Order Code RL31497
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Creation of Executive Departments:
Highlights from the Legislative
History of Modern Precedents
Updated September 8, 2003
name re dacted
Analyst in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Creation of Executive Departments:
Highlights from the Legislative History of
On November 25, 2002, President George W. Bush signed legislation to
establish a Department of Homeland Security (P.L. 107-296, 106 Stat. 2135). In the
period from World War II until the establishment of this latest department, Congress
also created or implemented major reorganizations of seven other Cabinet
departments. This report provides a brief legislative history of the establishment of
the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and for the purpose of comparison,
describes the principal elements of the legislative process that established the
Departments of Defense; Health, Education, and Welfare (now, in part, Health and
Human Services); Housing and Urban Development; Transportation; Energy;
Education; and Veterans Affairs.
The legislative process surrounding the consideration of legislation to establish
the Department of Homeland Security varied in some ways from the procedures that
were generally associated with the creation of the other modern Cabinet departments.
Responding to the need to strengthen homeland defense in the wake of the September
11 terrorist attacks, Congress passed legislation creating the department less than six
months after receiving the President’s formal legislative proposal.
Congressional consideration of legislation establishing earlier Cabinet
departments generally exhibited certain common procedural elements:
A formal presidential endorsement generally preceded congressional
The predominant committees considering the legislation were the
Government Operations (now Government Reform) Committee in
the House and the Governmental Affairs Committee in the Senate,
or their predecessors.
With few exceptions, departmental creation proposals were
considered under an open rule in the House; they were most often
brought up for Senate consideration by unanimous consent.
Votes on passage were generally by comfortable majorities.
All bills but one went to conference to resolve House-Senate
differences; except in two instances, conferees were drawn
exclusively from the reporting committees,.
Additional information on the history of creating Cabinet departments appears
in CRS Report RL31472, Departmental Organization, 1947-2003. CRS Report
RL30673, The President’s Cabinet: Evolution, Alternatives, and Proposals for
Change, analyzes the role of the Cabinet.
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Procedural Characteristics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Legislative History of the Department of Homeland Security . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Legislative History of Other Modern Cabinet Departments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Department of Defense . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Department of Health, Education, and Welfare . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Department of Housing and Urban Development . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Department of Transportation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Department of Energy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Department of Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
Department of Veterans Affairs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Proposals to Create Additional Cabinet Departments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
List of Tables
Table 1: Key Legislative Documents and Dates Related to the Creation of
Cabinet Departments, 1947 to 2002 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Creation of Executive Departments:
Highlights from the Legislative History of
On November 25, 2002, President George W. Bush signed legislation to
establish a Department of Homeland Security (P.L. 107-296, 106 Stat. 2135). This
marked the eighth time since World War II that Congress acted to create or
implement major reorganizations of Cabinet-level departments: the Department of
Defense (1947);1 the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) (1953);2
the Department of Housing and Urban Development (1965); the Department of
Transportation (1966); the Department of Energy (1977); the Department of
Education (1979); the Department of Veterans Affairs (1988); and the Department
of Homeland Security (DHS) (2002).
This report describes the principal elements of the legislative process used to
establish these executive branch entities. Legislative histories of the organic acts of
the eight Cabinet departments are set out in narrative form in the body of the report,
and in tabular format in the appendix.3
Congressional consideration of legislation establishing Cabinet departments
generally exhibited certain common procedural elements. For instance, each
successful proposal was preceded by a presidential endorsement and the submission
of draft legislation by the executive branch.
The War Department was established in 1789. The National Security Act of 1947
reorganized all military services under a single National Military Establishment, which, in
turn, was redesignated the Department of Defense in 1949.
The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare was established in 1953. The
remaining components of the department were renamed the Department of Health and
Human Services in 1979, when the Department of Education was created.
For additional information on the organization of these departments, see CRS Report
RL31472, Departmental Organization, 1947-2003. CRS Report RL30673, The President’s
Cabinet: Evolution, Alternatives, and Proposals for Change, analyzes the role of the
Cabinet. Additional information on the Department of Homeland Security can be found in
CRS Report RL31751, Homeland Security: Department Organization and Management —
Implementation Phase, and CRS Report RL31677, Filling Presidentially Appointed,
Senate-Confirmed Positions in the Department of Homeland Security.
In the Congress in which they were approved, these proposals normally were
considered by the House Committee on Government Operations (now the
Government Reform Committee) and the Senate Committee on Governmental
Affairs, or their predecessors. Exceptions to this general rule were Senate bill S. 758
in the 80th Congress, creating the National Military Establishment (later renamed the
Department of Defense), which was referred to the Senate Armed Services
Committee, and H.R. 6804 in the 95th Congress, the legislation establishing the
Department of Energy, which was referred to both the House Government
Operations, and Post Office and Civil Service Committees. The creation of a select
committee in the House to consider homeland security legislation, with multiple
committees submitting recommended amendments, was a departure from the usual
With the exception of the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs Department
bills, the House considered earlier departmental creation under provisions of an open
rule. The Defense measure was brought up by unanimous consent, and Veterans
Affairs legislation was considered under suspension of the rules. The DHS bill, in
contrast, was considered under a structured rule that specified the amendments that
could be offered.
