A Brief History of Civilian Personnel in the U. S. Navy Department
By Robert G. Albion
Recorder of Naval Administration
A Brief History of Civilian Personnel in the U.S. Navy Department
Its civilian employees might well be called the Navy's stepchildren. Overshadowed by blue uniforms and gold braid, not only in their working surroundings but also in the popular mind, their essential but unglamorous duties too often have escaped adequate attention, supervision and reward. There have been times in the past decade, when they were virtually as numerous as the uniformed officers and enlisted men of the Navy, but, for all that, they have remained pretty much forgotten men.
This brief study is based primarily upon the devoted delving of my secretary through nearly a century of the fat Annual Reports of the Secretary of the Navy, including accompanying reports of the bureau chiefs. Numerous pertinent Acts of Congress have also been consulted, along with reports of special commissions and committees. Charles O. Paullin's valuable articles on the history of naval administration as usual threw light on many points. Finally, for the events of this century, it has been possible to draw upon the recollections of participants. Unique and valuable, particularly to this Department with its excessively rapid turnover in personnel, was the opportunity to sit at a luncheon at a table with three veteran specialists in the Navy's civilian personnel, who had served in the Department since 1897, 1901 and 1904 respectively, and draw upon their memories to fill in gaps remaining after reading the printed record.
The generalities about civilian personnel, of course, do not hold true of the "topside" civilians, who have consistently topped in authority the highest ranking admirals; the President, himself, who in at least one case has regarded himself as more than a nominal Commander-in-Chief; and the Secretary, with his cabinet rank and responsibility to the President for the conduct of the Navy. At times, moreover, one might add the occasional powerful chairmen of congressional naval affairs committees, such as Senator Eugene Hale or Representative Vinson, whose long connection with Naval problems has given them a commanding weight in the Navy's affairs. All these men have represented civilian influence, but could scarcely be termed "employees". Just below them have come a diminishing group of civilians in positions of administrative importance whose status brings up some important considerations, of which more later.
From the very outset, the civilian employees proper have fallen into two major groups - the "white collar" workers and industrial labor. The former, represented primarily by the clerks in the Navy Department itself, have received annual salaries fixed, and too often frozen, by Congress. The latter, typified by the navy yard mechanics and artisans, have received wages on a per diem or hourly basis geared in a fairly sensitive fashion to the pay of laborers in a nearby private industry. The common differentiation between "Department" and "Field" is a less pertinent distinction. To the clerk in a navy yard, the geographical closeness to the workers on ships outside his office is not as significant as his functional kinship to the clerks in the Secretary's Office or the bureaus in Washington.
The clerk and the shipwright have little in common beyond the fact that both are employed by the Navy Department and do not wear uniforms. A corrollary [sic] to that latter fact, however, has meant special problems in the handling of civilian,
as distinct from naval personnel. The officer or enlisted man is held in line by rigid discipline; Navy Regulations curb the temptation to take a day off or walk out on the job; they behave, or "else". The civilian employee is compensated for his lack of symbolic garb by a much greater freedom of action - a situation which at times presents difficulties to those who depend upon his performance.
On the whole, the Navy has not been particularly aware of its civilian problems. There were long periods when the annual reports scarcely gave indication that there were such things as civilians in the Navy; recommendations for improvement of their status were generally concentrated into a few brief periods. Attention was devoted to navy yard personnel between 1883 and 1893; and to the Department workers between 1904 and 1913; and again during and after the First World War. Beyond that, the reports said little beyond the occasional effort of a bureau chief to get a raise for his chief clerk and the never-failing annual howl of the Hydrographic Office over the difficulty of securing scientists at starvation salaries. Perhaps the Navy Department workers were handicapped, as compared with those in the Treasury, Interior, or Agriculture Departments by the desire to get raises for the men in uniform; anyone who has read the Army and Navy Journal in peacetime realizes that questions of promotion and pay were seldom absent from the officers' minds. Perhaps the Department did not want to scatter its efforts by trying to get advances for everyone.
With these general considerations in mind, we might now go back to the gradual development of the Navy's civilian personnel problems in the 145 years since the Department was established in 1798. For the sake of clarity, it seems best to tell first the story of the departmental workers in Washington, and then of their salaried "white collar" counterparts in the field before taking up the peculiar circumstances of the much more numerous group of industrial laborers in the Shore Establishment.
In recent times, the civilian employees of the Navy Department (and the War Department as well) have differed from those in purely civilian departments in the matter of "the career open to the talents". The immediate status and work of the lower clerks has been pretty much the same; only when they have begun to contemplate the future have the differences become apparent. The ambitious youth starting out as a messenger or clerk in the Treasury, Interior, Agricultural or Post Office Departments knows that there is a possibility of rising to be a section, division or bureau chief; he may even become an assistant or under secretary. Not so in the Navy Department. Except in the secretariat, which is generally drawn from outside higher levels, the better posts are usually held by officers in uniform. That situation has become progressively more acute throughout the Navy's history, but it took a full century for the implications of the situation to become evident.
It was difficult in the beginning. Of the four clerks who made up the Secretary's Office in 1806 (Jeffersonian economy had cut out the two or three additional ones who started in 1798) one was a virtual Assistant Secretary, another was a sort of one-man Bureau of Naval Personnel; another handled the central procurement of supplies; and only the fourth concentrated on correspondence. A slightly larger group staffed the Accountant's Office. The stress of the War of 1812
swelled the departmental total to twenty men - all civilians, each of whom was pretty close to the center of authority. The naval constructors were all civilians, as were the navy agents who procured supplies in the field and in some cases served also as heads of navy yards until 1813. Later, civilians served as heads of some of the bureaus. Gradually, one of these jobs after another would go into uniform.
Outstanding in the early departmental setup was the status of the chief clerk. Throughout the formative years of the Navy Department, this was held by one man - Charles W. Goldsborough. He had started as a clerk at the very beginning in 1798; from 1802 to 1843, with only one brief interval, he served as chief clerk. Because of frequent comings and goings of secretaries and later of naval officers, which would always give an atmosphere of impermanence to the Department, he stayed on as a permanent fixture, influential because he was an intelligent repository of tradition and experience. Though not brilliant, Goldsborough was a man of sufficient caliber to fill the position adequately. He came of a good family and two of his sons served as flag officers in the Civil War. He was to our young navy what Samuel Pepys had been to the Royal Navy - an able, permanent high-grade civil servant who could give continuity to the shifting scene.
Unfortunately, there was a fairly steady deterioration in the caliber of his successors. One, to be sure, was promoted to serve briefly as the second Assistant Secretary just after the Civil War, but the departmental setup did not attract a supply of adequate understudies. Too many simply piled up experience without accumulating wisdom. Though the title lasted on until the present war, the functions became more and more perfunctory and routine, while the old powers and influence passed to Assistant Secretaries who were seldom in office long enough to acquire the full benefits of experience. One of the major needs of the Department today is a setup which would attract more first-rate men who would be ready to make top-flight civilian administration a career.
However that may be, our main concern here is with the rank and file in the departmental offices. The numbers grew only very slowly. When, in 1842, Congress established the bureau system, it stipulated specifically the civilian staffs for each bureau, increasing the Department's civilian force to thirty. Recruiting was not a serious problem when positions were so few, (the "spoils system" had an occasional influence, though not as serious as in the navy yards). Nor was supervision and training anything of the problem it would become later, for the occasional newcomer would be broken in under the immediate eye of the chief clerk of the Department or bureau. And, since they were the repositories of tradition and no one else bothered much about civilian personnel, the need for intelligent recruiting and supervision crept up unnoticed for many years.
As for classification, a third major problem in civilian personnel, Congress took a definite hand in the matter. At the outset, in establishing the Navy Department in 1798, it had tied the salaries to those in other departments:
"The respective clerks in the office of the said department shall receive the same compensation, and be subject to the same regulations, as are provided by for an act, supplemental to the act establishing the Treasury Department."
Later, however, it began to legislate specific jobs, at specific rates, in the separate departments, with the result that annoying inequalities began to arise.
Congress established a major landmark when it rectified these inequalities in its appropriation act of March 3, 1853, modified upwards on April 24, 1854. (Statutes at Large, X, pp.209, 276) the former act stipulated:
"That the clerks in the Departments of the Treasury, War, Navy, the Interior, and the Post-Office, shall be arranged into four classes."
and proceeded to specify the number allotted to each office and bureau; as for example:
"In the Office of the Secretary of the Navy, four of class two, six of class three, and one of class four.
