From Watergate to Whitewater: The Public Integrity War

By Robert N. Roberts; Marion T. Doss Jr. | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
Peace in Our Time: The Rise and
Fall of Administrative Legitimacy:
1930-1960

The Great Depression and the Second World War provided advocates of an expanded role of government in American society an unprecedented opportunity to put their theories into practice. Long-term economic recovery, New Dealers argued, required aggressive federal intervention to deal with massive market failures. Private business, industry and finance appeared helpless to do anything about a national calamity. "The New Deal," wrote political scientist Peter Woll, "led directly to an acceptance of the responsibility of government for economic regulation by both political parties."1 The calamitous events of the era between 1929 and the end of the Second World War seemingly assured big government a permanent place in American society.2

New federal agencies spent billions of dollars on programs designed to pull the nation out of the Great Depression. The Second World War forced the national government to spend sums beyond anyone's wildest imagination to combat the greatest threat to the nation's survival in its history. The combination of vastly accelerated public expenditures and mountains of New Deal federal regulations created record opportunities for public officials to use their positions for personal gain and to help private interests outside of government. Yet "no scandal produced the conviction, indictment, or even the forced resignation of a member of the White House staff or any other major New Deal administrator."3 Relatively few instances of profiteering by federal officials or government contractors surfaced during or after the Second World War.4

But serious public management problems lurked below the surface. Cor-

-33-

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