In the Senate, all earlier departmental creation bills were brought up by
unanimous consent; the HEW reorganization joint resolution, however, was called
up by motion. In 2002, Senate homeland security legislation was also called up by
Votes in committee and on the House and Senate floor, to approve legislation
creating the various Cabinet departments, were generally by comfortable majorities.
An exception was House consideration of the Department of Education bill, which
cleared committee by a single vote and passed the House by a four-vote margin.
Finally, with the exception of the resolution approving the HEW reorganization
plan, which was passed by the House and agreed to in the Senate without
amendment, earlier Cabinet departmental creation legislation went to conference to
resolve differences between the House and Senate versions. Differences in the House
and Senate versions of Homeland Security Department legislation were resolved by
amendments between the houses.
With two exceptions, conferees were drawn from the reporting committees. In
the case of the Department of Veterans Affairs bill conference, members of the
Veterans Affairs Committees in the House and Senate joined conferees from the
House Government Operations and Senate Governmental Affairs Committees. For
the Energy Department bill conference, three members of the Energy and Natural
Resources Committee were included in the Senate conference delegation, and three
members of the Post Office and Civil Service Committee were included in the House
Legislative History of the Department of
On June 6, 2002, President Bush announced that he would send a proposal to
Congress to create a Department of Homeland Security. Such legislation had already
been introduced in both the House and Senate,4 but the President’s endorsement of
the idea added momentum to the effort. The President formally submitted his
proposal to Congress on June 18. The bill was introduced, by request,5 by Majority
Leader Richard Armey as H.R. 5005 on June 24.
On June 13, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Minority Leader Richard
Gephardt announced an agreement on the procedures to be used in the House of
Representatives for committee consideration of the Homeland Security Department
legislation. On June 19, the House adopted H.Res. 449, by voice vote, creating a
Select Committee on Homeland Security.6
Pursuant to the provisions of H.Res. 449, the President’s bill was referred to the
Select Committee on Homeland Security and to the Government Reform Committee,
and simultaneously to 11 other committees. By July 12, all of the standing
committees concerned were to report their recommendations to the select committee,
which was charged with marking up the legislation. H.R. 5005 was reported to the
House by the select committee on July 24 (H.Rept. 107-609, Pt. 1) by a 5-4 vote.
House debate on H.R. 5005 began July 25, extended late into the night, and
concluded on July 26. The bill was initially considered in the House under the
provisions of a structured rule (H.Res. 502). The resolution, which passed the House
by voice vote, provided for 90 minutes of general debate, and waived all points of
order against the bill. Twenty-seven amendments were made in order. An amendment
in the nature of a substitute recommended by the Select Committee on Homeland
Security was to be considered as original text for the purpose of amendment. The
House adopted 16 of the 27 amendments made in order, and passed the bill July 26
by a 295-132 vote.
On May 2, 2002, Sen. Joseph Lieberman introduced S. 2452, a bill to establish the
Department of National Homeland Security and the National Office for Combating
Terrorism. On the same day, an identical bill (H.R. 4660) was introduced in the House of
Representatives by Rep. Mac Thornberry.
One or more Members who wish to put a legislative proposal formally before Congress can
introduce the proposal as their own, or they can introduce it “by request,” with those words
printed on the face of the bill, after their names as sponsors. “By request” implies the
Member or Members introduced the bill out of professional courtesy, but does not
necessarily mean they are embracing its ideas.
Pursuant to H.Res. 449, the Speaker appointed nine Members to serve on the committee:
Reps. Richard Armey, Tom Delay, J.C. Watts, Deborah Pryce, Rob Portman, Nancy Pelosi,
Martin Frost, Robert Menendez, and Rosa DeLauro. All of the Members selected held
Republican or Democratic party-leadership positions.
Subsequently, on November 12, Representative Armey, the House majority
leader and chair of the Select Committee on Homeland Security, introduced a revised
version of the legislation (H.R. 5710), which included revised language concerning
public employee work rules. The bill was considered under a closed rule (H.Res.
600), and approved on a 299-121 vote.
In contrast to the select committee approach employed by the House, the Senate
chose to handle Homeland Security Department proposals within the existing
standing committee structure. On May 22, 2002, the Senate Governmental Affairs
Committee marked up, and ordered reported with amendments, S. 2452, the
National Homeland Security and Combating Terrorism Act of 2002, introduced by
the committee chair, Senator Lieberman. The bill was reported to the Senate on June
24, with a written report (S.Rept. 107-175). Following receipt of the President’s
proposal, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee revisited the legislation,
approving a substitute to S. 2452 by a 12-5 vote on July 25.
