Academic journal article The Historian

"I Have Never Cut His Budget and I Never Expect To": The House Appropriations Committee's Role in Increasing the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Cold War Power

Academic journal article The Historian

"I Have Never Cut His Budget and I Never Expect To": The House Appropriations Committee's Role in Increasing the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Cold War Power

Article excerpt

IN JULY 1971, officials of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) faced an unexpected challenge. Assistant Director Thomas Bishop received a memo from Milton Jones, who served as the head of the Crime Records Division, the Bureau's liaison to Congress, stating that the Congressional Quarterly would publish an article suggesting that "the FBI always receives its full appropriation and that, in part, this results from the House Appropriations Committee's use of FBI investigators." (1) Some members of the committee saw no problem using Bureau agents for congressional investigations. John Rooney (1903-75), a Democrat from New York who was chairman of the House subcommittee which examined the FBI's budget, argued that the FBI's investigatory skills were "the best in the world. Why shouldn't we use them? They're the greatest." (2) Others, while lauding the Bureau agents' professionalism, believed the committee should have its own investigators because they would be more thorough. (3) On the other hand, Hale Boggs (1914-72), the Democratic majority leader in the House, felt "FBI agents should not be used by the committee. There is a very fundamental question of conflict of interest. The police branch is taking on functions of the representatives of the people. I think it's a bad practice and I hope that it will stop." (4) Importantly, however, Boggs' spokesman told Congressional Quarterly that Boggs was "not planning to take action of any kind on the matter." (5) The problem the committee faced, according to one member, was that the feeling was "that if you do not give the FBI their budget request, you're in bed with Communism." (6) Bureau officials certainly realized they held this power, partly explaining their willingness to establish a long-standing relationship with the committee.

Ultimately, Bureau officials decided against challenging the Congressional Quarterly article because "the conclusions to be drawn are based essentially on opinions rather than facts" and any further mention from officials would "give them the opportunity to further exploit the line they have taken in this article." (7) In order to fully understand the growth of the FBI during the Cold War era, its ability to finesse larger appropriations over time must be understood. Some have explained the expansion of FBI power as a function of the growing power of the executive branch as the key to the increasing scope of Bureau activities. Leading FBI scholar Athan Theoharis, for example, argued that the Cold War created an environment where a deference to the executive branch and toleration of secrecy was required to act quickly in the name of "national security." (8) Similarly, historian Douglas Charles pinned the ability of Bureau chief J. Edgar Hoover (18951972) to navigate the liberal Franklin D. Roosevelt presidency on his ability to offer the president the political intelligence he desired while ingratiating himself into presidential plans. (9) This focus on the FBI's relationship with the executive branch overlooks one important aspect behind the FBI's growing influence and power: its relationship with the legislative branch and, in particular, its dealings with the House Appropriations Committee.

During the Cold War, no Congressional committee existed to oversee this bureau. Only the House and Senate appropriations committees could realistically have conducted the necessary checks of the FBI. Annual appropriations hearings would have been ideal to look closely into Bureau activities and funds withheld if improper activities were discovered. Instead, some congressional committees, including the House Appropriations Committee, relied upon Bureau officials for information to further their own goals, ranging from raising the committee's profile through anti-communist investigations to creating a new consensus that shifted away from Progressive Era concerns of states' rights to an increasing emphasis on national security. In the case of the House Appropriations Committee, Bureau agents proved useful investigators for the increasingly complex budget requests made by government bodies. …

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