Washington, D.C., during the Roosevelt Years
Although the City of Washington, D.C., grew throughout the 1800s and early 1900s, the federal government did not expand greatly in size and scope. The election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, however, put the government on a new trajectory.
Roosevelt’s New Deal legislative program not only reshaped the role of government in the lives of Americans but also reshaped the federal bureaucracy and the city in which it was based. The buildup during World War II caused even further federal expansion.
A review of the many agencies that collectively constitute today’s federal bureaucracy underlines the far-reaching legacy of the New Deal. The Social Security Administration, Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Federal Housing Administration, and National Labor Relations Board are but a few of the government entities that were first established as part of the New Deal expansion.
Other programs — the Civilian Conservation Corps, Public Works Administration, and Works Progress Administration — were only temporary but also helped establish a new precedent for the size and reach of the federal government.
The creation of so many new departments and agencies led to an obvious problem: The city didn’t have enough office space for everyone. Laws preventing skyscrapers in Washington, D.C., magnified the issue.
One result of this office space shortage was the construction of the Pentagon across the Potomac in Arlington to house the Department of War (later Defense). With a powerful display of American competitive spirit, the government ended up constructing the largest office building in the world, which the Pentagon remains to this day.
Ironically, construction of this symbol of U.S. military might began on September 11, 1941 — 60 years to the day before terrorists flew a plane into the Pentagon in an effort to destroy that symbol.