The House-passed measure was received in the Senate July 30, and on the
following day Senator Harry Reid made a motion to proceed to the consideration of
H.R. 5005. A cloture motion coupled with the motion to proceed was subsequently
withdrawn, on August 1. After the August congressional recess, the Senate began
floor consideration of the House bill, approving the motion to proceed by a vote of
94-0 on September 3. Deliberations continued throughout September, as lawmakers
wrestled with issues such as the civil service protections and collective bargaining
rights of the employees of the new department. Debate focused on an amendment
in the nature of a substitute (S.Amdt. 4471) submitted by Senator Lieberman that
embodied the text of S. 2452 as modified by the Committee on Governmental
On November 13, following the election day recess, the Senate resumed
consideration of the bill. Pending on the floor was the Lieberman substitute (S.Amdt.
4471), which was subsequently tabled on a 50-47 vote. Senator Fred Thompson
offered the text of the second House-passed bill (H.R. 5710) as a substitute
amendment (S.Amdt. 4901).
On November 19, cloture was invoked on the bill by a vote of 83-16. After
rejecting two Lieberman amendments to make certain provisions of the Thompson
substitute ineffective (S.Amdt. 4911 and S.Amdt. 4953), the Senate adopted
Thompson substitute by a vote of 73-26. The Senate then passed H.R. 5005, as
amended, by a vote of 90-9, and returned the bill to the House. The House agreed to
the Senate-amended version of the bill by unanimous consent on November 22,
clearing the measure for the President’s signature. President Bush signed the
legislation into law on November 25, 2002.
Former Governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania was nominated to be the first
secretary of the new department. The nomination was received in the Senate on
January 7, 2003, and referred to the Committee on Governmental Affairs. The
Senate confirmed the appointment January 22 by a 94-0 vote. Ridge was sworn in
January 24, and the department became operational.
Legislative History of Other Modern
Department of Defense
The National Security Act of 1947 (P.L. 253, 61 Stat. 495), modified by
amendments in 1949 (P.L. 216, 63 Stat. 578), set the organizational framework for
the Department of Defense. Proposals to coordinate the activities of the military
services were initially considered by Congress in 1944. Specific plans were put forth
in 1945 by the Army, the Navy, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In a special message
to Congress on December 19, 1945, President Harry S Truman proposed creation of
a unified Department of National Defense.
A bill based upon Truman’s recommendation was reported favorably by the
Senate Military Affairs Committee in April 1946. The Military Affairs Committee
made changes to the bill in response to the Navy’s objections related to its retention
of control over naval aviation and the Marine Corps. The Naval Affairs Committee
held hearings on the revised bill in July 1946, but objected to the concentration of
power in a single department. The Naval Affairs Committee did not report the
measure, effectively blocking further consideration of the bill.7
President Truman renewed his efforts in 1947, sending draft legislation to
Congress that had been vetted with the Army and the Navy. The President’s bill was
introduced in the House (H.R. 2319) on February 28, 1947, by Representative Clare
Hoffman, and referred to the committee he chaired, the Committee on Expenditures
in the Executive Departments (renamed the Committee on Government Operations
on July 3, 1952). Hearings on the House bill, H.R. 2319, were held between April
and July. On July 16, the Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments
reported a clean bill, H.R. 4214, incorporating amendments agreed to by the
committee (H.Rept. 80-961).
The House bill, H.R. 4214, was brought up for consideration under a
unanimous consent agreement that waived all points of order against the bill, and
allotted five hours of general debate. When the bill reached the floor on July 19,
several members of the Armed Services Committee strongly supported the bill, but
opposition came from several quarters, including members of the Appropriations,
Veterans Affairs, and Armed Services Committees.8 The House considered more
than a dozen amendments, including several successful amendments offered by
Representative W. Sterling Cole, to protect the status of the Navy. The amended bill
passed by voice vote on July 19. The House then passed the Senate bill after
substituting the text of H.R. 4214.
The Military Affairs Committee and the Naval Affairs Committee were merged into a new
Armed Services Committee by the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946.
Among those opposing the bill were Rep. Cole, a member of the Armed Services
Committee, Rep. Harry Sheppard, former chair of the Navy Appropriations Subcommittee,
and Rep. Edith Rogers, chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee.
In the Senate, S. 758 was introduced March 3, 1947, by Senator John Chandler
Gurney, chair of the Armed Services Committee. The bill’s referral to this committee
was delayed when the Senate Committee on Expenditures in the Executive
Departments (renamed the Committee on Government Operations on March 3, 1952)
also claimed jurisdiction over the bill. The dispute was resolved when President Pro
Tempore Arthur Vandenberg ruled that the proper referral was to the Armed Services
Committee. The Senate subsequently upheld this ruling on a voice vote.9
The Senate Armed Services Committee held extensive hearings over a 10-week
period. The bill was marked up in executive session May 20, 1947, and approved by
a 12-0 vote. Despite the unanimous vote, some committee members indicated they
intended to refine the bill further by offering amendments on the Senate floor. S. 758
was reported by the Armed Services Committee on June 5 (S.Rept. 80-239).
The bill was brought to the Senate floor by unanimous consent on July 7, 1947.
During two days of floor debate, arguments in favor of the bill were presented by
members of the Armed Services Committee. Among the opponents, Senator Edward
Robertson, the third-ranking majority member of the committee, voiced his concern
that the bill would concentrate too much power in the hands of the proposed
Secretary of National Security.
