It turns out to to be tough for the executive branch to get much accomplished when the cabinet is riddled with vacancies.
When Franklin Delano Roosevelt entered office in 1933, the country was in the midst of the Great Depression, which is generally dated as lasting from 1929 through the early 1940s. One commentator dates 1933, the year of Roosevelt's first Inauguration, as "the worst point in the depression, more than 15 million Americans—one-quarter of the nation’s workforce—were unemployed." Neither Herbert Hoover, Roosevelt's presidential predecessor nor the 1920s-earlier 1930s U.S. Congress had had any success in blunting the effects of the economic catastrophe, let alone getting at its causes.
Given this background, it is practically boring that the moment Roosevelt hit Washington, DC he arrived with domestic cabinet positions filled, and backups for at the ready for those who had to depart unexpectedly. Quite possibly because of his extensive experience in government, federal and state, Roosevelt realized that the executive is a branch of government, not a one-man operation - a multi-faceted wing of the government each part of which requires personpower and leadership. This all sounds obvious, I know. Obvious, that is, until one realizes that as of February 7, 2009, the President who has taken office under economic circumstances that have been compared to those under which Roosevelt took office has still not filled three major domestic/economic cabinet positions: Labor, Commerce, and Health and Human Services. Furthermore, that President, Barack Obama, apparently had no backups in two cases, Bill Richardson and Tom Daschle where the nominees' problems were on the much vaunted transition team's radar, although apparently not high enough to attract the notice one might have expected.
FDR's first 100 days (which actually date from the time Congress convened after his inauguration) gained momentum from the very quick passage of a bill he had ready to send to Congress immediately,
The Emergency Banking Act of 1933 tackled one discrete part of the bleak economic situation, in two steps:
When Congress met on March 9, F.D.R.’s Emergency Banking Act was introduced in the House with the ink still wet. There were no committee hearings, no debate, no amendments. The measure was whooped through with bipartisan support and no roll call. Most members had not read the bill, and took on faith what the leadership presented. Three hours later the bill passed the Senate (73-7), and an hour later Roosevelt added his signature. The entire legislative process, from the bill’s introduction in the House to the president’s signature, took less than six hours. (source)
- Legalized President Roosevelt's decision to declare a national banking holiday.
- Permitted the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) to appoint a conservator with powers of receivership over all national banks threatened with suspension.
But none of this could have been accomplished so quickly or effectively if Roosevelt had to do all the work of the executive branch alone. Although the number of cabinet positions in 1933 were fewer than today, Roosevelt had all his filled, by people who knew him well. Here is the starting line-up of those who filled domestic positions and were responsible for drafting and implementing the legislation of the first 100 days:
Harold L. Ickes (1933 - 1945)
Secretary of Commerce
Daniel C. Roper (1933 - 1938)
Secretary of the Treasury
William H. Woodin (1933 - 1933 [resigned due to illness]) • Henry Morgenthau Jr. (1934 - 1945)
Homer S. Cummings (1933 - 1939)
Secretary of Agriculture
Henry A. Wallace (1933 - 1940)
Secretary of Labor
Frances Perkins (1933 - 1945)
In 100 days, this group, working with Congress, accomplished more to restore Americans' confidence in the economy and the government than Herbert Hoover's administration had in the previous 4 years. Not that Hoover made NO effort. He put forth and signed into law one of the original trickle-down (to write anachronistically) pieces of economic fix-it legislation:
Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) Act of 1932
- Provided loans to banks, savings banks, building and loan associations, credit banks, industrial banks, mutual savings banks, and life insurance companies.
- Made loans to railroads, many of which could not meet their bonded indebtedness payments.