In the Bureau of Construction, Equipment and Repairs, one of class one, seven, including the draughtsman, of class two, and one of class four."
and so on. A year later the salaries for the first three classes were increased:
|Act of Mar. 3, 1853||Act of Apr. 24, 1854|
|Class 1||$ 900||$1,200|
After that one quick raise within fourteen months, there would be little change in the compensation of those four basic classes for the next seventy years! In fact, the major changes would be downward; by the Act of Jan. 16, 1883, $1,200 was no longer a minimum salary, but pretty well up in the scale, because of the creation of five lower classes:
|Class A||Less than $720||Class 1||$1,200-1,399|
|Class B||$720-839||Class 2||$1,400-1,599|
|Class C||$840-899||Class 3||$1,600-1,799|
|Class D||$900-999||Class 4||$1,800-1,999|
|Class E||$1,000-1,199||Class 5||$2,000-2,499|
|Class 6||$2,500 or more|
|1 chief clerk at||$2,200||1 chief clerk at||$3,000|
|1 clerk, 4th class at||1,800||1 clerk to Secretary at||2,500|
|1 clerk extra as disbursing clerk||200||1 confidential clerk to Secretary at||2,260|
|6 clerks, 3rd class||1,600||1 disbursing clerk||2,250|
|4 clerks, 2nd class at||1,400||1 appointment clerk||1,900|
|1 messenger at||700||1 clerk to chief clerk||1,900|
|1 asst. messenger at||400||1 private secretary to Asst. Secretary at||1,800|
|14||$20,500||2 clerks, 4th class at||1,600|
|2 clerks, 2nd class at||1,400|
|4 clerks, 1st class at||1,200|
|2 clerks at||1,000|
|1 telegraph operator at||1,200|
|1 carpenter at||900|
|4 messengers at||840|
|4 asst. messengers||720|
There was, however, a temporary outcry during the Civil War, when the depreciation of the greenback about doubled the cost of living. Considering the magnitude of the Union naval effort, and the problems imposed in that period of technical transition, it seems remarkable that the clerks and draftsmen at the Navy Department increased only from 39 to 66, even with the creation of three new bureaus. By 1864, however, there was difficulty in holding even that small number; Secretary Welles reported to Congress:
"In consequence of the greatly increased prices that prevail, many who are in the clerical employment of the government, at a compensation established prior to the war, are receiving a remuneration wholly insufficient. The state of currency, with other causes, has so affected prices that these men are receiving relatively but about one-half the pay of former years, and the effect has been such as to compel many of the best clerks in this department to leave the government service. This is a public injury, especially in the crisis like the present. The place of an experienced and accomplished clerk is at no time easily supplied; but when such place is vacated for the reason that it is not remunerative, or that the pay is below corresponding positions in private establishments, the difficulty is increased. It is therefore suggested that the salaries of the clerical force, or a portion of the clerical force, be increased until the close of the war, or until the currency shall return to a specie standard.
This recommendation is made with some reluctance, and only under a sense of its absolute necessity at this time."
Nothing happened; a year later he renewed his plea, but by that time the war was over.
The Civil War had an important influence at the top level. Welles, who had been civilian chief of the Bureau of Provisions and Clothing (forerunner of S. &A.), knew the departmental setup better than most new secretaries. He brought in a new chief clerk, but wanted a more substantial official at his right hand and secured the creation of the office of Assistant Secretary, "on whom," as he later reported to Congress, "might be devolved many of the details that now occupy no inconsiderable portion of the time of the Secretary." The first incumbent was a very happy choice. Gustavus V. Fox, like Welles, already knew the Navy well, having served for years as a regular line officer before retiring to civil life. He proved one of the most successful administrators in the history of the Department. When he retired in 1866, the chief clerk, William Faxon, was made Assistant Secretary, but the post was allowed to lapse three years later, not to be revived until 1890. For the first few months of the Grant administration, the Navy Department was virtually run by Admiral D. D. Porter, who dominated even the Secretary himself.
By that time, the Navy was settling into the most depressing period of its history. During those "dark ages" from 1869 to 1882, it was starved by Congress and even fell back into a preference for wood and sail over iron and steam. During those sorry years, the annual reports had not a word about civilians, but an act of Congress in 1876 provided that:
"Whenever, in the judgement of the head of any department, the duties assigned to a clerk of one class can be as well performed by a clerk of a lower class or by a female clerk, it shall be lawful for him to diminish clerks of the lower grade within the limit of the total appropriation for such clerical service."
The Navy, however, was apparently prejudice, for some time to come, against "female clerks". It is said that during the Civil War, the Treasury Department had employed some women, who had thereby lost caste in Washington as brazen hussies. The position of "stenographer" first appears in the Navy personnel lists in 1878, but the first ones were apparently men. According to tradition, the first woman on the Navy Department payroll was a Miss Barney of a prominent naval family, who became librarian around 1890. It was many years, however, before they became numerous. Another effect of that period of doldrums was a suspicion of corruption, which was rampant in the Grant administration. Other departments provided worse and more tangible scandals, but a hostile congressional committee unearthed some rather unsavory details in naval administration.
Two legislative measures, a few months apart, signalized the Navy's renaissance from that dreary period. On August 5, 1882, came the first authorization of the "New Navy", of modern steel ships. Five months later, on January 16, 1883, came the so-called Pendleton Act, inaugurating Civil Service reform. The immediate effect of those two movements, as we shall see, was felt particularly in the navy yards, but the Department did not escape. The steady increase of the new navy would impose heavier and heavier demands upon the departmental clerical
forces, which would not be increased to keep pace adequately and would eventually be swamped. The departmental clerical force was brought fairly quickly under civil service, though it did not become general throughout the naval establishment until 1896.
The dwindling prestige of the departmental chief clerk was reflected in a vigorous passage of Secretary Chandler in 1884. Doubtless recalling Fox's excellent work as Assistant Secretary, he wrote:
"It is necessary to call attention once more to the impossibility of properly conducting the business of the Navy Department without further civilian assistance than is now at the command of the Secretary. There should be, in addition to the head of the Department, at least two responsible departmental officers, whose training is that of civil life, and who shall represent the civil authority. These should be an Assistant Secretary and a Solicitor. The technical subjects, which in great number and variety fall under the consideration of the Department, are distributed among eight bureaus and additional offices, whose chiefs must, by law, be officers of the Navy. The task of conducting, in conformity with the laws of Congress and the policy and will of the President, these many military sub-organizations as a harmonious and efficient whole is too great for any single person from civil life, unless aided in the details of business by responsible civil subordinates. The necessary assistance cannot be given by the chief clerk, whose duties at the head of the clerical force are sufficient to occupy fully his attention. A laborious experience of two years and a half forces irresistibly the conclusion that an Assistant Secretary is indispensable for the proper transaction of the business of the Department. If such aid is not provided, Congress should give authority for the appointment of the chiefs of the bureaus from civilians.
He did not get his Assistant Secretary, nor did Secretary Whitney when he urged a $4,000 appropriation for the position. In 1890, however, Congress finally revived the office, this time permanently. The chief clerk would never be the same again.
The chief clerks of bureaus underwent a similar eclipse with the gradual appointment of military assistants to the chief. For years, various bureau heads urged raises for their chief clerks, with arguments similar to the following from the Chief of Construction and Repair in 1886:
"The chief clerk, under the law, acts as Chief of the Bureau in the absence of that officer, and must be competent to take charge of the Bureau. His duties are arduous, and fully deserve the salary herein estimated ($2,250), a rate of pay not more than is now paid to others in the Executive Departments who have to perform similar duties of equal responsibility."
Three years later, the Chief of Yards and Docks recommended a raise for his chief clerk who had been employed in the bureau for 32 years. Gradually, however, the tune changed. In 1899, the Chief of Steam Engineering wrote:
"In my last annual report I repeated my former recommendations that a request be made to include provision in the naval appropriation bill for the detail of an experienced engineer officer as assistant to the chief of this Bureau. I have been placed in embarrassment by the failure to secure this desired addition, especially at times when the technical work has been so arduous and important as to make it unwise to commit official decision to the hands of the chief clerk, who while of the highest competence in his regular capacity, can not be held to be a technical expert upon the more abstruse points in the science of steam engineering. As the law stands the chief clerk is acting chief of the Bureau whenever I am absent, but there is every reason to relieve him from such entangling duty and to secure an engineer officer as permanent assistant. Most of the other naval bureaus have had this provision made for them, and I request you will lay stress upon this matter in your recommendations this year."
Eventually, every bureau had its assistant, with a consequent further diminution of the influence of the permanent civilians.
The Spanish-American War was over too quickly to affect the Department seriously. The only real complaint came from the Chief of Supplies and Accounts who declared, "The largely increased work of the Bureau incident to the war has been accomplished with but slight temporary increase in clerical force, though it has been necessary for many of the clerks to work overtime." He went on to say that with the increased size of the navy, the work of the Bureau "must necessarily grow in proportion" and could not be handled without an increased staff. That was the advance guard of mutterings which would gradually increase.
The storm broke in 1904, and for several years to come, problems of departmental personnel occupied a prominent place in the annual reports. The static salary scale could no longer stand the pressure of outside competition in a period of rising cost of living, particularly since the Navy Department seems to have let most, if not all, of the other departments secure more favorable terms. Three bureau heads all wrote in the same vein. The Chief of Equipment summed up the situation:
"It is a difficult matter to obtain efficient clerks at the rates of pay which new employees entering the Department are required to accept. When efficient employees are obtained it is difficult to retain their services, for it is the rule, with exceptions of course, that efficient clerks will not remain in the service of the Bureau; as soon as conditions with regard to pay and their chances of promotion are learned they seek for a transfer to some other Department where superior advantages are offered, and are too often successful.
The taking of untrained employees and educating them for Department work, only to lose their services after they have become valuable, is uneconomical and is detrimental to the interests of the Department. In addition to a loss of efficiency in the administration of the duties of the Bureau, time is lost and considerable expense involved, as new employees must be instructed in their duties and carefully watched until they have become proficient, which requires not only their own time but the time of their instructor."
The Chief of Ordnance remarked, in part:
"The work of the Bureau has suffered greatly from the constant change in its force of clerks by transfers to other departments and by resignations, 14 persons having left since April 30, 1900, or 82 per cent of its present working force. In nearly every case the clerk left because he was offered more salary or better inducements than he received in the Bureau."
