Legislative Branch

Guide to Senate Records: Chapter 16

Records of the Committee on Public Works and Related Committees

Committee records discussed in this chapter:

History and Jurisdiction

16.1. The Committee on Public Works was established on January 2, 1947, by the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 (Public Law 79-601). Among the purposes of this act was the reduction of the number of standing and select committees of both Houses of Congress and one of the ways this was achieved was by combining and regrouping committee jurisdiction areas. In this instance, the legislative responsibilities of the Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds were combined with several jurisdictional areas of the Committee on Commerce and the responsibility for highways of the former Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads.

16.2. This chapter describes the records of the Committee on Environment and Public Works and certain related committees: the Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds and the Committee on Roads and Canals (whose functions were taken over by the Committee on Commerce in 1857). In 1977, the Committee on Public Works was renamed the Committee on Environment and Public Works to emphasize the increasing importance of its work in environmental matters. The Committee published a history to commemorate the 150th anniversary of its founding. Published in 1988 as Senate Document 100-45, the volume summarizes major legislative achievements relating to public works and environmental issues.

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Records of the Committee on Roads and Canals, 16th-34th Congresses (1820-1857)

16.3. The Committee on Roads and Canals was established as a standing committee on February 8, 1820, following approval of a motion of William A. Trimble of Ohio. Rufus King of New York was appointed chairman. The committee was formed to consider a memorial of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Company and resolutions of the Ohio Legislature regarding continuation of the national road west of Wheeling. At the beginning of the 19th Congress (1825-27), the Committee on Roads and Canals was missing from the list of standing committees, a victim of the developing battle between President John Quincy Adams and Vice President John C. Calhoun and allied Senators over the role of the Federal Government concerning internal improvements. Benjamin Ruggles of Ohio submitted a motion to add the committee; in response, John Holmes of Maine argued that a select committee was adequate unless the Senate agreed not only that the Government had the power to construct roads and canals, but also that it was expedient for the Government to do so. Ruggles' motion was defeated and on December 13, 1825, a select committee on roads and canals was established, and was thereafter established for both the 20th and 21st Congresses. Finally, the climate in the Senate with respect to internal improvements changed sufficiently to reestablish the Committee on Roads and Canals as a standing committee on December 7, 1830. By the mid-1850's, interest in canals had waned, and after the close of the 34th Congress (1855-57), legislative matters pertaining to roads and canals were referred to the Committee on Commerce.

16.4. The records of the committee and select committee (4 ft.) consist of committee reports and papers, 1825-47 (1 ft.), and petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures referred to the committee, 1820-57 (3 ft.). The committee reports and papers consist of original and/or printed reports on bills and petitions referred to the committee, and related correspondence, maps, and other records. Many of the petitions and memorials are also accompanied by supporting documentation.

16.5. Subjects of the records include construction and location of the national or Cumberland road (16A-G14, 19A-D15, 20A-G18, 21A-D16, 21A-G21, 23A-G17, 24A-G17, 27A-G21, 28A-D16, 28A-G20) and other roads (19A-G18, 22A-G18.1); construction of canals in Florida (17A-G13, 19A-D15, 19A-G18), Maine (19A-G18), and Alabama (25A-G20), and around rapids and falls such as the Falls of St. Mary's, also known as Sault Ste. Marie (28A-D16, 28A-G20, 29A-G22) and the Falls of the Ohio (22A-G18, 23A-D17, 27A-G21, 28A-G20.1, 29A-G22, 32A-H22, 34A-H22). The records for 1833-35 include a watercolor map of the Falls of the Ohio (23A-D17). The committee also considered other improvements to navigation (19A-D15, 19A-G18, 25A-D18), and construction of railroads, particularly a transcontinental railroad and accompanying telegraph line (29A-G22, 30A-H19, 31A-H21, 32A-H22, 33A-H22). There are many records relating to requests from canal and railroad companies for financial assistance in the form of stock subscriptions and land grants. Among these were the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Company (17A-G13, 20A-G18), the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company (20A-G18, 22A-G18.2, 23A-G17, 25A-D18, 25A-G20, 26A-D17, 27A-G21), the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (20A-G18, 21A-D16, 22A-G18.2), the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company (20A-G18), and the Louisville and Portland Canal Company (21A-D16, 23A-G17, 24A-D17, 26A-D17). Claims of contractors involved in internal improvement projects are also documented in the records; a file on the petition of Mary Perrine, the widow of a contractor for the Louisville and Portland Canal, not only documents her claim but also contains a wealth of detail on the construction of the canal (33A-H22).

