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Public Works Administration

Franklin D Roosevelt

Public Works Administration: Franklin D Roosevelt (FDR) was the 32nd American President who served in office from March 4, 1933 to April 12, 1945. The PWA agency was created as part of FDR's New Deal Programs that encompassed his strategies of Relief, Recovery and Reform to combat the problems and effects of the Great Depression.

Definition and Summary of the Public Works Administration
Summary and definition:
The Public Works Administration (PWA) was a federal government relief agency that was created by the 1933 National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Harold L. Ickes, his secretary of the interior, to administer the scheme.

 The PWA awarded construction contracts for large scale public works projects such as building bridges, dams, irrigation systems, sewers, roads and airports. The PWA projects aimed to improve the nation's infrastructure and invigorate America’s "core industries" and at the same time provide work for the unemployed, although the PWA did not directly employ workers. The PWA was liquidated in 1943 as the nation focused its attention on  war production for World War II.

What did the Public Works Administration do? The PWA was created by the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 (NIRA) that put public works programs under the control of the federal government who awarded contracts for heavy construction projects building highways, airports, bridges, dams, irrigation, water management  and sewage systems

What was the result of the Public Works Administration? The result of the PWA was to complete more than 34,000 large-scale, heavy construction projects around the country that improved the nation's infrastructure and invigorated America’s "core industries" such as steel, lumber and construction. The project also created work for many skilled, unemployed workers, although the PWA did not directly employ workers

Facts about Public Works Administration
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Public Works Administration.

The  law known as the 1933 National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) was passed on June 16, 1933 and continued the government's policy of creating federal agencies to manage the economy and bring about Industrial recovery

The NIRA provided for antitrust relief and labor provisions which were enacted by the National Recovery Administration (NRA) headed by Hugh S. Johnson.

The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) also provided for a public works program and the Public Works Administration (PWA) was created. The PWA programs were focused on improving the nation's infrastructure by building national highways, irrigation systems, reclaiming ruined land, draining swamps, electrical power generation projects and large scale projects such as the construction of tunnels and bridges

The PWA was allotted $3.3 billion to be spent on the construction of public works as a means of contributing to a revival of American industry and providing employment to many skilled workers. Its major goals were to stimulate economic development, planning and growth in the private sector ending the decline in production and investment.  The government money would be used to re-invigorate America’s "core industries" such as construction, steel, concrete, lumber and increase tool and machinery production.

Hugh S. Johnson expected to run the whole of the NRA, however, President Roosevelt decided to split it into two and placed the Public Works Administration, with its 3.3 billion dollar public works program, under the control of Harold Ickes, who he had also appointed as his Secretary of the Interior. .

The two men were completely different. Johnson was flamboyant, domineering and outspoken whereas Harold Ickes was cautious and meticulous. Ickes was also known for being scrupulously honest and obsessively careful with money.

FDR knew that he had placed the PWA in the hands of a man who would be careful with the government's funds. Ickes would personally examine every project in minute detail which led to his critics accusing him of being too slow.

The $3.3 billion was to be awarded in contracts for large scale, heavy construction public works projects via construction firms and contractors. The agency did not directly employ workers on PWA projects. This would change under a 1935 New Deal program that would be called the Works Progress Administration (WPA) which focused on public employment rather than public works 

Ickes was cautious about awarding contracts and authorized a minuscule amount of PWA money of $110 million in 1933 from the $3.3 billion that had been allocated. He came into conflict with Harry Hopkins who poured unallocated PWA funds into the Civil Works Administration (CWA) to finance light construction jobs helping unskilled and unemployed people through the winter of 1933/34. By June 1934 the PWA, under the leadership of Ickes, had distributed its total fund to 13,266 federal projects and 2,407 non-federal projects

The PWA was responsible for oversee an enormous variety and  number of public works projects including the construction of major roads, bridges, sewers,  water systems, dams and 50 airports.

The PWA was famous for its dam building projects including the completion of the Hoover Dam on March 11, 1936 on the Colorado River in Arizona. The Fort Peck Dam funded by the WPA and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was completed in 1940  providing hydroelectric power and water management along the upper Missouri River. The Grand Coulee Dam was built from 1933 to 1942 and harnessed the power of the Columbia River to turn arid land in eastern Washington into farmland

Funding from the PWA helped rebuild the tiny airfield on Long Island into LaGuardia Airport. A total of 50 airports were constructed by the PWA. The PWA's work on airports was important because the Great Depression had suppressed private investment in airport development

Between 1933 and 1939 the PWA built 35% of the nation's schools and 70% of its hospitals

The construction of the Triborough Bridge in New York City was another major achievement of the PWA. The Triborough Bridge opened on July 11, 1936 at a cost of $60.3 million. The PWA was also responsible for the electrification of the Pennsylvania Railroad from New York to Washington

The PWA agency broke down some of the long standing racial barriers in the construction industry by insisting that contractors employed African Americans

The benefits of the public works provisions of the NIRA via the PWA were completed too slowly to have much immediate effect on national recovery.

The PWA was liquidated on June 30, 1943 as the nation concentrated on war production for World War Two.

US American History
1929-1945: Depression & WW2

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