The Chief of Supplies and Accounts went into details as to the immediate cause of trouble:
"The clerical force in the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts is not nearly so efficient as it should be, because the initial rate of pay is too low and opportunities for advancement are too meagre.
It has been the practice to appoint copyists, bookkeepers, and stenographers at $2.48 and $2.80 per diem, and (since the making of per diem appointments has been discontinued) at $840 per annum, while employees in other departments enter the service at $900 per annum as the lowest acceptable salary, it is evident that any establishment which offers less than that amount can not expect to be on an equal footing with its more liberal competitors.
Nine hundred dollars per annum may appear ample for beginners, and particularly as compared with salaries paid to clerks in commercial establishments; but the entrance examination required of civil service clerks is calculated to exclude all except those who possess, at least, more than the average of clerical ability; and, as a matter of course, it is with other branches of the Government service, rather than with commercial establishments, that this Bureau must compete in securing its clerical force."
Year after year, similar complaints went on. In 1911, Secretary Meyer presented some pertinent facts:
"The total number of officers and enlisted men authorized for the Navy and Marine Corps has increased from 27,862 in 1899 to 60,074 in 1911, an increase of 114 per cent. In the same period the classified civilian force in the department proper at Washington has increased from 507 to 700, an increase of 38 per cent.
The Census Bureau prepared a statement, as of date July 1, 1907, giving statistics of employees in the executive civil service of the United States. Comparing the civilian force of the department proper in Washington, the Navy ranked lowest as to average rate of compensation, the Department of Agriculture not being included, as the figures for that department were based on the total number of employees in and outside of Washington. The conditions, so far as the Navy Department is concerned, have not been materially bettered since the statement referred to was prepared. Eliminating the technical, messenger, laboring, and watch force, the discrepancy between the Navy Department and the other executive departments is still more pronounced. Concrete examples can be cited of positions involving duties of a high character where the discrepancy is unusually large. A provision of law in the legislative act
approved June 22, 1906, prevents the transfer of an employee from one executive department to another until such employee has had at least three years service. This provision has worked to the advantage of the Navy Department so far as employees in the lower grades are concerned, but the loss by transfer is still felt and is due, in a large measure, to the universal impression that the chances for advancement in the Navy Department are much less than in other departments of the Government, owing to the low rate of compensation for positions requiring a higher order of clerical or technical ability.
During the past few years great stress has been laid, by heads of departments and others, upon the fact that the schedule of salaries for clerical employees in the executive departments in Washington has not been revised since the passage of the act of April 22, 1854.
As a matter of fact, the schedule of 1854 has been revised downward. Of the employees engaged in clerical and technical work in the departments in Washington, approximately 25 per cent now receive less than $1,200 per annum, the minimum salary prescribed for clerical services in the act of 1854, and in the Navy Department this percentage is 33."
There was grave concern not only for the present, but also for the future. If young men of ambition continued to shy away from the Navy Department, the later supply of senior civilians was bound to suffer. Secretary Meyer in 1905 made a suggestion which still seems valid, in its general aim if not in detail. He proposed to make conditions attractive enough to get first-rate men to enter the Department as a career:
"Many of the young men furnished by the operation of civil-service law are too competent and ambitious to remain permanently in the Government service, in which the prospect of advancement practically disappears after the attainment of a salary which a cable young American is unwilling to consider enough for him to expect for the balance of his life.
I suggest, as a remedy for these evils, that there be organized a small civilian force attached to the Navy, to be recruited from the most competent men in its civil establishment, and which should have relative rank and right of retirement on the same basis as the other noncombatant branches of the service. The number of those admitted to this force should be very moderate, since it would contain only men thoroughly qualified by character, attainments, and experience for permanent employment; but the mere possibility that faithful and zealous service might be thus rewarded would be, in my opinion, a strong incentive to the class of men we are now losing to remain in the employment of the Department. For minor clerical positions, involving routine duty and offering little prospect of promotion, I have endeavored to encourage the employment of women, against which some measure of more or less unreasonable prejudice seems to exist on the part of some officers."
A year later, he returned to the attack, with something like an Irish bull in his proposal of "a small corps of commissioned officers, to be known as 'Civilians'."! They were to be "attached to the naval establishment, employed in the higher posts now filled by civil employees in the Department and at the more important naval stations, and recruited from the most competent and deserving members of the Civil Establishment." Those "Civilians" in uniform, of course, never materialized.
Two other reforms suggested during this decade sounded less fantastic, and would eventually be realized. One was the establishing of an adequate retirement system for civilian employees; the other was a recommendation of the elimination of "the endless endorsements and letters" and periodic effort "to check the growth of paper work."
Low pay was not the only grievance. In many other ways the unreformed Department was creaking and groaning under the burden of an ever-expanding fleet. The Chief of Supplies and Accounts told of "several specific instances of evidently approaching breakdown among the clerks who have thus far kept up the work by excessive overtime labor." The Department, moreover, was outgrowing its sector of the old State, War and Navy Building. As early as 1900, the Chief of Navigation said that
"In one office room of the Bureau, where much of its most important correspondence is prepared, and where accuracy is most desirable in the information which it constantly furnishes to other branches of the Department, are two officers, four stenographers and typewriters, and a clerk, working on a floor space with less than 10 feet square clear of desks or office furniture."
Early in 1902, a board, appointed to examine the situation, reported that "We find the congestion in the office rooms fo [sic] the several Bureaus almost inconceivable. It is unbusinesslike, insanitary, and detrimental to the proper conduct of the Navy." At the board's recommendation, the Mills Building was rented as an overflow, but the congestion still continued. In 1907, Secretary Metcalf told that
"It has become necessary to line the walls and crowd the interior spaces of working rooms with files and records and to thrust them, in some instances, into undesirable places in the basement, under steps, and in garret spaces, where they can not be properly cared for and are not readily accessible. The demands for room in order properly to transact the business of the Department are constantly growing more and more imperative and can not longer be ignored without serious detriment to the public service. Furthermore, it is feared that the overcrowding of the clerical force of many of the rooms assigned to the Navy Department is objectionable not only from the consideration of the efficient dispatch of business, but upon sanitary grounds as well."
Even in 1913, the Chief of Supplies and Accounts, a bureau never given to suffering in silence, complained that
"The quarters are inadequate and lacking in ordinary convenience. The resultant insanitary conditions have an enervating effect. Immediate action should be taken to better affairs. Especially in the matter of providing hygienic toilets and a lavatory is the need of improvement a pressing one. In this respect the requirements are not merely desirable; they are mandatory, in the interests of both health and comfort."
Such was the rather sorry state of the Department when it was called upon to undertake a tremendous war burden in 1917. The earlier conflicts gave no hint of
the unprecedented increase in working force which would be demanded. The War of 1812 had been handled by increasing the departmental workers from about 14 to 20 and the Civil War by the equally moderate rise from 39 to 66. World War I, on the other hand, saw it leap from some 787 in the middle of 1916 to almost 6,400 at the end of 1918 - an eightfold gain. Even that, of course, would be moderate compared with what lay ahead a quarter century later.
These 6,400, however, were not real civilians; about 4,000 of them were Naval Reservists, men and women, "employed on work ordinarily performed by civilian employees." That expedient was necessary because of the very unattractive conditions of civilian service in the Department. With living costs increasing and good pay available in war industry, the old 1854 salary scale, with the later lower levels, simply would not attract half enough workers to handle the terrific rush of business. Even the civil servants already in the Department were in danger of being lured elsewhere, despite a grant of $120 extra as a partial offset to the cost of living. The unsatisfactory working conditions just described were probably a further deterrent - the present Constitution Avenue building, hastily erected, was not ready for occupancy until a few weeks before the Armistice.
Under those circumstances, the uniform had to be used as bait. Several thousand men were enlisted in the Naval Reserve for clerical work. But the real innovation for the Navy was its wholesale use of women. The Chief of Supplies and Accounts wrote in 1918:
"The additional clerks have been obtained as needed from the numerous sources - the College Women's Division of the Department of Labor furnishing clerks of unusual ability. Every effort has been made to employ capable women, to the end that every man of draft are now on duty in S and A may eventually be replaced by a woman."
Since they would not come in adequate numbers as civilians, the Navy took the unheard-of step of enlisting them as "yeomanettes". Aside from the glamor [sic] of the uniform, they were financially better off than at the miserable civilian wages available, when one considered the free board, room and clothing. From the Navy's standpoint, there was the advantage that they were "in" for the duration. Civil turnover was all too heavy - "S and A" had lost nearly three-quarters of its old civil service workers by the middle of 1918. Unlike the Waves of the next war, no women were commissioned as officers in World War I.
Secretary Daniels, summing up their performance in 1919, remarked:
"There was a time when the Navy was said to be the one department of Government that could get along without women. But the war taught us that this supposition was incorrect. Before the war it had been found necessary to enroll women nurses in naval hospitals and in aiding the native women of the Philippines, Guam, Samoa, and the Virgin Islands. Their service entitles them to the highest consideration. The imperative need for thousands of stenographers, typewriters and clerks in the early days of the war was met by enlisting women in the yeomen branch of the enlisted force, and, in all, more than 11,000 were enrolled. It had never been done before, but there was no law against it, and the new departure enabled the Navy to meet the emergency call and aided it greatly in the good record it made for efficiency.
