• U.S.

Business: Frustrated Freight

3 minute read

A straight-faced OWI press release last week was the first public sign of a war production scandal that has long seethed underground in Washington. The brief announcement said only that Colonel Charles R. Baxter of Army Ordnance had been made Chief of a new Materials Redistribution Branch of WPB, successor to the Inventory & Requisitioning Branch. But it meant that after ten wasted months the U.S. was finally going to do something about frustrated freight.

Frustrated freight is the Washington nickname for goods that were manufactured, paid for, consigned and ready for shipment to all kinds of “friendly” governments and nationals—but never left the U.S. It consists of shells, motors, machines, pipe, steel bars, copper wire etc. ordered by the whole roster of European nations now Axis-occupied, not to mention China and all the Good Neighbor Republics. The goods got to some port of embarkation and frustration began—usually no ships.

ODT got excited because the “frustrated freight” first clogged ports and sidings; the State Department and Bureau of Economic Warfare because at least some of the nations were still “friendly” and angry about nondelivery; the Alien Property Custodian because “friendly” consignees had become enemies; Army, Navy, Maritime Commission, etc. because lots of the freight consisted of needed materials.

WPB’s Inventory & Requisitioning Branch was set up two days after Pearl Harbor with almost unlimited power to handle just such problems. But very little was done to dispose of the frustrated freight. Most of it was gotten out of the ports and out of railroad cars and put into warehouses. BEW, Army, Navy managed to take some things that they could use in fabricated form. But the rest—steel bars, engine blocks for French planes, etc.—got frustrated worse than ever. Worst of all, nobody yet knows how much frustrated freight there is.

So last week Ferdinand Eberstadt, Donald Nelson’s new right-hand man, spent much of his first week in office trying to cope with the problem. The Army sent chunky, wisecracking Colonel Baxter over to WPB to take on the job. Colonel Baxter is no novice in war work or Government jobs: he had almost 20 years of active service after graduating from West Point in 1911, plus a stretch as one of Hugh Johnson’s division heads in NRA days. This week Colonel Baxter is due to make his first move: a new Steel Recovery Corp., backed by RFC funds, is scheduled to open in Pittsburgh as a clearing house for “frustrated” steel products.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com