An amendment proposed by Senator Robert Taft, clarifying the duties of the
National Security Council, was adopted. An amendment proposed by Senator Joseph
McCarthy, prohibiting change in the status of the Marine Corps, was defeated. The
bill, as amended, passed the Senate by voice vote July 9, 1947.
Conferees were drawn from the reporting committees, seven from Armed
Services in the Senate (majority-minority ratio 4-3), and seven from Expenditures in
the Executive Departments in the House (4-3 ratio). The Senate adopted the
conference report by voice vote on July 24. The House followed suit on July 25
(H.Rept. 80-1051), and President Truman signed the bill into law on July 26 (P.L.
253, 61 Stat. 495). Pursuant to the effective date provisions in the statute, the
National Military Establishment came into being on September 18, 1947. The
nomination of James Forrestal as secretary of the department was received in the
Senate July 26, 1947, referred to the Committee on Armed Services, and approved
by the full Senate the same day by unanimous consent.
In 1949, the National Military Establishment was redesignated the Department
of Defense, and the secretary was given greater authority over the military
departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. These modifications, supported by
Secretary Forrestal, were introduced as H.R. 5632 in the House (by Representative
Dewey Short on July 13, 1949) and S. 1269 in the Senate (by Senator Millard
Tydings on March 16, 1949). Extensive hearings were held by both the House and
Senate Armed Services Committees.
For a discussion of the issues surrounding the jurisdictional dispute, and the rationale for
the referral decision, see Congressional Record, vol. 93 (Mar. 3, 1947), pp. 1599-1607.
On May 12, the Senate Armed Services Committee reported an original bill, S.
1843. The Senate passed S. 1843 on May 26, and the House approved a less
sweeping version, H.R. 5632, on July 18. Conferees resolved most of the differences
in favor of the Senate version of the legislation. The conference report was agreed
to in the Senate on July 28, and in the House on August 2 (H.Rept. 80-1142), clearing
the measure for the President’s August 10 signature (P.L. 216, 63 Stat. 578).
Department of Health, Education, and Welfare
President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed the creation of the Department of
Health, Education, and Welfare in Reorganization Plan No. 1, submitted to Congress
on March 12, 1953. The plan called for the creation of a Cabinet department that
would absorb the functions of the existing Federal Security Agency (FSA). Congress
affirmed the plan by adopting H.J.Res. 223, which the President signed into law
April 1, 1953 (P.L. 13, 67 Stat. 18).
Under procedures mandated by the Reorganization Act of 1949 (P. L.109, 63
Stat. 203)., reorganization plans were to take effect 60 days after submission unless
either house of Congress passed a resolution of disapproval. Language in H.J.Res.
223, introduced March 12, 1953, by Representative Hoffman, chair of the
Government Operations Committee, proposed to shorten this period, providing that
the plan would take effect 10 days after enactment.10 Consequently, the new
department officially came into being on April 11, 1953.
Proposals to consolidate health, education, and welfare activities had been
contemplated for several years. In 1947, the Senate Committee on Expenditures in
the Executive Departments reported a bill to reorganize FSA, but the Senate took no
further action. Similarly, in 1949 and 1950, President Harry S Truman submitted two
reorganization plans, one to create a Department of Welfare, and another to create a
Department of Health, Education, and Security. Both were disapproved by
The ultimately successful consideration of HEW’s organic act was set in motion
by President Eisenhower’s February 2, 1953 State of the Union message, advocating
creation of the department. The formal reorganization plan was sent to Congress on
March 12. On March 16, the House Government Operations Committee and the
Subcommittee on Reorganization of the Senate Committee on Government
Operations examined the proposal in joint hearings. On March 17, the House
Government Operations Committee approved H.J.Res 223, 17-12, and reported it to
the House (H.Rept. 83-166). The following day, March 18, the joint resolution was
No action was required by Congress for the Reorganization Plan to go into effect. The
joint resolution was necessary only to provide an exception to the statutorily mandated 60day effective date requirement.
On Aug. 16, 1949, a resolution disapproving Reorganization Plan No. 1, creating the
Department of Welfare, was adopted by a 60-32 vote in the Senate. On July 10, 1950, a
resolution disapproving Reorganization Plan No. 27, creating the Department of Health,
Education, and Security, was adopted in the House by a 249-71 vote.
considered under an open rule (H.Res.179), providing for two hours of general
debate, and passed the House 291-86.
The Senate Government Operations Committee considered the joint resolution
March 23, voting 12-1 to send it to the full Senate (S.Rept. 83-128). On March 30,
a motion to proceed to the consideration of the joint resolution, made by Majority
Leader Taft, was agreed to by voice vote. H.J.Res. 223 was debated briefly on the
Senate floor, then passed by voice vote. After signing the joint resolution on April
1, President Eisenhower nominated former Federal Security Agency head Oveta Culp
Hobby as the first secretary of the new department. The nomination was received in
the Senate April 2, 1953, and referred to the Committee on Finance. The Senate
unanimously confirmed the nomination on April 10, and the department officially
began operation on April 11, pursuant to the provisions of the joint resolution.