In obedience to the act of Congress, all the Yeomen (F), as they were called, (F signifying female), have been demobilized. Many of them remain as civilian clerks, Congress having made provision for their retention as clerks for the fiscal year. Numbers have taken the civil-service examination and will have permanent positions.
It was with genuine regret that the Yeomen (F) passed with the passing of war. They were truly enlisted for patriotic service in Washington and in every shore station, they released men for duty as soldier or sailor, and made a record of efficient performance of duty when their service was of the highest importance. Women also served in making and assembling the more delicate parts of torpedoes and in other branches of war service calling for skill and deftness."
The quantitative relationship of the various types of departmental workers - men and women in uniform, men and women in civilian clothes - is indicated by the statistics of one bureau - Supplies and Accounts:
|Civil Service||159||30||189||145||437||582||307 per cent|
|Reservists||72||81||153||317||628||945||517 per cent|
|Officers||24||24||151||151||529 per cent|
|Civilian experts||8||8||14||14||75 per cent|
|Total||263||111||374||627||1,065||1,692||Male, 138 per cent|
|Female, 859 per cent|
|Total, 352 per cent|
The overall picture, in the department and in the field, is shown in the table (on the next page) taken from the Annual Report for 1921 which, strangely enough, includes the male and female yeomen Reservists under the heading of civilians.
|Approximate number of "civilian" employees under the Navy Department|
|Naval Estab. At large|
|Navy Dept. at Washington - clerks, messengers draftsmen, technical employees, policemen, etc.||Clerks, messengers, draftsmen, technical employees, policemen, etc.||
Supervisory shop employees, mechanics, helpers,
|Total no. Naval Establishment||
|June 30, 1914||735||2,670||24,410||27,080||27,815|
|June 30, 1915||731||2,795||26,748||29,543||30,274|
|June 30, 1916||787||3,000||32,265||35,265||36,052|
|June 30, 1917||(1) 1,309||(1) 5,307||55,708||61,015||62,224|
|June 30, 1918||(1) 1,364||(1) 10,266||88,762||99,028||100,392|
|Dec. 31, 1918||(2) 6,388||(3) 24,872||98,563||123,435||129,843|
|June 30, 1919||(4) 3,694||(5) 30,472||97,761||118,233||121,927|
|June 30, 1920||(6) 2,620||(7) 14,054||73,258||87,312||89,932|
|Mar. 1, 1921||2,231||11,979||71,426||83,405||85,636|
|June 30, 1921||2,112||10,031||71,531||81,562||83,674|
|Oct. 1, 1921||1,809||9,875||47,765||59,640||61,449|
(1) On these dates there were large numbers of Naval Reservists
employed on work ordinarily performed by civil employees, but
numbers are not available.
(2) Of this number approximately 4,000 were Naval Reservists employed on work ordinarily performed by civilian employees.
(3) Of this number approximately 15,000 were Naval Reservists employed on work ordinarily performed by civilian employees.
(4) Of this number approximately 2,500 were Naval Reservists employed on work ordinarily performed by civilian employees.
(5) Of this number approximately 10,000 were Naval Reservists employed on work ordinarily performed by civilian employees.
(6) Included in this number are 1,109 former Naval Reservists.
(7) Included in this number are 4,238 former Naval Reservists.
Whatever one may say of the handling of departmental personnel at times in this war, the analysis, intelligence, energy and organization at the present are infinitely ahead of the setup in 1917-18. Civilian personnel had been handled before the war by a relatively small group in the Secretary's Office serving under the chief clerk. Those in charge of the work seem to have striven manfully to do their best, but they lacked the support of the aggregation of talent concentrated on the problem at present.
Demobilization brought its own problems, some of which were hinted at in Secretary Daniels' remarks on the yeomanettes. The Armistice, coming so much sooner than was generally expected, made sudden improvisation necessary. Hundreds were discharged with scarcely a day's advance warning, and often lacked money enough to get home. The Naval Act of July 11, 1920 authorized civil appointments of many former Naval Reservists, some of whom found their way into permanent service. The whole experience of demobilization in the last war is worth careful study in preparation for the problems which lie ahead at the end of this war. No attempt has been made in this brief space to analyze the matter thoroughly. In addition to existing printed matter on the subject, some of the principals in that experience are still available for consultation.
By 1920, bureau chiefs were once more complaining that they lacked personnel enough to handle their business adequately. Once again, as before the war, "a large amount of overtime work without compensation has been voluntarily performed during the year." From "S and A" came the complaint that the drastic cut in appropriations had caused reductions in forces ranging from 40% to 76%:
"An alarmingly serious situation has resulted from these reductions and it has been demonstrated that the present force can not furnish the various bureaus of the Navy Department with the detailed data necessary to permit proper control by them over their work or appropriations; nor can issues be promptly made to the fleet or to yard industrial departments. Mechanics and laborers are not being paid on time, payments for contracts for materials delivered and services rendered have been delayed, requisitions for the replenishment of stocks are not being promptly handled; nor are fleet requisitions for supplies being promptly filled."
Such complaints would continue through many lean years to come.
Meanwhile, the old 1854 classification was under heavy fire again, and a drastic overhauling of the whole classification system was impending. The Hydrographer, who had something to say on the subject every year, was particularly worthy of quotation in 1920, for he, in turn, summarized the high points of a significant commission report:
"It is believed that nothing better can be written in regard to this situation than is contained in the Report of the Congressional Joint Commission on Reclassification of Salaries, transmitted to the Speaker of the House of Representatives on March 12, 1920; and, in view of the extreme seriousness of the matter, the Hydrographer feels justified in here quoting certain extracts from that report as follows:
The lack of a comprehensive and consistent employment policy, and of a central agency fully empowered to administer it, has produced most glaring inequalities and incongruities in salary schedules, pay-roll titles, and departmental organization, with much resultant dissatisfaction, inefficiency, and waste (p.8).
Wages in the Government service should never be permitted to become static. They should be changed to meet the fluctuations in the cost of the necessaries of life and the ever-changing standard of living of a virile, progressive people (p.10).
Certain principles (as to changes in pay) should be borne in mind, however. A change in salary should always be made to affect all the employees in a given class, and never an individual within a class, except in the highest administrative, scientific, and professional classes (p.10).
The incumbents of these positions (the "highest administrative, scientific and professional classes") are the real leaders of the civil service of the Republic. It goes without saying that they should be given adequate compensation. Those whose salaries have been fixed within the last two or three years have little cause to complain. The others are underpaid, and your commission hopes that Congress will grant them proper increases. In the judgment of your commission it should be understood that these salaries are not fixed in the same sense as are the salaries of other classes, but that they will be subject to constant review and readjustment by the appropriating committee of Congress (p.10).
Your commission believes that every employee in the Government service should be given an opportunity, through industry and increasing efficiency, to secure a position of increased responsibility and, of course, of increased compensation (p.12).
We are asking the Congress to remove the barriers which have been set up between the various departments and which have made it extremely difficult for an employee in one department to secure a more lucrative place in another department. We believe the service should be regarded as an entity and that promotions should go to the best qualified without regard to departmental lines (p.12). "
The commission also found:
"That there is serious discontent, accompanied by an excessive turnover and loss among the best trained and most efficient employees, that the morale of the personnel has been impaired, that the national service has become unattractive to a desirable type of technical employee, and that the Government has put itself in the position of wasting funds on the one hand and doing serious injustice to individuals on the other and of failing to get that degree of efficiency in administration that a more equitable and uniform wage policy would bring about." (p.19)
The Hydrographic Office had good cause to call particular attention to the situation; for years, its peculiar composition, requiring scientific training, had left it heavily penalized under the old classification acts of 1853-54 and the modification in 1883. They had lumped all sorts of functions together, and the professional classes had suffered in being tied down to a system created primarily for clerical workers.
This was rectified in the important Classification Act of 1923 - the first major landmark in that field since 1854. Like its predecessor, it applied not only to the Navy Department but to other agencies as well. It would later be amended, with increases, and a few extra top grades to reach the levels now in force.
Its most distinctive feature was the separation of the civilian employees into four distinct groups or "services" according to the difficulty and responsibility of the duties to be performed, and, to some extent, to the degree of training required. These four "services" were:
Professional and Scientific (P)
Clerical, Administrative, and Fiscal (CAF)
Custodial (later Crafts, Protective, and Custodial (CPC).
Within each group, there were to be several grades, again based on the relative importance, difficulty, and responsibility, and the value of the work. The salaries in the table below represent the starting minimum; in all but the highest grades the maximum was $600 more, reached by progressive "steps" at hundred-dollar intervals.
The old 1854 scale still remained almost unchanged for the first four CAF grades, while the four lowest custodial grades were equally close to the special low "A" to "E" grades established in 1883. Those ancient ratings would still apply to a major part of the rank and file in the Department and classified field workers.
The Subprofessional group (draftsmen, laboratory aides, etc.) and the Custodial (which would be changed to CPC in 1942) reached a maximum ceiling of $3000. The CAF group, with its many grades, however, ultimately led to the top salary of $7,500, at "the special executive grade."
