In 1939, President Roosevelt sought to reorganize certain Federal agencies and on July 1 signed the bill entitled President’s Reorganization Plan No. II that authorized him to do so. One crucial aspect of the changes he sought to implement was to bring into the Executive Office of the President the power to control “information concerning the purposes and activities of executive departments and agencies.” That very day he created the Office of Government Reports (OGR) and named as OGR’s director his friend and confidant, Lowell Mellett, who as former editor of the Washington Daily News had media experience. Mellet had been serving as director of the National Emergency Council, which was involved in public reporting and information dissemination. While the duties of the OGR obstensively included central press-clipping services, public inquiry offices, public-opinion reporting, and the reporting on Washington-field administrative problems, it was also designed to manage and even institutionalize activities that would mold public opinion. Opponents considered establishing OGR as tantamount to setting up a propaganda ministry.
Despite criticism, on September 8, 1939, FDR issued an executive order “There shall be within the Executive Office of the President the following principal divisions, namely: (1) The White House Office, (2) the Office of Management and Budget, (3) the National Resources Planning Board, (4) the Office of Government Reports…” The work of the new office commenced though Congress would not vote a permanent appropriation for the OGR until 1941.
Typed Memorandum Signed on White House letterhead, Washington, July 1, 1939, appointing Mellet head of the OGR. “The National Emergency Council having been abolished as of June 30, 1939, in accordance with the provisions of reorganization plan II, approved by Public Resolution No. 20, 76th Congress…and its functions…transferred to the Executive Office of the President, you are hereby appointed Director of the Office of Government Reports, a part of the Executive Office of the President. In the performance of such duties and functions you are hereby authorized to make expenditures in accordance with the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1939 and to appoint such personnel as may be necessary and to perform such other supervisory duties as are necessary to carry on the functions of the Office of Government Reports.” The handwriting filling in the OGR name is Roosevelt’s.
Also included to a Typed Memorandum Signed “F.D.R.” on White House letterhead, Washington, no date but late 1930s, to Mellett as National Emergency Council head, asking “Can you obtain any information from your State Directors concerning the questions raised by the Acting Director of the Budget?”
Originally obtained from Mellett’s daughter; they had never before been offered for sale.
The activities of the OGR were greatly expanded after the attack on Pearl Harbor, but in 1942 it was merged into the Office of War Information. At that point Mellett was appointed head of the Bureau of Motion Pictures within that new office and sent to Hollywood. There he would serve as the liaison officer of the Federal Government with the motion-picture industry, and clear films, plan government motion-picture production and distribution, and consult with and advise motion-picture producers of ways and means in which they could most usefully serve the war effort. He was, in effect, the motion picture kingpin throughout the war. Mellett also holds the odd distinction of participating in the first private Presidential conversation ever to be recorded on an Oval Office taping system – a 1940 discussion of Roosevelt’s re-election campaign.