The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare was renamed the
Department of Health and Human Services on May 4, 1980, following the creation
of the new Department of Education. (Consideration of P.L. 96-88, the Department
of Education Organization Act, is detailed below).
Department of Housing and Urban Development
The Department of Housing and Urban Development was established by P.L.
89-174, 79 Stat. 667 (H.R. 6927), signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on
September 9, 1965. The legislation provided that the department was to be created
60 days following the date of enactment, or no later than November 8. The actual
implementation was postponed until January 13, 1966, following the completion of
a special study group report on the federal role in solving urban problems.
From 1961 to 1965, both President John F. Kennedy and President Johnson had
advanced proposals for the creation of a housing department. In a special message to
Congress March 2, 1965, President Johnson specifically requested the establishment
of a Department of Housing and Urban Development. As approved in 1965, the
legislation basically elevated the Housing and Home Finance Agency (established in
1947) to Cabinet-level status.
Draft legislation to establish the department was transmitted to Congress in late
March by the administration. Bills embodying the administration’s proposals were
introduced by Representative Henry Reuss on March 23, 1965 (H.R. 6654), and by
Representative Dante Fascell on March 30 (H.R. 6927). In the Senate, the
administration’s legislation was introduced by Senator Abraham Ribicoff on March
25 (S. 1599). The House Government Operations Subcommittee on Executive and
Legislative Reorganization held two days of hearings on April 5 and 6 on H.R. 6654,
H.R. 6927, and related bills.
The Government Operations Committee selected H.R. 6927 for further
consideration, voting 20-8 on May 11 to report the measure to the House (H.Rept.
89-337). On June 16, the House considered the bill under an open rule (H.Res. 419),
which provided for two hours of general debate, and passed it with amendments, by
a 217-184 vote, after rejecting a minority substitute, H.R. 8222. This Republican
alternative, introduced by Representative Florence Dwyer on June 6, proposed
establishing an Office of Urban Affairs and Community Development in the
Executive Office of the President, rather than a full Cabinet department.
The Senate Government Operations Subcommittee on Executive Reorganization
held four days of hearings on S. 1599 on March 31, April 1 and 2, and May 19. The
full committee approved the bill on July 30 by a 9-4 vote (the chair of the committee,
Senator John McClellan, voting in the negative), and reported it to the Senate August
2 (S.Rept. 89-536).
The measure was brought up on the floor by unanimous consent on August 10,
1965. The main variation between the House and Senate versions of the legislation
related to the status of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Among the
Senate-adopted amendments was a proposal by Senator John Sparkman providing for
the retention of the Federal Housing Administration. The House had rejected a
similar provision.12 The Senate subsequently passed H.R. 6927 on August 11, 57-33,
after substituting the provisions of S. 1599.
The conference committee included five members of the Senate Government
Operations Committee (3-2 ratio) and seven members of the House Government
Operations Committee (5-2 ratio). The conference report ( H.Rept. 89-844) was filed
August 11. It was agreed to by voice vote and without debate in the Senate on
August 30 and in the House on August 31. The bill became law with President
Johnson’s signature on September 9, 1965.
The nomination of Robert C. Weaver as the first secretary of the new
department was received in the Senate January 14, 1966, and referred to the
Committee on Banking and Currency. The nomination was agreed to by the Senate
without objection on January 17.
Department of Transportation
The Department of Transportation was established by P.L. 89-670, 80 Stat. 931,
(H.R. 15963), enacted October 15, 1966. The department’s first official day of
operation was April 1, 1967. As early as 1936, a Senate select committee had
recommended the creation of a transportation department. President Lyndon B.
Johnson formally proposed the creation of the department in his State of the Union
address on January 12, 1966, and sent a special message to Congress on March 2,
detailing his recommendations.
The administration bill to create a Department of Transportation (H.R. 13200)
was introduced in the House on March 2 by Representative Chet Holifield and in the
Senate (S. 3010) by Senator Warren Magnuson. Over the next three months, the
Subcommittee on Executive and Legislative Reorganization of the House
Government Operations Committee held 11 days of hearings on the proposal. During
the same time frame, nine days of hearings were conducted by the Senate Committee
on Government Operations.
Conferees adopted language retaining the Federal Housing Administration as a separate
entity in the new department.
On June 22, the House subcommittee approved H.R. 13200 and forwarded it to
the Government Operations Committee. The full committee approved the bill on
June 22 with an amendment in the nature of a substitute, and, on July 15, reported
a clean bill to the House (H.R. 15963, H.Rept. 89-1701). On August 30, the House
took up the bill under the provisions of an open rule (H.Res. 935), which provided
for four hours of general debate. The bill passed, amended, by a vote of 336-42.
In the Senate, S. 3010 was considered by the Government Operations
Committee and reported with amendments on September 27, 1966 (S.Rept. 89-1659).