So, too, did the Professional and Scientific group. The unique feature in their new setup was that they started higher in the beginning - men with the college training generally needed for such positions could be easily attracted (as the Hydrographic Office knew all too well) by salaries appropriate for green messengers or typists. The lowest "P" grade, at $1860, was equivalent to grades well up in the hierarchy of the other groups. This situation offered considerable relief in that previously handicapped field. Aside from establishing that elaborate new scale of classifications, the 1923 act also laid down many specific regulations for its workings, but space prevents a detailed account of them. Full details can be consulted in Laws Relating to the Navy, ed. George Helling, Supplement 1929, pp. 795-813.
Congress had done its part, and had imposed new and complicated burdens upon the Civil Service Commission. The system could not function properly, however, without the active and intelligent cooperation of the various departments, upon which fell the initial task of classifying their employees.
In the Navy Department, civilian personnel problems had been handled in the Secretary's Office under the immediate supervision of the Chief Clerk of the Department, and, in later days, under the general surveillance of the Assistant Secretary. One veteran specialist in the subject, who entered the Department as a messenger in 1897, was assigned to help the "Appointment Clerk" who had until then been handling civilian personnel matters alone, even pounding his own typewriter and doing most of his own filing. As time went on, the little group increased slowly in size, while one Appointment Clerk after another was promoted to Chief Clerk of the Department. Much of the actual operation was decentralized among the bureaus. The central group apparently became immersed in routine of handling the multitude of papers involved in departmental and field individual cases; they became well versed in the technicalities of the law, but apparently devoted relatively little time to "planning" functions, nor to the nice problems involved in classification and training.
The Navy was not alone in such shortcomings; the Act of 1923 was failing to achieve all that its sponsors had hoped partly because of inadequate departmental work. That situation deeply impressed young Samuel C. Ordway, Jr. when he became a Civil Service Commissioner. On his own initiative, he sought to rectify it by securing an Executive Order, on June 24, 1938, directing each department and agency to establish a division of personnel supervision and management, specifically organized to handle the various aspects of civilian personnel. These divisions were to be headed by competent, trained personnel experts, selected by competitive examination. An exception was made, however, in favor of any existing personnel chiefs who could pass the examination, even though outsiders might make better grades. In four departments, the chiefs managed to pass, among them Charles Piozet, who thus became director of the Navy Department's Division of Personnel Supervision and Management, established on December 6, 1938.
Occasionally, attention is called to the distinction between organization and administration. The former is a quite tangible affair, which can be visualized in charts; the latter is more of an art, which consists in the knack of getting others to perform a job efficiently. With its new P.S.&M., the Navy Department
secured a quite adequate organization, with various branches responsible for recruiting, classification, training and the other requisite functions. The administration, however, does not seem to have been as perfect. Subsequent investigations, the details of which must remain confidential for the time being, indicated that once again, as in 1907, the Navy Department lagged behind all the other governmental agencies in taking advantage of the opportunities for promotion and pay of its civilians, while it was likewise failing to make the most of its expected duties in other fields of personnel administration.
The Navy, to be sure, had been cut heavily in its appropriations between the wars; laments over understaffing could be found almost annually from 1919 to 1939. Important work, declared the bureau chiefs, had to be abandoned; civilians had to be borrowed from other bureaus at times to meet emergency peak loads; some of the force was paid out of WPA and other non-naval funds, while S and A in 1938 was paying 49 employees from the appropriation for "Replacement of Naval Vessels."
The Department's civilian personnel organization, however, must take some of the blame. Its own personnel solution left much to be desired. It was the obvious intent of the whole P.S.&M. program to place matters in the hands of capable, trained personnel workers, and the salaries paid should have been adequate to achieve that result. Instead, the whole set of top positions were filled from within the Department, some of the key jobs going to men who had had almost no personnel experience and who, in some cases, were not even high school graduates. The classification staff was criticized for failure to "up-grade" the civilians to levels comparable with other departments, but they showed a real knowledge of the necessary up-grading tactics in practicing on the division's officials. One young man in a key position, with no previous experience, jumped from $1800 to $4600 in two years. Some of the other leaders had been in the work for forty years, brought up in the old practices when conditions were different. Too many of these men, like other civilian veterans of the Department, reminded one of old non-coms or petty officers in their outlook, rather than being "officer material."
Such was the setup when the demands of war began to strike the Department. On the eve of our participation in World War I, the departmental civilian personnel had numbered 787. That had jumped, by the end of the war, to about 2,400, in addition to some 4,000 clerical reservists. For the next twenty years, it fluctuated around 2,000; it began to climb slowly by 1938 and then, as war came closer, step by step, mounted to totals which completely dwarfed the experience of 1917-18. The following table indicates the situation:
|Departmental Civilian Personnel Totals|
|1921, June||2,112||1939, June||3,192|
|1929, June||1,964||1940, June||3,792|
|1933, June||1,842||1940, Dec.||5,587|
|1934 June||2,043||1941, June||8,665|
|1935, June||2,189||1941, Dec.||11,934|
|1936, June||2,251||1942, June||18,086|
|1937, June||2,276||1942, Dec.||19,623|
|1938, June||2,409||1943, June||19,800|
It is out of the question to tell the whole story of the civilian personnel in the present war, or even to touch upon all its many aspects. A few salient points, however, might be mentioned briefly.
So far as quantity was concerned, the department was far more successful than in the previous war in securing civilian workers. The enlisting of thousands of reserve yeomen and "yeomanettes" in 1917-18 had been an admission of failure to secure even half of the needed civilian workers at the prevailing low wages. The Waves in this war were created specifically to relieve officers and men for sea duty, rather than as a substitute for missing civilians, though recruiting difficulties later led to an understanding that they might in necessity be used for the latter purpose. On the whole, however, the ever-increasing requirements were met, after a fashion. The majority were received through the conventional medium of the Civil Service Commission, but eventually the Navy Department began to do some of its own recruiting. Little of this was performed by the recruiting division of P.S.&M. under the old setup; some bureaus, notably Ships, began to go after the specialists they needed; later, after the revision of management, the Department went into distant cities for workers. The totals do not indicate the whole problem; the turnover was so rapid that in some months the withdrawals exceeded the additions.
The real acceleration in numbers began immediately after Pearl Harbor. The total at the end of the respective months, jumped from 5,587 in December 1941, to roughly 13,200 in January, nearly 15,000 in February, 16,200 in March and 17,700 in April! At that rate of increase, Assistant Secretary Bard felt that the situation might get completely out of hand. On April 10, for better or for worse, he had ordered a "freeze" which virtually stopped additions for 45 days, later extended for 20 days more. In June, this tightening policy also led to the requirement of a specific "justification" for every additional new job. The totals in other departments and agencies continued to rise until finally, early in 1943, the Bureau of the Budget undertook a drastic government-wide reduction, setting a specific ceiling for each agency. Thanks to the Bard "freeze", the Navy Department was the only one which escaped a slash; it was allowed a 20,000 total, which was slightly in excess of its actual numbers at the time.
A new temporary civil service status, resembling that of reserve officers, was established throughout the government service in May 1942, to fit the huge swarm of newcomers. For the duration and six months thereafter, they would fit into the regular classification setup, so far as rank, pay and promotion was concerned, but this implied no rights of permanent cumulative status such as was enjoyed by the "regulars". Three months later, the classification tables of the Act of 1923 were amended, with general salary increases, and a few additional higher grades, while the "Custodial" service, as we saw, became "CPC". A further increase amounting to about 20 per cent, came with the automatic overtime in extending the 40-hour week to 48 hours. Even the untrained messengers, with their spasmodic and unexacting duties, received $1500 including the overtime, which was more then the general average for departmental workers in many of the earlier years of the century.
The middle months of 1942 also saw the beginning of a movement to improve the workings of the departmental civilian personnel methods, which were bogging down in many ways. The original P.S.&M. officials, with their too often narrow horizons and limited backgrounds, simply could not grasp their vastly increased responsibilities. At last, the Department secured the services of some first-rate men, brought in from the outside. Prominent among those who aided Assistant Secretary Bard in his task were four civilians - A. L. Nichel, E. C. Norris, G. F. Olsen,
and H. J. McFarland; and five reserve officers - Comdr. R. M. Paget, Comdr. C. S. Piper, Lt. Comdr. S. C. Ordway, Jr., Lt. Comdr. R. D. Severy and Lt. J. E. Benoit. The quickening impulse was felt as soon as they began to apply their talents and their energy to the situation, while others were specializing in the particular problems of the shore establishments. It is probably safe to say that more constructive thought and work has been devoted to the Navy's civilian personnel problems in the past year (October 1942-43) than in the whole preceding century.
It is too early to evaluate their entire performance. A thorough critical survey of the P.S.&M. setup resulted in drastic reorganization. Management practices and relations between supervisor and employee were improved, with emphasis upon everyone's clear understanding of just what he was to do. The techniques of recruiting, classification, training, morale and much else were reviewed and improved. The bureau civilian personnel officers gathered every week to discuss common problems, while higher officials consulted constantly with Assistant Secretary Bard, who was in charge of the whole effort. Thus matters stand, in the midst of highly gratifying progress, at the time of writing.
