Selected Papers of Homer Cummings, Attorney General of the United States, 1933-1939

By Homer S. Cummings; Carl Brent Swisher | Go to book overview

5. Public Lands and Indian Wards

A letter to the President, December 12, 1938:

IT HAS occurred to me that you, as the Chief Administrator as well as Chief Executive of the nation, may be interested in the attached book of instructions and procedure for one of the divisions of the Department of Justice. You know, better than any of us, both the necessity and the difficulty of attaining simple and effective administrative organization and procedure.

This volume indicates something of the whole mechanism of the Department of Justice as well as the detailed operations of one of its several divisions. Indeed, the Lands Division is an excellent subject for several reasons. It is the largest litigating unit of the Department of Justice, the functioning of which is responsible for a third of the mail which passes through our departmental record division. Its jurisdiction is more varied and extensive than that of other federal law offices and involves huge sums of money, to say nothing of values in property. More than three billion dollars in ascertainable claims alone are now pending there. Its sphere of activity includes subjects traditionally the source of severe public scandal, such as oil and gas, Indian affairs, huge grants or reservations of land or minerals, and the custody and protection of public real property interests of every kind. The obscure and technical origins of the law so administered seem peculiarly susceptible to delay and misdirection, possibly because most lawyers have little inclination to explore the mysteries of these ancient but fascinating and certainly important fields of the law.

With these factors in mind, I have taken some interest in a reorganization of our extensive functions centered in the Lands Division. Its organization took its present shape in November 1937. As proof that the system and the instructions described and embodied in this volume are not merely red tape, it is signifi-

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