On the floor, the bill was brought up for consideration by unanimous consent. After
substituting the provisions of its own bill, the Senate passed H. R. 15963 on
September 29 by a vote of 64-2.
Six conferees from the House Government Operations Committee (4-2 ratio),
and five from the Senate Government Operations Committee (4-1 ratio), met to
resolve the differences in the two versions of the bill and filed the conference report
on October 12 (H.Rept. 89-2236). On October 13, both the House and the Senate
adopted the conference report by voice vote, clearing the measure for the President.
Alan Boyd was nominated to be the department’s first secretary. The
nomination was received in the Senate January 10, 1967, referred to the Committee
on Commerce, and approved without objection in the Senate on January 12.
Department of Energy
The Department of Energy was created by P.L. 95-91, 91 Stat. 565 (S. 826),
signed by President Jimmy Carter on August 4, 1977.13 President Carter formally
proposed creation of the new department five months earlier, on March 1, 1977, in
a special message to Congress. The plan was similar in many respects to President
Gerald R. Ford’s energy reorganization proposal submitted in the final month of his
term. In 1971 and 1973, President Richard M. Nixon had also offered plans to
reorganize federal energy agencies.
Several identical House bills embodying the President’s proposal were referred
to the Government Operations Committee.14 The Legislation and National Security
Subcommittee held six days of hearings on H.R. 4263 and related bills in March and
April 1977. The subcommittee marked up H.R. 4263 and reported a clean bill, H.R.
6804, to the full committee.
The Department of Energy officially began operations on October 1, 1977. Pursuant to
sec. 901 of the Department of Energy Organization Act, President Carter issued Executive
Order 12009, prescribing that date as the effective date of the Act, as authorized by
From April 25, 1967, to January 3, 1979, House rules limited the number of cosponsors
to 25 per bill, requiring the introduction of identical bills when the number of cosponsors
exceeded 25. In addition to H.R. 4263, the Department of Energy Act was introduced as
H.R. 4466, H.R. 4806, H.R. 4807, H.R. 4808, H.R. 5299, and H.R. 5761.
The Post Office and Civil Service Committee also had asserted jurisdiction over
the legislation. On April 19, the Employee Ethics and Utilization Subcommittee held
hearings on the federal personnel ramifications of H.R. 4263, and Representative
Robert Nix, chair of the full committee, forwarded suggested amendments to the
Government Operations Committee. On May 13, in a letter to the Speaker, the Post
Office and Civil Service Committee requested and received sequential referral of the
legislation.15 H.R. 6804 was reported by Government Operations on May 16, 1977
(H.Rept. 95-346, Pt. 1), and by Post Office and Civil Service on May 24 (H.Rept. 95346, Pt. 2).
On June 2, the House considered H.R. 6804 under an open rule (H.Res. 603).16
The majority of the 34 amendments considered were noncontroversial, and were
adopted by voice votes. On the following day, June 3, the House passed H.R. 6804
by a 310-20 vote, then passed S. 826, after amending it to contain the language of
The Senate version of the proposed energy reorganization, S. 826, was
introduced March 1, 1977, by Senator Abraham Ribicoff. Twelve days of hearings
were held during March and April 1977 by the Governmental Affairs Committee
(formerly the Government Operations Committee, renamed Governmental Affairs
on February 4, 1977). An amended version of S. 826 was reported by the Committee
on Governmental Affairs on May 14 (S.Rept. 95-164).
The bill was brought up for consideration in the Senate by unanimous consent
on May 18. Seventeen amendments, making relatively minor changes, were
proposed. All but three of these were adopted by voice vote without significant
challenge. The bill, as amended, was then passed by a vote of 74-10.
Conferees were drawn from the two reporting committees in the House, 10 from
Government Operations (7-3 ratio) and three from Post Office and Civil Service (2-1
ratio). In the Senate, eight conferees came from the Committee on Governmental
Affairs (5-3 ratio) and three from the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
(1-2 ratio). Senator Henry Jackson, chair of the Committee on Energy and Natural
Resources, requested that the bill be referred to his committee after the Governmental
Affairs Committee had completed its consideration. No sequential referral was
made, but three members of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee were
appointed as conferees (in addition to Senator Jackson and Senator Lee Metcalf, who
served on both committees).
The conference report on S. 826 was agreed to on August 2 in the House by a
353-57 vote and in the Senate by a 76-14 vote (H.Rept. 95-539, S.Rept. 95-367).
President Carter signed the bill August 4, 1977, and on the same day nominated
A full chronology of the Post Office and Civil Service Committee’s efforts to obtain
sequential referral appears in H.Rept. 95-346, Pt. 2, pp. 3-4.
The resolution provided for three hours of general debate, two and one-half hours to be
equally divided and controlled by the chair and ranking minority member of the Committee
on Government Operations, and one-half hour to be equally divided and controlled by the
chair and ranking minority member of the Committee on Post Office and Civil Service.
James Schlesinger to head the new department. The nomination was referred to the
Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Schlesinger was confirmed by the
Senate without objection August 5.