One final aspect of the departmental situation deserves consideration before turning to the field. Concern is already felt over the day when the tumult and the shouting shall have died away. The "bright young men" have returned home, and veteran civilians have taken over again, perhaps undoing all the progress that has been made. Those veterans have lost still further ground during the war. One of the ablest, to be sure, holds the position of "Executive Assistant", with many of the former functions of the finally-defunct post of Chief Clerk of the Department. The chief clerks have also disappeared from all but two of the bureaus. A new crop of special assistants, administrative officers, management engineers and the like have arisen in their stead; in almost every case "new men" from the outside. Since the Navy Department has not succeeded in breeding an adequate supply of talent among its long-term career civilians, the hope for a continuation of successful administration into the years of peace may well lie in making terms attractive enough to retain some of that real talent brought in by the war, comparable in quality to the numerous top-flight permanent civilians who so successfully administer the Admiralty.
Salaried Civilians - Field - IV(B)'s
This second category - the more numerous salaried "white collar" civilians in the shore establishment - need not detain us long. They fall into pretty much the same general categories - clerks, draftsmen and the like - as the departmental civilians. They have also been subject to the same general influences affecting their status, though benefits have generally been slower in coming, and their classification ratings have often been lower than those in the department. They have been, perhaps, the most neglected of all the Navy's personnel.
An idea of their relative numbers of those "IV(B)'s is given by the following figures for the middle of 1943:
Industrial labor 507,819
At the very outset, civilians held many of the most important posts in the shore establishment, but gradually almost all of these were taken over by officers of line or staff. Until the Civil War, civilian Navy Agents handled local matters of supply and finance at a large number of ports at home and abroad, generally receiving a commission for their services. The system was by no means perfect;
sometimes the jobs became political spoils like postmasterships, with the result that contracts too often went to bidders of their party. Some of the early Navy Agents also served as superintendents in charge of the navy yards located at their ports. Inside the yards, the naval constructors were also civilians, as were the civil engineers engaged in the building and maintenance of public works.
In the course of the nineteenth century, virtually all of those functions gradually passed to men in uniform, who replaced civilians far more thoroughly than in the British naval establishment. After 1813, the commandant of a navy yard was always a line officer, who thus gained a comfortable and dignified status during his shore duty, without any particularly onerous duties. Eventually, too, the Navy Agents gave way to officers of the pay corps. The naval constructors and civil engineers also went into uniform, slowly. In addition, many posts in the navy yards went to line officers of various grades. This was rationalized on the ground that they were the ones who would be using the ships. But this argument was weakened by the fact that the Navy turned to private yards, under civilian executives, for much of its important construction, but the officers stayed on in the navy yards. Out of this situation, perhaps, arose the fact that the average American line officer seldom spends more than 60 per cent of his active career at sea, whereas the British officer spends about 75 per cent or more, while civilians abound in the British shore establishment.
That general trend finally left clerks as leaders of salaried field civilians. Far less often than in the case of the departmental workers, did the annual reports even mention the existence of these scattered civilians. During the 1850's, the group at Mare Island had a terrific time making ends meet with their meager salaries quite inadequate in view of the abnormally high gold-rush prices in California. Ranging from 1861 to 1907 came complaints that the pay masters' and storekeepers' clerks were receiving less than the other clerks in the yards. In that latter year, when we have already noticed the serious results of low wages in the department, the Chief of S and A wrote:
"Bad as is the state of the pay of the clerical force of the Bureau, that of the clerks at the general storekeepers' offices at yards is infinitely worse, and not only can no good work be expected from men so inadequately paid, but there can be but one result - disorganization, which under the largely increased coast of living, has already set in the yards located near the larger cities.
At the navy-yard, New York, there exists, under the charge of the general storekeeper, an officer of the Pay Corps, one of the largest department stores in the United States. It does a business of $24,000,000 annually, shipping each year all over this country and the world 468,000 packages, weighing 21,500 tons. This vast business employs 252 mechanics and laborers and 103 clerks and messengers, and one-third of its clerical force changed during the last fiscal year, viz., 20 resignations and 13 transfers to other departments. It takes time to break in a new clerk and the efficiency of the office is correspondingly reduced; and these men are generally among the best in the office - the men who have the energy and ambition to rise, and who are not content to give the United States years of service at a salary of less than $75 a month, with the ultimate prospect of possibly reaching, in their maturer years, $1,200 annually. The same condition exists in every other yard and station.
The investigator need look no further than these facts to account for many of the vexatious errors of the general storekeepers' offices."
The Secretary, in that same year, pointed out that at Brooklyn Navy Yard only one of the 235 clerks received as high as $1600, whereas 89 per cent received less than $1200. Those low "A" to "E" grades, added in 1883, were far more common in the yards than in the Department.
In 1892, the Assistant Secretary was given supervision over these classified employees as well as the industrial labor in the navy yards. Under him, more immediate supervision was provided in 1931 with the creation of the Navy Yard Division, which was renamed the Shore Establishments Division in 1934. Its primary concern was with the industrial labor, however, and its jurisdiction overlapped that of the civilian personnel setup in the office of the Chief Clerk (later P.S.&M.)
The origin of the present designation of most of these classified field civilians is indicated in the following passage in 1932:
"The employees at navy yards and some additional employees such as policemen and rodmen, are, by virtue of language used in the 1933 naval act, now known as Group IV(B) employees, being those so designated in the "Schedule of wages for civil employees in the field service in the Navy Department and the Marine Corps."
During the present war, civilian personnel officers were established in the various naval districts and also in the navy yards to handle both kinds of field civilians. The IV(B)'s increased in number from 15,340 in June 1940 to 136,713 three years later. One of the important difficulties in their administration has led, in the fall of 1943, to the creation of a staff of 45 officer and civilian specialists for that work.
Industrial Wage Earners in the Shore Establishment
Most numerous of all the Navy's civilians have been the industrial workers in the navy yards and other shore establishments. They have nearly always been one of the largest groups in government employ; at present in wartime, they number a half million, a figure exceeded only by the Army, and far ahead of any of the largest private industrial concerns in the country.
Whereas the "white collar" civilians have been paid fixed salaries, the workers have been paid wages on a weekly or hourly basis, fluctuating to meet the shifting conditions of industry nearby.
Many of the navy yard workers devote their whole careers to such government employ. This is less true in the yards at Boston and New York, with many private plants competing for their services, than at the yards located in smaller cities. An extreme case, with three generations of such service, exists at Portsmouth Navy Yard, where one man rose from apprentice to master just as his father and grandfather had done before him.
The hierarchy of authority among these workers progresses from leadingman through quarterman and foreman to master. Above that, in modern times, come the shop superintendent and industrial manager, both officers, replacing former civilian counterparts.
This labor was generally employed in the building and repairing of warships at navy yards. It has also included, however, various other activities including ropemaking and ordnance manufacture. Probably the greatest part of the time has been spent in repair work.
The earliest warships for our infant navy were built under circumstances decidedly similar to those in private yards. Even when the wooden ships were later built in navy yards, the general processes were much the same. The actual techniques of putting a wooden ship together changed remarkably little during almost two centuries - the molding and sawing of timber or plank and the fitting of them into the hull, once learned, would change little in a lifetime.
Congress, in later days, would become suspicious, and not without reason, of what was going on in remote navy yards. Jefferson, with similar feelings, took the strange step of concentrating as much as possible at Washington Navy Yard, making it the chief supply depot and repair base of the Navy, and bringing seven of the ships of the infant navy to lie there in reserve, where they would need "but one set of plunderers to take care of them." Paullin remarks in this connection:
"The Federalists in New England, and even in Virginia, raised the hue and cry over this diverting of the naval expenditures from home ports and the concentrating of them at a point so inconvenient to the sea as Washington. Jefferson defended his course on the ground that the navy and the naval establishment, which he thought would bear watching, were thus placed under the eye of the government. The inaccessibility and poverty of Washington and its lack of artisans, seamen, and ample naval resources, afforded an excellent opportunity for Randolph's stinging criticism. He declared that ship timbers and naval stores were repeatedly brought from Norfolk and were worked up by men obtained in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and other ports, in order that when worked up they might be returned to Norfolk. The mail coach, he said, carried to Washington for the navy-yard, workmen, live stock, "copper bolts, and such light articles." "
The Americans destroyed much of the Washington Navy Yard when the British invaders approached in 1814. The yard never recovered its former abnormal prominence; the duties of construction, repair and supply were thereafter scattered up and down the coast from Portsmouth to Charleston. The labor supply, like the rest of the navy yard setup, became decentralized and remote from the prying eyes of congressmen.
Aside from the effects of the "spoils system" inaugurated under Jackson, little happened until the eve of the Civil War. Then, in 1858, the authority over the mechanical laborers was placed in the hands of the master workmen (who, incidentally, also received per diem wages rather than salaries). The new Navy Regulations of 1858, not only entrusted them with the inspection of stores and the keeping account of labor performed, but also stated that:
"They shall have the immediate control of, and be vigilant to insure constant diligence from all those who may be employed under their special direction.
They will be allowed the selection of the operatives to be employed in their respective branches of labor, subject to the approval of the chiefs of departments and the sanctions of the commandant, and will be held accountable for the proper execution of the work under their charge, and none but efficient and competent men be employed."
