The Secretary of the Interior (Ickes) to President Roosevelt

My Dear Mr. President: Early in April you wrote to me regarding the Treaty with Mexico8 and attached to your note Secretary Hull’s letter of March 18 addressed to you. Over a period of several weeks in April, representatives of the Department of State and this Department conferred regarding the jurisdiction and functions of the two Departments in connection with the Treaty.

At the most recent conference on April 25, with the Department of State group headed by Mr. Laurence Duggan, and this Department’s group by Under Secretary Fortas, informal agreement was reached on the mechanics for putting into legal effect an agreement on jurisdiction and functions. The mechanics agreed upon briefly are as follows:

A memorandum would be signed jointly by the Secretary of State and me which would set forth our agreement to a detailed specification of the functions which should be Interior’s and those which should be State’s. The agreement would provide that the functions specified [Page 1373] for agencies of this Department should be performed by this. Department “until and: unless hereafter provided otherwise by the Congress of the United States, and thereafter as otherwise provided by the Congress.” If you approved, the agreement would “be transmitted by you to the Senate with your recommendation that the resolution of advice and consent incorporate the agreement; and your letter and the attached agreement would be printed as a Senate Document. The Senate resolution would contain language referring to the Senate Document and qualifying the Senate’s advice and consent by a provision that “until and unless hereafter provided otherwise by the Congress of the United States, and thereafter as otherwise provided by the Congress” the functions specified in the Document for performance by agencies of the Department of the Interior should be so performed.

On the substance of jurisdiction and functions, the major question remaining unsettled appears to be whether the Department of State or this Department shall perform such engineering planning, design and construction work as may be required by the Treaty for performance by the United States in connection with the dams and other works along the international section of the Rio Grande and in connection with two possible canals in the vicinity of the international border on the Colorado River. I do not want this Department to conduct relations with Mexico or to take the place of the United States Section of the International Commission in its proper function of determining where international dams on the Rio Grande shall be built and the extent of the participation of each of the two countries in the building of them. However, if the Commission should decide, for example, that a given dam shall be built by the United States and that another shall be built by Mexico, I firmly believe that the engineering work on the dam to be built by the United States should be performed by the Bureau of Reclamation. In brief, I am against duplication of engineering organization and against the continuation of such engineering organization as the present United States Commissioner of the International Boundary Commission has. I believe that the Bureau of Reclamation should furnish the engineering service required of the United States under this Treaty. I just as firmly believe that that engineering service supplied by the Bureau of Reclamation should be subject to such determinations by the Department of State as may be necessary to assure that it will be performed in conformance with the provisions of the Treaty. It is my impression that the Department of State has no desire to build up an engineering organization and that it sees the logic and good sense of my position. I am advised, however, that the United States Commissioner, Mr. Lawson, objects, and apparently would like to continue and expand his engineering and construction organization for the very substantial construction work along the boundary that is required by the Treaty.

There are some other matters remaining unsettled, including protection [Page 1374] of the Big Bend National Park and some of the details regarding stream gaging, the regular function of the United States Geological Survey in this Department. I believe that these other matters can readily be settled.

On April 26, I am informed, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations indefinitely postponed the hearings on the Treaty. I think that it would be unfortunate if the postponement of the hearings would cause postponement of agreement between the two Departments regarding their respective jurisdictions and functions. We are ready and willing to resume conferences with the Department of State and I have every expectation that such an agreement between the two Departments can be reached promptly. I have designated Under Secretary Fortas to head this Department’s representatives in further conferences.

On the essence of the Treaty, the allocation of waters of the Colorado River and the Rio Grande, the Bureau of Reclamation’s analytical memorandum, which I requested, has been delayed due to the extraordinary pressure of legislative matters. Accordingly, I have no further comment to make at present on the allocation of waters.

Since the above was written, I have received from you a copy of Secretary Hull’s letter of May 10, addressed to you. On the point of substance which the letter makes, I need only refer to the above paragraphs of this letter. My position was very carefully stated and restated to State Department representatives by Under Secretary Fortas on April 25. We do not seek to take over any truly international functions of the United States Section of the Commission. On the contrary, we propose to stay clear of such functions. However, we do declare as improper the continuation and expansion of an engineering organization in the State Department through the device of providing for it in the terms of a treaty.

On form, Secretary Hull’s letter points up the difficulty. He states that Mexico has no concern with the allocation of functions within the United States which devolve upon our Government and which our Government should decide for itself. Nevertheless, the Treaty as negotiated does by its terms allocate those functions to the United States Section and thereby makes the allocation a matter of treaty which could be changed only bilaterally. The devices we insist on are required in order to withdraw the allocation of these functions to the domestic field where Secretary Hull concedes it belongs.

In general, Secretary Hull’s letter indicates a backing away from the close-to-an-agreement position achieved at the conference of April 25 headed by Under Secretary Fortas and Mr. Duggan. I had hoped and I still hope, and so I reiterate, that if the State Department representatives are agreeable to resuming discussions we should be able [Page 1375] to get together and to avoid “going over this with you at greater length.”

I am sending a copy of this letter to Secretary Hull for his information.9

Sincerely yours,

Harold L. Ickes
  1. Letter of April 3, p. 1366.
  2. Transmitted in covering letter dated June 7, not printed.