Department of Education
The Department of Education Organization Act, P.L. 96-88, 93 Stat. 668
(S.210), approved October 17, 1979, consolidated education components from the
Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and other executive departments into
a single Cabinet department.17 The law also renamed the remaining components of
HEW as the Department of Health and Human Services. Federal education agencies
had existed at the subcabinet level as early as 1867, but, as federal education
programs expanded, pressure to create a separate education department grew.
In a message to Congress February 28, 1978, President Carter proposed creating
a Cabinet-level department of education. The proposal was a part of the President’s
education initiatives, which included financial aid to college-bound students as well
as increased federal financial assistance to elementary and secondary education.
In the 95th Congress, bills proposing a Department of Education were introduced
in both chambers. The Senate bill, S. 991, was introduced by Senator Abraham
Ribicoff on March 14, 1977. The bill was reported from the Governmental Affairs
Committee on August 9, 1978 (S.Rept. 95-1078), and passed the Senate 72-11 on
Representative Jack Brooks introduced H.R. 13778 on August 8, 1978. The bill
cleared the Government Operations Committee on August 25 (H.Rept. 95-1531), but
stalled on the floor. Opponents concerned about the bill’s impact on independent
local schools successfully blocked its consideration in the waning days of the 95th
In the 96th Congress, efforts to create the new department were renewed with the
introduction of S. 210 by Senator Ribicoff, chair of the Governmental Affairs
Committee, on January 24, 1979. The House bill, H.R. 2444, was introduced by
Representative Brooks, chair of the Government Operations Committee, on February
27. The House Government Operations Subcommittee on Legislation and National
Security held three days of hearings on H.R. 2444, March 26 and 27 and April 5.
The Senate bill, which was similar to the measure approved in the previous Congress,
was the subject of three days of hearings before the Senate Governmental Affairs
Committee, February 6-8.
S. 210 was reported by the Governmental Affairs Committee on March 27, with
an amendment in the nature of a substitute (S.Rept. 96-49). The bill was called up
by unanimous consent on April 5, with consideration continuing on April 9, 10, 26,
The Department of Education was officially established on May 4, 1980. Pursuant to the
provisions in sec. 601 of the Department of Education Organization Act, President Carter
issued Executive Order 12212, designating May 4, 1980, as the effective date of the Act, as
authorized by Congress.
and 30. On April 26, a time agreement was reached, specifying debate limits on all
remaining amendments.18 A controversial school-prayer amendment adopted on April
5 was subsequently stripped from the bill. Other amendments on sex education,
unionization of teachers, and affirmative action were defeated by roll-call votes.
Among the amendments adopted was one offered by Senator Dennis DeConcini to
establish an Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Affairs. The bill, as
amended, passed the Senate 72-21 on April 30.
On May 2, H.R. 2444 was ordered reported by the Government Operations
Committee by a single vote, 20-19 (H.Rept. 96-143). The bill was considered on the
floor under the provisions of an open rule (H.Res. 299), with three hours provided
for general debate. Various amendments on subjects such as busing, racial quotas,
abortion, and school prayer were agreed to. The final bill passed the House on July
11, by a four-vote margin, 210-206.
Five conferees appointed from the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee (3-2
ratio), and nine from the House Government Operations Committee (6-3 ratio)
reached an agreement that dropped most of the House provisions. The Senate adopted
the conference report (S.Rept. 96-326) on September 24 by a vote of 69-22. On
September 27, the House followed suit, agreeing to the conference report (H.Rept.
96-459) by a vote of 215-201.
The November 14, 1979 nomination of Shirley Hufstedler as secretary of the
department was referred to the Committee on Labor and Human Resources. On
November 30, the Senate confirmed Hufstedler by a vote of 81-2.
Department of Veterans Affairs
The Department of Veterans Affairs was created by P. L. 100-527, 102 Stat.
2635 (H.R. 3471), which upgraded the Veterans Administration to Cabinet status.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Act was signed by President Ronald Reagan on
October 25, 1988, and the redesignation became effective on March 15, 1989.
Proposals to make the Veterans Administration an executive department had
been introduced in the 88th through the 100th Congresses. President Reagan’s public
endorsement of the idea on November 10, 1987, on the eve of Veterans Day,
provided added momentum to the effort.
On the same day that the President made his endorsement, the House
Government Operations Committee approved H.R. 3471 to create a Veterans Affairs
Department. Introduced October 13, 1987, by the committee chair, Representative
Brooks, the measure was reported to the House on November 16 (H. Rept. 100-435),
and passed the House on November 17, under suspension of the rules, by a vote of
Related legislation, S. 533, was introduced in the Senate February 17, 1987, by
Senator Strom Thurmond, a senior minority member of both the Armed Services and
Congressional Record, vol. 125 (Apr. 26, 1979), pp. 8823-8825.
Veterans Affairs Committees. The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee held
hearings on the measure December 9, 1987, and March 15 and 28, 1988.
The Governmental Affairs Committee marked up the bill April 14 and ordered
it reported by a 9-0 vote. As reported, the bill incorporated an amendment in the
nature of a substitute offered by Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman John
Glenn, which made significant changes to the bill originally introduced by Senator
Thurmond. The bill was reported to the Senate on May 12 (S.Rept. 100-342).