Commenting upon these new arrangements in 1860, the Secretary voiced a liberal, if not too exacting labor policy:
"With a view to insure the greatest practical efficiency by removing and excluding abuses, and obtaining for expenditure a full equivalent in labor, the navy-yards, have recently been placed under a uniform system of organization, applied equally to all of them which seems to be well calculated to secure these objects. They are commanded each by a captain of the Navy, who has authority in the yard analogous to that of a commander of a ship at sea. He is responsible that every man do his duty. He has the power to dismiss any one for neglect or misconduct, except naval officers and master workmen, whom in such case it is his duty to report to the Department. In order to ensure capable master workmen, they are required to be examined by a board of naval officers, who must report them fully qualified for their duties before they can receive their appointments. They are immediately responsible for the workmen employed under them, and therefore they have the selection of them subject to the approval of the commandant; and it is his duty at all times to limit the number to the necessities of the service. The duties of every officer in the yard are specifically defined by regulation. It has been the object of the Department to improve and elevate the condition of the master mechanics and other civilians, and to increase their responsibility. Under this system it is impossible that abuses should exist without involving the commandant and the corps of naval officers under his command. Even if it should happen, as may sometimes be the case, that a few men of the laboring classes in public employment, earning a subsistence by the sweat of the brow, should receive somewhat more than an equivalent for the labor of their hands, it would not by any means be the greatest evil that happens under government, nor be a sufficient reason for abandoning convenient and necessary public works. All history shows that the class of working men do not usually receive too high a reward for their labor, and if government never suffers pecuniarily [sic] except by them, the extent of the injury will not be alarming."
The new system, as will be seen, permitted such flagrant political abuses that it had to be changed a quarter century later.
An even more fundamental regulation, which would last for eighty years, was embodied in an Act of July 16, 1862, modifying a similar measure of seven months before:
"That the hours of labor and the rate of wages of the employees in the navy yards shall conform, as nearly as is consistent with the public interest, with those of private establishments in the immediate vicinity of the respective yards, to be determined by the commandants of the navy yards, subject to approval and revision of the Secretary of the Navy."
This practice, later administered by annual reviews by a local wage board, would remain in effect until 1942, when the authority of the War Labor Board would be substituted for that of the Secretary. Obviously, such a system was more sensitive to changing conditions than were the salaries of the other civilian workers, fixed and seldom changed by Congress.
The number of mechanics and laborers affected by that regulation at the various navy yards and naval stations, was "at least 12,000." "It would be difficult", added Secretary Welles, "to state the number employed at private yards and establishments on government work and under contract with the Department." That latter group would always be a matter of concern to the Department, although it enjoyed little or none of the control such as it exercised over those in the shore establishment proper.
These employees of the contractors were a particular problem during the Civil War. It was a period of experimentation and transition in naval construction and propulsion. The navy yard workers knew the conventional methods of building and repairing wooden ships, but most of the new iron vessels, together with most of the engines, had to be let out to private plants. Much of the equipment and talent capable of this work was concentrated along the East River in New York.
From there, a report with a surprisingly modern sound, appeared in New York Herald on April 1, 1863, a time when the Union forces were still suffering defeats on land and the Alabama and her consorts were doing their most destructive work at sea:
"The Navy Strike of Workmen on the Iron-clads
On Saturday noon a gang of laborers employed at the Continental Iron Works struck for higher wages, and on Monday quite a number more followed in their predecessor's footsteps; so that only a very few men were at work during the day.
These men, taking advantage of a want of help, have laid down their work at a time when the government is in need of their services. Many of the strikers are not worth the wages they are now being paid, and these, of course are the ones who make the greatest fuss. Mr. Rowland is perfectly willing to pay every man he employs all he is worth, but he is not willing to be made a plaything of a few ill-disposed.
All the English operatives who have been brought to this country have stuck to their work faithfully and cheerfully.
It is rumored that the government has taken the matter in hand, and all those who do not return to their work, as loyal men should do, will be drafted, and then compelled to work at soldier's pay. This striking business is discreditable to those who combine to get more wages by threats. At times a rupture has been feared at the yard; but a posse of police are on the grounds to preserve order."
In 1864, the Chief of Construction and Repair, as part of an argument for more building in government yards, declared
"In general, workmen prefer employment from the government for the same reason that all large establishments have an advantage over small ones, there being more constant employment, and the greater subdivision of labor makes them more skillful in particular parts, so that a suitable position is assured for all, and they have, or should have, a certainty of prompt payment. With proper regulations there is no doubt but the government could get as much labor for the Navy as private parties can succeed in doing, and there can be no motive to use inferior materials or workmanship."
During the postwar slump in shipbuilding, that argument of steady employment would be even more true. Though the navy yard forces were drastically curtailed, the slump in merchant shipping was even more severe.
The government, however, was not getting the quality of workmen which it should have gotten for the money. The low standard of federal ethics during the "General Grant period" were reflected in the navy yards, which became choice sources of political plums. Local political leaders gained control of navy yard personnel through the appointment of henchmen as master workmen, who had the power of appointing the mechanics and laborers. Congressmen became so tied up with this system that more than one yard was known as "Mr. So-and-so's yard." Commandants seem to have been powerless to remedy the situation. The quality of work naturally deteriorated. The only saving factor was that the Navy was anyway at a low ebb; new construction had virtually ceased; and the few vessels on commission had old fashioned wooden hulls which could be patched up by time-honored methods.
The only real suggestion of reform during the "dark ages" was the recommendation first made in 1878 and to be repeated for many years:
Government pensions its sailors and soldiers, provides homes and asylums for them , cares for their widows and orphans, etc. But there is no provision in case of death or disability in the discharge of their duties in the case of mechanics employed in navy yards and stations. It matters not how long or how faithfully they may have served the government If injured or killed on the job, he is striken from roll-call and that is the last of him and his family, so far as the government is concerned.
Reform of the navy yard labor situation really started with a rush in 1883. During most of the next decade, it would figure prominently in the annual reports and would produce changes of lasting value. This was the immediate result of two separate movements already mentioned - the first steps toward the "New Navy" and the beginning of Civil Service Reform. These influences were reflected in the vigorous report of a commission, headed by Rear Admiral Stephen B. Luce, appointed to investigate the navy yard situation.
Their report made it clear that the old politics-ridden system of appointing navy yard workers simply could not function in connection with the novel and complex requirements of the new steel navy. As expressed by Secretary Chandler in his annual report:
"These establishments must first be thoroughly reorganized in such a way as to exclude all political considerations from management; otherwise bad and expensive work will be the result. We cannot afford to destroy the speed of our naval engines in order to make votes for a political party. Whatever other governmental agency may be conducted with partisanship, a great naval workshop, dealing with the hull of a modern steel steamship, its fittings and equipment, and with the complexities of its machinery, cannot be successfully so managed."
The following year, he had more to add:
"The foremen should be selected without regard to their ability or influence as ward politicians, and the best and most capable workmen should
be employed without regard to their votes or their activity in politics. Unless some plan can be devised, and in good faith carried out, which secures such non-partisan management of the naval workshops, all of them should be closed and all building and repairing of Government vessels should be let to the lowest bidder. The fast steel war ship of the future cannot be produced or kept in repair under such a system as has too often prevailed in out navy-yards."
Not until 1891, however, were any steps taken to put the 1883 recommendations into practice. In the meantime, the Navy had had to rely chiefly upon private yards to build and repair its new steel ships. The keel of the ill-fated Maine, to be sure, had been laid at New York Navy Yard, and the Texas at Norfolk, but progress on both had been slow and costly partly because of the untrained and incompetent personnel.
Secretary Tracy in his 1891 report, explained that the building of wooden and of steel ships was "as different as making a bucket and making a watch" and that the day was past when "any man who could bore and mortise could render some service more or less valuable to the Government."
He then proceeded to explain the two steps taken April 1891 to improve the situation:
"It became evident to me, after two years' experience in the Department, that in order to obtain the kind of workmen required in the navy-yards a specific change of organization was necessary, and a plan for the selection of foremen and other superintending mechanics was put in operation in April last. All the superintending positions at the yard were declared vacant, and a board of officers, whose impartial character was universally recognized, and whose members were practical men, most of them experienced in manufacturing, was appointed to find out the best mechanics to fill the places. Public notice was given, and all mechanics were allowed to compete.
The Department appointed in every case the man whom the board reported as best among the applicants for the position. In some cases the board reported that none of the candidates who appeared were qualified. In these cases, the best among the candidates was appointed temporarily, and the Department is now making a second effort to secure thoroughly competent men in their places.
The next step was to provide for the selection of workmen. The method adopted, which was put in operation on the 1st of September last, was to open an office at each yard, where all applicants could register. This office is in charge of a board, also composed of practical men, either heads of departments at the yards or their assistants, all of whom are commissioned officers.
The board classifies the applicants according to their trades, the only requirement for registration being that they shall be American citizens, and that they shall bring certificates from previous employers that they know their trade. When workmen of any particular trade are needed in any department of the yard the head of the department makes a requisition on the board. The board sends in a list of names, taking them in order of their application, but giving preference to those who have had experience in navy-yard work. The head of the department, on receiving the names from the board, takes the same course that would be followed by the superintendent of a private establishment, grading them according to their skill if they are good
workmen, and if they are not, rejecting them altogether.
Every man whose name is sent to him by the Board must have a trial. It may be a short trial, but the superintendent must try him and come to a conclusion about him. When he rejects men he sends their names back to the Board and new names are supplied until he obtains the mechanics he needs. The registration books, as well as the reasons for rejection in each case, form a permanent record, which enables the Department to maintain an effective supervision and to see that no favoritism is practiced.
