By Anita Folsom
Yes, once upon a time there was a federal agency in Washington, DC, with the optimistic title “Office of Facts and Figures.” How factual was this agency? Let’s look at its history.
The Office of Facts and Figures came into being when President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8922 on October 24, 1941, just six weeks before the United States entered World War II. FDR set up this agency under his direct control, with the high-minded purpose “of facilitating the dissemination of factual information to the citizens of the country on the progress of the defense effort and on the defense policies and activities of the Government….”
In reality, the Office of Facts and Figures (OFF) became a high-falutin’ propaganda machine for President Roosevelt. FDR chose as OFF’s director Archibald MacLeish, whose career in Washington blossomed when he and the president became friends. MacLeish had served as Librarian of Congress since 1939, even though he had no degree in library science. In MacLeish’s own words, “The President decided I wanted to be Librarian of Congress.” MacLeish was a well-known poet, but the American Library Association didn’t appreciate a novice in their field heading up the greatest library in the country.
In reality, FDR wanted someone as the head of the Library of Congress who agreed with his policies and would promote his virtues. As Librarian of Congress, Archibald MacLeish did just that. Thus, when the president also needed someone to step in and “guide” the reports coming from the Office of Facts and Figures, MacLeish seemed to be the perfect choice. OFF’s actual assignment was to show how well President Roosevelt had prepared the country for any war contingency and to remind the public of the benefits of FDR’s administration.
The Office of Facts and Figures didn’t last long. Six weeks after it began, the Japanese bombed our fleet at Pearl Harbor, and FDR’s administration came up with another bureaucracy to replace OFF: the Office of War Information (OWI). OWI’s job was to provide the American public with accurate war news and promote the war effort in movies, posters, and radio. (See Chapter 7, FDR Goes to War)
Within a few months, critics of OWI noticed that war news was anything but accurate. Also, few opportunities were missed to pump the virtues of President Roosevelt’s wartime policies. By February, 1943, Congress began an investigation of OWI’s Victory magazine, a slick full-color publication that was printed in six languages so that it could also be sent overseas to inform people in other nation’s about the wisdom of FDR’s big-government policies. Congress cut OWI’s budget and limited its activities.
How factual were the reports of OFF and OWI? Not very. Both agencies had quickly become political tools in the hands of bureaucrats who owed their jobs to FDR. Seventy years ago, Congress began its investigation of OWI in order to prevent waste and mismanagement of resources by the president’s lackeys at a time when thousands of Americans were fighting and dying overseas. When the government talks of “facts and figures,” the public should be wary. Mixing the words “government” and “facts” is an oxymoron.