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Records of the Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds, 25th-79th Congresses (1838-1946)

16.6. Legislation and other matters relating to public buildings and grounds, especially concerning the accommodations afforded the Senate in the north wing of the Capitol and the appropriations to secure these accommodations, were referred to a number of select committees during the first 50 years of the Senate. The few records of these select committees that have survived are found among the committee reports and papers and the petitions and memorials of various select committees; the only exception to this is a petition from artist Julia Plantou asking Congress to purchase her painting of the signing of the Treaty of Ghent (16A-G12). In the 2d session of the 25th Congress (1837), a joint committee was established but was replaced less than 1 year later, on December 6, 1838, by a standing Committee on Public Buildings, which continued until its termination at the end of the 79th Congress. Under Senate Rule XXV, as approved in the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, jurisdiction over public buildings and grounds was given to the newly created Committee on Public Works.

16.7. The records of the Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds (15 ft.) consist of committee reports and papers, 1838 (1/4 in.); committee papers, 1847-1946 with gaps (10 ft.); petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures that were referred to the committee, 1839-1946 with gaps (5 ft.); minutes, 1935-46 (1 vol.,1/2 in.); and legislative dockets, 1935-38 (3 vols., 3 in.). There is only one original report among the committee records. The committee papers, from the 30th through the 57th Congresses (1847-1903), contain legislative case files on bills and resolutions referred to it and such accompanying papers as correspondence, building plans, and land plats. The records also include a small number of original transcripts of hearings, Presidential messages, executive communications, and copies of minutes of committee meetings. Some petitions and memorials also have supporting papers. For many Congresses, the amount of records in either the committee papers or petitions and memorials series may be negligible. The bound records of the committee consist of a minute book, which contains summaries of committee meetings for the 74th-79th Congresses (1935-47), and three legislative docket books, one for the 74th Congress and two for the 75th Congress.

Records of the Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds, 25th-56th Congresses (1838-1901)

16.8. Nineteenth century records of the committee focus on improvements to and expansion of the Capitol and the Capitol Grounds; construction of Federal office buildings for use as post offices, customshouses, courthouses, hospitals, and offices throughout the country and in Washington, DC; the acquisition of land for and the construction of memorials; and in a few instances, the acquisition of statuary.

16.9. Among the earliest records of the committee are a small number of petitions from laborers on Federal buildings and employees on the Capitol Grounds. By the late 1840's, however, the emphasis of the records is on more substantive matters. One of the primary purposes of the committee was to investigate the need for legislation to expand and modernize the Capitol. Among the subjects of the records are improvements in the heating and ventilating (29A-G18, 30A-E9, 42A-E18, 42A-H23, 48A-E20, 49A-E24) and lighting (35A-H16, 49A-E24) of the Capitol; enlargement of the Library of Congress, which was in the Capitol (37A-E11); and acquisition of land for the Senate stable (48A-E20). Expansion of the Capitol led to at least one claim for damages; the Israel AME Church on Capitol Hill petitioned the Senate for compensation, submitting a survey of their property and evidence supporting their claim (42A-H23). Also among the records relating to the Capitol and Capitol Grounds are reports (3OA-E9) and memorials (31A-H18) of Architect of the Capitol Robert Mills and letters from landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted concerning his proposed redesign of the Capitol Gardens (43A-E17).

16.10. The committee was also concerned with the construction of other Federal buildings both in and out of Washington. Beginning with the 32d Congress (1851-1853), there are legislative case files for such projects, arranged for each Congress by type of bill and thereunder by number. Many of these are for local post offices, court houses, and other Federal buildings, from those in the largest cities to those in the most isolated outposts. Among the latter, for example, are files relating to four bills to authorize money for a small post office in Mammoth Hot Springs, WY, in Yellowstone National Park (51A-F26, 52A-F23, 53A-F28, 55A-F26) and one for a Federal building in Helena, MT (52A-F23), which includes a detailed justification of the building and a description of the community in the early 1890's. There are also records concerning construction of the Patent Office Building (now the National Portrait Gallery and Museum of American Art), including lists of workers and copies of payrolls (32A-E13); papers relating to a proposed new Presidential mansion on land north of the Capitol (40A-E12); papers explaining Mrs. Benjamin Harrison's plans for enlargement and extension of the White House (51A-F26); and numerous legislative case files for bills proposing construction of a hall of records for the archives of executive agencies (49A-E24, 53A-F28, 56A-F32).

