilities (see January 12, 1951)

Entity Tags: Federal Civil Defense Administration, Harry S. Truman, Office of Emergency Management

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Harry S. Truman signs Executive Order 10193, establishing the Office of Defense Mobilization (ODM) within the Executive Office of the President. The ODM is granted a wide range of emergency powers in order to mobilize civilians, industries and government agencies to defend the country during a crisis. As part of a broad “mobilization” effort, President Truman calls for increasing the number of total armed forces, increasing defense spending, and expanding the economy to increase war production. President Truman declares a national emergency and delegates many of his war powers to the head of the ODM. According to the New York Times, “President Truman proclaimed a state of emergency this morning and delegated many of his own war powers to Charles E. Wilson, the new mobilization director.” Citing the threat of “Communist imperialism,” President Truman “signed the proclamation of emergency, which unleashed scores of additional executive powers, and issued an executive order granting virtually blanket authority to Mr. Wilson to carry out all aspects of war production and economic control he deemed necessary.” According to the order, the mobilization director “shall on behalf of the president direct, control, and coordinate all mobilization activities of the executive branch of the government, including but not limited to production, procurement, manpower, stabilization, and transport activities.” [Executive Order 10193, 12/16/1950; New York Times, 12/16/1950, pp. 1; New York Times, 12/16/1950, pp. 1]

Entity Tags: Office of Defense Mobilization, Charles E. Wilson, Harry S. Truman

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Harry S. Truman signs the Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950. The Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA), established weeks earlier within the Executive Office of the President (see December 1, 1950), is transformed into an independent agency headed by a presidential appointee. The FCDA is placed in charge of providing emergency aid and assistance to local communities affected by disasters. The act also provides special emergency powers to the FCDA and the President in the event of a national crisis. According to President Truman, the act establishes a “basic framework for preparations to minimize the effects of an attack on our civilian population, and to deal with the immediate emergency conditions which such an attack would create.” According to the New York Times, “The measure directs the Federal Government to provide leadership to states and communities in developing arrangements to protect civilian life and property in the country’s 150 critical target areas against possible enemy attack by atomic bombs, biological or bacteriological warfare or any other technique.” The new civil defense plans are estimated to cost $3.1 billion. The FCDA will distribute brochures and produce television and radio segments aimed at preparing the general public for a nuclear attack. The FCDA will also stage drills and exercises to test public and government readiness for such a disaster. The agency will become infamous for encouraging civilians to “duck and cover” in the event of a nuclear strike. [Statement by the President Upon Signing the Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950, 1/12/1951; New York Times, 1/12/1951, pp. 7; Slate, 2/20/2003; Henry B. Hogue and Keith Bea, 6/1/2006, pp. 10 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Harry S. Truman, Federal Civil Defense Administration

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1953 is signed into law, restructuring the Office of Defense Mobilization (ODM) within the Executive Office of the President. The ODM, originally created by President Harry S. Truman in December of 1950 (see December 16, 1950), will incorporate the responsibilities of the National Security Resources Board (NSRB), which shares similar objectives. The purpose of the ODM is to ensure the continuation of essential government and industry functions, particularly during times of crisis. President Dwight D. Eisenhower says merging the ODM and the NSRB will “enable one Executive Office agency to exercise strong leadership in our national mobilization effort, including both current defense activities and readiness for any future national emergency.” [New York Times, 4/3/1953, pp. 1; US Congress. House. Senate., 6/12/1953]

Entity Tags: Office of Defense Mobilization, ageqixocuyu, Dwight Eisenhower

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1958 is signed into law, merging the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) and the Office of Defense Mobilization (ODM) into a single agency, the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization (OCDM). The OCDM will be responsible for ensuring the continuation of essential government and industry functions in the event of a national emergency. President Dwight D. Eisenhower submitted the reorganization plan to Congress in April 1958 with the intention of establishing a “single pattern with respect to the vesting of defense mobilization and civil defense functions.” In addition to merging the civil defense agencies, the reorganization plan transfers to the president the authorities previously delegated to the FCDA and the ODM (see December 1, 1950 and December 16, 1950). [Message of the President, 4/24/1958; US Congress. House. Senate., 7/1/1958]

Entity Tags: Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization, Federal Civil Defense Administration, Office of Defense Mobilization, Dwight Eisenhower

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President John F. Kennedy signs Executive Order 10952, calling for a nationwide fallout shelter program. According to the New York Times, “President Kennedy today put the Pentagon in charge of a greatly increased [shelter] program to protect American civilians against the effects of nuclear attack.” The New York Times reports the program will “concentrate on public and quasi-public buildings—factories, office buildings, churches—where basements and other protected areas could be easily made into shelters for large numbers of persons.” The fallout shelters are expected to cost approximately $300 million. The plan is largely the creation of Frank B. Ellis, the new director of the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization (OCDM). The White House reorganizes civil defense responsibilities within the federal government. The OCDM is renamed the Office of Emergency Planning (OEP) and several of the organization’s responsibilities are shifted to the Office of Civil Defense (OCD), a new organization established within the Department of Defense. [Executive Order 10952, 7/20/1961; New York Times, 7/21/1961, pp. 1; New York Times, 8/2/1961, pp. 1; New York Times, 8/31/1961, pp. 17]

Entity Tags: Office of Emergency Planning, Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization, Office of Civil Defense, Frank B. Ellis, John F. Kennedy

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Office of Emergency Planning, which is responsible for parts of the federal government’s civil defense and continuity of government plans, is renamed the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP). Federal agencies responsible for emergency planning have undergone several duty and title changes over the past two decades (see December 1, 1950, December 16, 1950, June 12, 1953, July 1, 1958, and July 20, 1961). The changes, the New York Times notes, have created a “tale of more names than even government civil servants care to remember.” The latest change is largely superficial and comes as the result of Public Law 90-608, which was drafted and presented to Congress by President Johnson. [New York Times, 12/14/1968, pp. 19]

Entity Tags: Office of Emergency Preparedness (1968-1973), Office of Emergency Planning, Lyndon B. Johnson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In the wake of reports exposing government plans to censor public information in the event of a crisis (see October 1970), the Nixon administration changes the title of the secretive Office of Censorship to the Wartime Information Security Program (WISP). The WISP agency is run out of the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP), which is responsible for the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program (see October 21, 1968). The number of board members within the WISP unit, originally set at 26 (see 1958), is scaled down to just eight. The agency maintains the same basic objective of censoring public information in the event of a crisis. Author Ted Galen Carpenter will later report that “virtually nothing” changes in regards to the censorship plans. In the event of a national emergency, “press censorship would go into effect and several thousand ‘executive reservists’ would report to locations across the country to censor all mail, cables, telephone calls, and other communications (including press dispatches) entering or leaving the United States.” Under the WISP program, the government would not only censor information that may help an enemy, but also any data that “might adversely affect any policy of the United States.” Time magazine will later summarize, “Press reports in 1970 exposed the existence of a standby national censor and led to the formal dissolution of the censorship unit, but its duties were discreetly reassigned to yet another part of what an internal memo refers to as the ‘shadow’ government.” [Time, 8/10/1992; Carpenter, 1995, pp. 114]

Entity Tags: Office of Censorship, Nixon administration, Wartime Information Security Program, Office of Emergency Preparedness (1968-1973)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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