On July 11, 1988, the Senate began consideration of S. 533 under the terms of
a unanimous consent agreement.19 The agreement limited debate on the bill to two
hours, and made in order specified amendments. On July 12, the Senate passed S.
533, adopting an amendment offered by Senator Alan Cranston to establish certain
positions within the Veterans Benefit Administration. Amendments to change the
effective date of the Act, and to allow limited judicial review of Veterans
Administration compensation cases, were tabled.
The Senate then took up the House bill, inserted the amended text of S. 533 as
a substitute, and passed H. R. 3471 by a vote of 84-11. Differences between the
House- and Senate-passed versions of the bill were resolved in conference. The
House conference delegation comprised eight members from the Government
Operations Committee (5-3 ratio) and three from the Veterans Affairs Committee (21 ratio). Seven Senate conferees came from the Governmental Affairs Committee
(4-3 ratio) and two from the Veterans Affairs Committee (1-1 ratio). The conference
report was agreed to by voice vote on October 6 in the House (H.Rept. 100-1036) and
October 18 in the Senate.
Edward Derwinski was nominated to be the first secretary of the new
department. The nomination was received in the Senate January 20, 1989, and
referred to the Committee on Veterans Affairs. The full Senate confirmed Derwinski
on March 2, by a vote of 94-0.
Proposals to Create Additional Cabinet Departments
Members of Congress regularly propose the establishment of new executive
departments or reorganization of existing ones. For instance, in the 107th Congress,
H.R. 2459, introduced July 7, 2001, by Representative Dennis Kucinich, sought to
create a Department of Peace. It was referred to the House Government Reform,
International Relations, Judiciary, and Education and the Workforce Committees.
In recent years, similar efforts have been mounted to establish:
a Department of National Drug Control Policy (S. 1690, 105th
Congress, introduced by Senator Lauch Faircloth, referred to the
Governmental Affairs Committee);
For the text of the unanimous consent agreement see Congressional Record, vol. 134
(June 28, 1988), p. 16176.
a Department of Trade (H.R. 2325, 104th Congress, introduced by
Representative Toby Roth, referred to the National Security,
Banking and Financial Services, International Relations,
Government Reform and Oversight, and Ways and Means
a Department of Science, Energy, and Technology (H.R. 1300, 103rd
Congress, introduced by Representative Robert Walker, referred to
the Government Operations Committee); and
a Department of Arts and Humanities (H.R. 383, 102nd Congress,
introduced by Representative Mary Rose Oakar, referred to the
Government Operations Committee).
For the most part, these initiatives have not made significant progress in terms
of formal congressional consideration. In each of the examples cited above, the bills
were referred to committee, but received no further action.
One exception to this pattern has been the persistent efforts to elevate the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to Cabinet status. Such proposals were first
introduced in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Both President William Clinton and
President George H.W. Bush advocated executive department status for EPA. In
1993, one such bill, S. 171, introduced by Senator Glenn, passed the Senate, but
received no House action. In the 107th Congress, H.R. 2438, the Department of
Environmental Protection Act, introduced July 10, 2001, by Representative
Sherwood Boehlert, was referred to the House Committee on Government Reform.
In the Senate, a similar bill, S.159, introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer, was the
subject of a July 24, 2001 hearing before the Committee on Governmental Affairs.
Table 1: Key Legislative Documents and Dates Related to the Creation of Cabinet Departments, 1947 to 2002
H.Rept. 107-609 Pt. 1 (July 24, 2002)
Select Committee on Homeland
S.Rept. 107-175 (June 24, 2002)
Nov. 22, 2002
Nov. 19, 2002
H.Rept. 100-435 (Nov. 16, 1987)
S.Rept. 100-342 (May, 12, 1988)
Oct. 6, 1988
Oct. 18, 1988
H.Rept. 96-143 (May, 14, 1979)
S.Rept. 96-49 (Mar. 27, 1979)
Sept. 27, 1979
Sept. 24, 1979
Department of Energy
H.Rept. 95-346, Pt. 1&2
Government Operations (May 16,
Post Office and Civil Service (May
S.Rept. 95-164 (May 14, 1977)
Aug. 2, 1977
Aug. 2, 1977
H.Rept. 89-1701 (July 15, 1966)
S.Rept. 89-1659 (Sept. 27, 1966)
Oct. 13, 1966
Oct. 13, 1966
H.Rept. 89-337 (May 11, 1965)
S.Rept. 89-536 (Aug. 2, 1965)
Aug. 31, 1965
Aug. 30, 1965
Department of Health,
Apr. 1, 1953
H.J. Res. 223
Mar. 12, 1953
Plan no. 1 of 1953
H.Rept. 83-166 (Mar. 17, 1953)
S.Rept. 83-128 (Mar. 23, 1953)
Department of Defense
H.Rept. 80-961 (July 16, 1947)
Expenditures in the Executive
S.Rept. 80-239 (June 5, 1947)
July 25, 1947
July 24, 1947
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