16.11. The records include correspondence between the committee and the Joint Committee for the Completion of the Washington Monument (45A-E19); a petition supporting establishment of a national park at Valley Forge, PA (51A-J25); and petitions (44A-H20, 52A-J23, 56A-J34) and a legislative case file (52A-F23) relating to purchase of land at Yorktown, VA, for a Revolutionary War memorial. The committee was also involved in the selection of a sculptor to create a statue of Adm. David G. Farragut for a square in Washington. The records include several letters from Wilson MacDonald and other sculptors contending for the Farragut statue commission (42A-E18, 43A-E17).

Records of the Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds, 57th-79th Congresses (1901-1946)

16.12. Twentieth century records of the committee differ from earlier files because the legislative case files are no longer filed with the committee papers. As a consequence of this change in the Senate's filing practice, the committee papers consist largely of miscellaneous correspondence and executive communications and Presidential messages that were usually printed. There are, however, a few exceptions.

16.13. For the 57th Congress (1901-03), there are files relating to bills proposing to authorize the construction of Federal buildings in various cities. These files are arranged alphabetically by name of city, but are in other respects similar to the legislative case files for earlier Congresses. Each project was originally proposed in a separate Senate bill; however, the bill that passed, H.R. 14018, included all of the approved building projects (57A-F27).

16.14. The committee papers also include the records of an investigation in 1919, under the direction of committee chairman Bert M. Fernald of Maine, of alleged mismanagement in the construction and maintenance of public buildings by the United States Housing Corporation (USHC). These records include correspondence, copies of contracts, tabulations and notes, copies of USHC records, and printer's copies of hearing transcripts and of the committee report (66A-F20).

16.15. The committee papers include very small subject files, including copies of agenda and minutes of some committee meetings for the years 1933-44, covering the chairmanships of Thomas T. (Tom) Connally of Texas, 1933-40, (73A-F23, 74A-F21.1, 75A-F21, 76A-F21), and Francis T. Maloney of Connecticut, 1941-44 (77A-F26, 78A-F26). There is also a single executive session transcript, June 19, 1944.

16.16. Very few petitions and memorials were referred to the committee after 1900. Over a third of these favored prohibition of sales of intoxicating beverages in Federal buildings (57A-J60, 59A-J99, 60A-J121), and a few supported construction of a national archives building (62A-J78, 64A-J71). The remainder concerned a variety of other subjects.

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Records of the Committee on Public Works, 80th-90th Congresses (1947-1968)

16.17. The Committee on Public Works was established by a provision of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, which greatly reduced the number of standing and select committees and in other respects reformed the committee system in both houses. The jurisdiction of the Public Works Committee was built on that of the Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds, and included these legislative subjects: public buildings and occupied or improved grounds of the United States generally; measures relating to the purchase of sites and construction of post offices, customshouses, Federal courthouses, and Government buildings within the District of Columbia; measures relating to the Capitol Building and the Senate and House Office Buildings; measures relating to the buildings and grounds of the Botanic Gardens, Library of Congress, and Smithsonian Institution; and public reservations and parks within the District of Columbia, including Rock Creek Park and the National Zoological Park. To these areas of responsibility were added certain areas of jurisdiction formerly handled by the Committee on Commerce. These included flood control and improvement of rivers and harbors, public works for the benefit of navigation, bridges, dams, water power projects, and prevention of oil and other pollution of navigable waters. From the Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads, which itself was combined into a new committee with expanded responsibility, the Public Works Committee acquired jurisdiction over the construction and maintenance of Federal highways.

16.18. Among the records of the Committee on Public Works (105 ft.), the most comprehensive documentation of its activities is found in the legislative case files, 1947-68 (62 ft.). The committee maintained two separate arrangements of case files. One, arranged for each Congress by bill and resolution number, 1947-68, contains copies of bills and resolutions, official and public correspondence, and other records of legislation referred to the committee. These files may also contain amendments; records of conference committee deliberations; staff memoranda; committee reports, prints, and hearings; copies of hearing transcripts, including a few of executive sessions; executive communications proposing legislation; maps; and photographs. Most of the files prior to the 89th Congress (1965-66) are small and contain few of these record types. Files on such controversial subjects as the control of billboard advertising along interstate highways (S. 963, 85th Cong.), are larger because they contain more correspondence. In general, legislation referred to the committee after 1964 appears to be documented more thoroughly.

