The Prehistory of ACUS, Part 8: President Kennedy Calls for an Administrative Conference of the United States

This post is the eighth in a nine-part series about the historical antecedents of ACUS.

In August 1960, a few months before the presidential election, President Eisenhower asked Judge E. Barrett Prettyman to begin the task of organizing a permanent Conference on Administrative Procedure. Judge Prettyman had previously chaired the temporary Conference of 1953-1955 and the Advisory Committee of the Judicial Conference that recommended it.

By December, Judge Prettyman had assembled a 14-member working group and prepared draft by-laws.

John F. Kennedy (Library of Congress).

That same month, James Landis, submitted a “Report on Regulatory Agencies” to President-Elect John F. Kennedy. Landis had served in various public and academic roles, including Chair of the SEC and the Civil Aeronautics Board and Dean of the Harvard Law School. He was a member of the Task Force on Legal Services and Procedure of the second Hoover Commission.

Landis had also served as an advisor to Joseph Kennedy—who himself had served on both Hoover Commissions—and was a longtime friend of the family.

In his report, Landis told Kennedy of the Eisenhower Administration’s temporary Conference on Administrative Procedure and Judge Prettyman’s effort. “This work should be encouraged,” he wrote the President-Elect. He continued:

The concept of an Administrative Conference of the United States promises more to the improvement of administrative procedures and practices and to the systematization of the federal regulatory agencies than anything presently on the horizon. It could achieve all that the concept of the Office of Administrative Procedure envisaged by the Hoover Commission and endorsed by the American Bar Association hoped to accomplish, and can do so at a lesser cost and without the danger of treading on the toes of any of the agencies.

On April 13, 1961, President Kennedy issued Executive Order 10934 establishing “a conference to be known as the Administrative Conference of the United States.” The Conference consisted of a Council composed of a Chair and ten members (including Walter Gellhorn), and a general membership drawn from agencies and the public. Its purpose was “to assist the President, the Congress and the administrative agencies and executive departments in improving existing administrative procedures.”

E. Barrett Prettyman was once again selected to preside over the Conference “in the calm, warm effective manner which is natural to him.” During the period of the Conference, members engaged in 93 committee meetings and 6 plenary sessions and agreed to 30 recommendations.

In its final report, the Conference addressed ex parte communications, judicial review, the right to counsel, and other topics. It also recommended additional support for DOJ’s Office of Administrative Procedure in the “interim period,” until a permanent ACUS could be established.

Next week: Part 9, Congress Debates a Permanent ACUS.