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Scope Of The Treasury Department

( Originally Published Early 1900's )


THE preceding chapters have referred almost entirely to matters pertaining to the Federal cash transactions—the currency, bonds, checks, their clearance, etc. Other Treasury matters have not been alluded to except when essential to a clear explanation of those topics.

Receiving, paying, and accounting for the Treasury cash are the prime functions of the Treasurer's office, but a number of other functions of the Treasury Department are also under the directing authority of the Secretary of the Treasury. There are many Treasury activities that have a vital effect on the Government's financial position but with which the Treasurer's office has but slight connection; and there are still other Treasury activities that have no more than remote relationship to the Federal finances but that, for a century, have been regarded as properly allocated to the Treasury and are a part of that establishment. A fair picture of the Treasury should include those branches as well as those that are directly connected with the cash transactions.

It is appropriate to state in general terms what those activities are in order that the several major Treasury bureaus may be understood. They are all great and necessary business organizations with distinct Federal duties to perform, and they perform them under the general supervision of the head of the Treasury. Each is subject to the direction of the Under Secretary, acting as the Treasury's general manager. It would be a considerable undertaking adequately to describe any one of them, for each has tasks that are technical, and some of the bureaus referred to necessarily require the services of thousands of employees. Hence no more than a general reference to the scope of the activity of each will be undertaken.


The procurement of the funds with which the Treasury operates, obviously, is the first step in the Government's financial procedure. The sources from which almost all the Federal revenue is acquired are such that it naturally falls to the lot of the Treasury to provide the establishments by which the procurement task is to be performed.

There are two such establishments, and their titles suggest the services they perform. The first and largest is the Internal Revenue Bureau. It assesses, collects, and deposits about 75 per cent of the Federal revenue. The principal sources as the revenue laws on June 1, 1931, stood are about as follows : income tax 58 per cent, tobacco tax 11 per cent, estate tax 1% per cent, and documentary stamp tax 1% per cent. Some-thing like 4 per cent comes from a variety of other tax sources. When it is appreciated that the income-tax operation involves the review of thousands upon thousands of individual income-tax returns and that tax must be exacted for every package of tobacco, the task performed by the Internal Revenue Bureau will be recognized as an operation of huge proportions.


The other great revenue-acquiring establishment is the Customs Bureau. It has the task of assessing and collecting the tariff on imported merchandise. Every vessel that arrives at our shores and every train that crosses the international boundary into our country is subjected to inspection by the customs officials. The great variety of articles brought to our country from abroad and the intricacies of our customs revenue laws disclose what a tremendous task it is to administer the customs law. That source of revenue usually produces in the neighborhood of 15 to 18 per cent of our total revenue.


The Coast Guard service has the task of assisting customs collections by requiring every incoming vessel to submit its cargo to customs inspection. It thus assists in forestalling marine smuggling. In addition to those services it is charged with the duty of caring for merchant vessels in distress, with the clearing of marine wreckage, and with the saving of lives during storms at sea.


The supervising architect superintends the letting of contracts for the constructing of public buildings—particularly the Federal post offices, court houses, and customs houses. He is responsible for the maintenance and repair of those structures, and provides for the supplies incident to their care.


The Public Health Service enforces the quarantine laws and conducts the marine hospitals established for the benefit of merchant seamen in need of medical attention. It also provides certain hospital service for such ex-soldiers, sailors, and marines as are in need of medical attention and for whom the Veterans' Bureau hospitals are not always equipped to provide adequately. It investigates causes of epidemics and prevents the spread of disease. It also inquires into health matters that pertain to the nation generally, as distinguished from local hygiene—such as interstate water supply, yellow fever, and bubonic-plague infection, etc.


The Bureau of Industrial Alcohol is charged with the administration of the permissive provisions of the National Prohibition Act and thus issues the permits that relate to the legal use of spirits.

Matters pertaining to the enforcement of the act are now under the supervision of the Department of Justice.


The Farm Loan Bureau is charged with supervision over the Federal land banks, including the marketing of their bonds and the honoring of their securities as they mature, and with the examination into the affairs of those banks.


The Bureau of Engraving and Printing has the task of manufacturing the Federal bonds, currency, and revenue stamps for the Treasury, and the postage stamps for the Post Office Department.


The Bureau of the Mint has the supervision over the assay offices that purchase the gold, silver, and other coin metals, and likewise exercises jurisdiction over the several mints that manufacture the coin.


The task of receiving the revenue, honoring the currency, bonds, checks, etc., and maintaining custody of the cash is assigned to the Treasurer of the United States. The Treasurer, like all the other bureau chiefs, is subject to the authority of the Secretary of the Treasury.


The Comptroller of the Currency is the official charged with the duty of granting charters to national banks and with examination into the conduct of national banks. The Comptroller issues the national-bank currency and verifies the redemption of it. He supervises the affairs of such of the national banks as fail and distributes their assets in the accomplishment of settlement. The records of the results of the Comptroller's examinations are a considerable portion of the basis for the financial statistics regarding general banking conditions in the country.


The Register of the Treasury is charged with the duty of verifying and auditing the interest-bearing securities and the interest coupons that are redeemed and exchanged, and also with the safe-keeping of the re-deemed documents. The Register has been relieved of the duty of keeping the Treasury expenditure accounts and also is no longer required to audit redeemed currency.

The Secretary's own office is composed of the following branches, each of which has duties that relate to the conduct of such matters as are of immediate concern to the head of the department, and with which he maintains more personal contact than with the other bureaus referred to.

The Commissioner of the Public Debt is charged with supervision over the public debt issues and over the currency and with the verification of the accounts relating thereto. The Register's office, the Division of Loans and Currency, and the Public Debt Accounts and Audit Division are under the direction of and re-port to that commissioner.

The Commissioner of Accounts and Deposits is charged with the supervision over the Division of Bookkeeping and Warrants, which division is charged with the duty of drawing the warrants on the Treasurer and with keeping the appropriation accounts. The Division of Deposits designates the banks authorized to carry Federal funds and fixes the amount of security each must pledge to protect the Government against loss. It is the especial task of that commissioner to keep close track of the funds that become available for use in purchasing and retiring the Government's outstanding interest-bearing obligations.

The Secret Service Division is charged with the duty of suppressing counterfeiting and other crimes relating to the Government securities, the cash, the Government checks—such as check forging, larceny of Government funds, etc.

The Disbursing Clerk is the official who pays the vouchers that relate to the service and the supplies for the department. He also pays the departmental clerical salaries.


In addition to the above-mentioned branches of the Secretary's office there are certain special assistants who are charged with particular duties that are technical in their nature and that require individuals to perform them who are particularly capable along special lines, such as statisticians, actuaries, and market experts. There is a definite business need for the employment of every one of those who perform those special services and the writer does not know of one who was appointed as a matter of political favor or because of his political affiliations. The sole reason for selecting each for the duties he performs has been that there was a business need for him and that efficient management of the Treasury by the head of the department and by the Under Secretary required such service.

It will be easily seen, from the above, why it is of tremendous consequence to the nation to have a skillful, prudent, and fully trained financial expert at the head of the Treasury, and likewise why it is almost, if not quite, as important, that the Under Secretary, who is the chief adviser to the Secretary, and is the principal business manager of the department, shall be a man of more than ordinary talent and a market and tax expert.

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