16.19. The second group of legislative case files, arranged by Congress and thereunder by docket number, covers all Congresses except the 87th and 88th (1961-64). This segment consists largely of printed bills, reports, hearings, and committee prints, but in some instances includes related correspondence, maps, and an unprinted transcript of a hearing. Also among these records are copies of legislative calendars, which contain docket numbers, and a few legislative case files of bills referred to the Committee on Commerce and the Committee on Public Roads in the 79th Congress.

16.20. Also referred to the committee were Presidential messages and executive communications, 1947-68 (10 ft.), arranged for each Congress by type of record and thereunder chronologically by date of referral. The records include annual and other periodic reports of the Tennessee Valley Authority, various power commissions, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Public Roads, and agencies concerned with public buildings and parks. Among these for the 81st Congress is a report and related papers concerning the Smithsonian Institution's proposed national air museum in 1949. For the 90th Congress, the number of messages, communications, and reports referred to the committee increased substantially.

16.21. Petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures referred to the committee, 1947-68 (2 ft.), are also among the records of the full committee. These concern various subjects and are arranged for each Congress chronologically by date referred.

16.22. Nomination files, 1947-68 (1 ft.), contain minimal information on executive appointees to such bodies as the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Mississippi River Commission, the California Debris Commission, the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, and various regional commissions. Also referred to the committee are nominations for Administrators of the Federal Highway Administration and the National Highway Safety Administration in the Department of Transportation and of the Economic Development Administration in the Department of Commerce. The records are arranged by Congress, thereunder alphabetically by nominee, and include nomination reference and report forms, brief biographies, and, in some instances, printed hearings. Nomination files for the 90th Congress are filed together with similar records for the 91st-93d Congresses.

16.23. The records of the full committee also include watershed project files, 1957-68 (10 ft.), comprised of survey reports, work plans, and related correspondence, and reports of State estimates of costs under the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, 1966-67 (16 ft.). The estimates were sent to the committee by the Bureau of Public Roads. Both series are arranged by Congress and thereunder by State.

Records of Subcommittees

16.24. Documentation of subcommittee activities can often be found in the legislative case files of the full committee. However, the National Archives has separate series of records for two subcommittees.

Subcommittee on Air and Water Pollution

16.25. The records, 1965 (10 in.), consist of correspondence, staff memoranda, and reference material accumulated in connection with public hearings held in various cities, June 2-24, 1965. The records are arranged by city and thereunder by subject.

Subcommittee on Roads

16.26. The records, 1967-70 (3 ft.), consist of correspondence, memoranda, reports, notes, and reference material. The records include papers of the chairman, Jennings Randolph of West Virginia, and the chief clerk and staff director, Richard B. Royce. Some of the files are arranged by subject and the remainder by State, except for the West Virginia file, which is included in the subject file. The primary subject of the records is the Federal interstate highway program.

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Records of the Committee on Public Works, 91st-94th Congresses (1969-1976)
Records of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, 95th Congress-onward (1977- )

16.27. The three decades following the establishment of the Committee on Public Works in 1947 saw a dramatic increase in the role of the Government in the regulation of environmental pollution in air and water from new industrial processes and energy sources and in promotion of regional economic development, which expanded the jurisdiction of the committee. In 1977, another legislative reorganization noted these changes and renamed the committee the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

16.28. The records of these committees include legislative case files; executive communications, petitions; resolutions of State legislatures; nomination files; watershed projects reports; and records (for certain Congresses) relating to legislation on safe drinking water, regulatory reform and hazardous waste, disaster relief, and nuclear power. In addition to the Subcommittee on Roads, the following subcommittees also have transferred records to the National Archives: Environmental Pollution (61 ft.), Nuclear Regulation (14 ft.), and Water Resources (10 ft.).

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Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to the Records of the United States Senate at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition (Doct. No. 100-42). By Robert W. Coren, Mary Rephlo, David Kepley, and Charles South. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.

This Web version is updated from time to time to include records processed since 1989.

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