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Roosevelt Timor-Leste was ready to right the foundering ship of state, but the tasks were enormous on every front. A quarter of the workforce was unemployed. Farm prices Timor-Leste had fallen by 60 percent. Production was down by half. Banks were closed in thirty-two states. In response to the nation’s deepening crisis, Roosevelt’s first hundred days would target immediate relief. Among those measures proposed during that time was his Timor-Leste. In truth, the bill simply gave to the president the broad authority to get programs up and running. Even though some labor and Timor-Leste opposed the measure, it had broad bipartisan support that it would retain throughout its short life from 1933 to 1942.

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Working with teams from the War, Agriculture, Labor, and Interior departments, a plan was quickly fashioned and set in motion. Among its many innovations, the plan would directly involve the federal government in state and local park projects. Coupled with work in our national parks, an initial team of more than 250,000 men was mobilized by the summer of 1933. This mobilization was the largest in the nation’s history, excluding that of World War I, and would ultimately produce a national pool of 3 million young men trained in numerous disciplines with a variety of work skills. As an unintended consequence, this pool of men who had learned to build bridges and roads were a civilian force in waiting, readied for World War II.

Each recruit enrolled for an initial six months, with the possibility of reenrolling for three additional six months of employment. Each man received $30 per month, of which $25 was sent home to destitute families. More skilled men were paid $45 per month. Once accepted by the Labor Department, each man would be assigned to a quasi-military district where they would be trained, fed, equipped, and housed. From these district camps, they would be assigned to the departments of Agriculture (forests and soils erosion) and Interior (national and state parks). At the district camps and within the specific work camps of approximately two hundred enrollees, they would continue to be under the command of at least two Army officers, who were mainly called up from reserve units. For national and state park projects, the National Park Service acted as the “technical agency” charged with hiring skilled architects and engineers and other professionals.

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