The Managerial Apprenticeship of FDR’s Budget Director: Harold D. Smith and the Michigan Municipal League, 1928–1937


  • Mordecai Lee University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee



Public administration history often notes the seminal role of Harold D. Smith, FDR’s budget director (1939–1945), in the professionalization of the field and his principles for public budgeting. He was a cofounder of the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) and its second president (1940–1941). Smith came to Washington after a longer career in nonprofit management. This exploratory historical case study fills in a gap in the literature. Specifically, it examines his nonprofit management record at the Michigan Municipal League (1928–1937). He successfully grew the nonprofit in the teeth of the Great Depression. This success, among others, can be seen as providing two possible applications. First, his record suggests some commonalities between nonprofit management and public administration. Second, leading a nonprofit during the Great Depression may suggest applicable lessons for longer-term problems caused by COVID-19 regarding organizational management strategies during another severe economic contraction.

Author Biography

Mordecai Lee, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Mordecai Lee is professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. This article is part of a larger research project into Harold D. Smith’s career (Lee, 2020; 2021). He has authored ten books published by university presses and about 60 articles in scholarly journals. Prior to his academic career, Mordecai was legislative assistant to a member of Congress, elected to three terms in the Wisconsin legislature’s state assembly and two terms in the state senate, and headed a faith-based nonprofit engaging in public policy and social justice advocacy.






Research Articles