The above system may not be the best than can be devised, but it is the best that has so far presented itself, and if anyone can suggest an improvement on it, the Department will be ready to adopt it. It is practically the same system that prevails in any great manufacturing establishment. In such an establishment employment is not governed by personal considerations of any kind. It is a question of good work on the one hand and of dollars and cents on the other. The Navy Department, as far as its manufacturing business is concerned, stands on the same footing. It proposes to obtain efficiency of work, and thereby secure economy of cost. And as efficient work requires mechanics of high skill, it proposes to select and retain only such workmen as can show that they have the required skills by actual trial."
Anyone familiar with the present-day setup will recognize in the latter procedure, designed for the selection of ordinary mechanical workers, the origin of the Labor Boards, which, with some modifications, still exist. They handled a huge grist of business; in the year 1894-95, "there were 3,868 mechanics and laborers employed through the boards of labor employment at the various navy yards" whereas the Civil Service Commission in all the departmental, postal, Indian and customs services appointed only 4,372. The results were expressed as extremely gratifying, and in 1896, the Civil Service Commission formally gave its blessing to the procedure:
"Whereas the enforcement by the Secretary of the Navy of regulations governing the employment of labor at navy-yards having been shown to be highly useful, it being important that they should be given stability independent of changes of Administration, and it appearing that the examinations and other tests of fitness provided by these regulations are based on the principles that personal fitness should prevail over recommendation, and that political influence should be disregarded, it is
Ordered, That these regulations be, and they are hereby, adopted as the regulations of this Commission under the authority conferred by clause1 of rule 1. (Minutes of July 29, 1896, clause 4)."
This was embodied in an Executive Order by President Cleveland on November 2, 1896. Not until 1912, however, did the Civil Service Commission acquire a control of the industrial labor comparable to the control of departmental civil personnel acquired in 1883 and salaried field personnel in 1896.
There was one embarrassing feature in the new arrangement. The reforms were instituted in the middle of Harrison's Republican administration. The existing group of ordinary mechanics and laborers were left untouched, for the rules applied in their case only to newcomers. Even the foremen and master workmen re-
tained their jobs in most cases, since experience counted heavily in the qualification tests. Both groups had come in under the old political influence and were predominantly Republican. This offered a strong temptation to the Democrats when Cleveland returned to office in 1893, but he resisted it, and the situation gradually rectified itself. It was reported a year later that "it is believed that those taken on through these labor boards at the several yards are politically divided approximately in the proportion that parties bear to each other in the vicinity of such yards."
By that time, the foundations of the present system were established with the periodic wage settlement of 1862 and the labor boards of 1891. That left only occasional lesser matters to arise from time to time.
The legislation granting the eight-hour day in government establishments increased the cost of production in navy yards as against private yards until Congress in 1892 required the similar eight-hour day in private plants engaged on government contracts. The Acts of June 24, 1910 and March 14, 1911 extended this to the construction of naval vessels.
The agitation for compensation to workers injured or killed in service was stimulated by a serious gun explosion at an Ordnance testing ground in 1904; Congress finally gave such protection on May 30, 1908. This required additional services of naval medical officers at the shore establishments. At that time, there were some 20,000 such mechanics and laborers; including 4,100 at New York Navy Yard, 3,200 at Washington Navy yard, 2,600 at Norfolk and 1,800 at Mare Island.
The creation of the office of "Director of Navy Yards" in 1911 provided a coordinated supervision, hitherto lacking, under the Assistant Secretary. A review of the first year's performance in 1912, indicated the scope of this work:
"Besides the work of inaugurating a uniform system of modern management at navy yards, much work of a miscellaneous character has been accomplished through the office of director of navy yards, in its "clearing house" capacity for navy-yard matters requiring speedy action and centralized consideration. Adjustment of pay of workmen, reducing the great number of trade ratings, and bringing about a closer approximation of similar pay for similar duties in supervisory and classified force have been and still are being pressed to a bettering of conditions. Threatened strikes have been dissipated and labor questions satisfactorily settled without serious trouble. "Class" designation of workmen has been abolished.
A uniform system of "ship stores" has been formulated and put into operation, the apprentice school system at navy yards has been extended, and the consolidation of shops has been continued.
A set of rules upon which can be operated all navy yard skilled labor under civil-service classification has been drafted by a special board in conjunction with the Civil Service Commission.
The subject of protection of yard workmen from accident has been thoroughly investigated, and illustrated lectures by the director of the American museum of safety have been given at many of the yards upon the design and application of the most modern appliances for safeguarding men working with or near moving mechanism. Instructions have been issued to all yards, bringing about a monthly inspection of all shops expressly to maintain proper safety devices at all points showing necessity therefor.
Those were the general lines along which the more ambitious Navy Yard Division (later SOSED), setup in 1921, would operate.
The First World War increased the total number of workers in this category from 24,000 in the middle of 1914 and 32,000 in the middle of 1916 to 98,000 at the end of 1918, which was about one-fifth of the total in 1943. (consult tables on pp.14 of this report).
Secretary Daniels wrote extended and glowing reports of their performance. His 1918 remarks are worth quoting in detail because of their relationship to similar problems in the next war:
"Labor's Patriotic Part".
The relations between labor and the Navy Department have been highly satisfactory during the past year. In spite of the general bidding for skilled mechanics, the workmen in our navy yards, with surprisingly few exceptions, have remained loyal to the department and have refused to leave their vitally necessary work in the yards for more lucrative positions elsewhere. In addition, on several occasions when the general relations between capital and labor appeared, under the extraordinary conditions created by the war, to have reached a critical stage, the various trades in our navy yards addressed resolutions to the Secretary of the Navy so clearly defining their belief that the duty of all loyal American workmen lay in securing the maximum production of war materials by combined individual efforts, without regard to selfish considerations of personal betterment, as to have no slight effect in bringing both sides in controversies going on outside the yards to a realization of the need of forgetting their disputes and devoting their energies toward winning the war.
Much of this satisfactory condition is due to the loyal cooperation of the heads of the American Federation of Labor, with whom the department has maintained the friendliest relations and whose wise and patriotic councils have done much to keep such yard workmen as were members of labor organizations keenly alive to a sense of their duty as American citizens.
Based on Mutual Trust.
The department feels it may take some credit to itself for this condition of affairs on account of the principle it has established during the last five years of frank dealing with men of labor and by the rule that any grievance could be brought, without red tape or formality, directly to the attention of the Secretary of the Navy at any time for investigation and correction. The Navy Department trusts the men who built and repair ships and make munitions, it believes they trust the department, and that is the whole secret of successful cooperation between employer and employee.
Large Augmentation of Force.
The Navy has suffered severely, in common with all industry, through the shortage of labor. It was early seen that men to operate our yards to their greatest capacity could only be secured by further crippling the building of merchant ships - so imperatively needed - and the manufacture of munitions. The policy was established, therefore, of making no demands for more labor beyond what was absolutely necessary for the upkeep of the fleet and a very limited amount of new construction. Even this required a large augmentation of our yard forces; but while at times work has been delayed more than we would have preferred, yet enough men have been found to carry on the absolutely needed requirements of the service.
Thanks to Civil Service Commission.
Under the law all navy-yard workmen must be recruited through the civil service, and the department desires to express its gratification and appreciation of the manner in which Civil Service Commission met the emergency and by the creation of almost a new organization and the fearless cutting of all needless red tape has done all that was humanly possible to meet the Navy's demands in the shortest practical time.
Spirit of Helpful Cooperation.
The exigencies of war have made it necessary for the department in many cases to take an active interest in the relations between private manufacturers and their workmen. In a number of instances the Navy Department has itself by general agreement acted as arbiter in disputes arising in plants engaged in furnishing it with materials. Close cooperation with labor-adjusting agencies of the War Department was affected, and the two military branches of the Government, since the early days of the war, have acted in absolute agreement and often jointly in such matters.
Through the War Policies Board and various special committees the Navy has also been in close touch with all labor-employing Government agencies; and under the general advice and guidance of the Department of Labor there has been a gratifying spirit of helpful cooperation. The policy of the Navy has been to affect, whenever possible, not only settlements without formal arbitration in individual plants in a city but between all the manufacturers in the city and their workmen by signed agreements.
Thanks to Men in Overalls.
The credit for the achievements of the Navy under stress of war is in large measure due to the skilled mechanics and other workers in shipyards and munition plants. They have been enlisted to win the war, working in the cold of winter and the heat of summer to make ready and keep ready the material for the fighting men on the sea. Sailor and artisan, marine and laborer - the whole Naval Establishment has given full proof of whole-hearted and efficient service. The men in overalls deserve the thanks of America for their service, and when the men in uniform come back victorious, worker and seamen will alike deserve the honor that will be paid to an invincible and efficient Navy. I have been in close touch, in elbow touch, so to speak, with the three-quarters of a million men in naval work, and it is a pleasure to record the spirit of the men and women whose hearty cooperation, cheerfulness, and skill have made possible naval efficiency at home and abroad."
Elsewhere in that report, he referred to the problem of securing personnel for the Naval Aircraft Factory at Philadelphia. Of 3,700 employees, including 900 women, there were not more than 25 at any time with previous experience in the industry.
The special war conditions called for a modification of the regular wage board procedure, as described in the Solicitor's report of 1919:
"In the spring of 1918 the Shipbuilding Labor Adjustment Board, generally known as the Macy Board, promulgated a scale of wages and rules for working conditions, applicable to the shipyards, and these continued in force until the first of October, when the increased cost of living compelled an increase in the basic skilled grades of from 72.5 to 80 cents per hour, with equivalent increases in other grades.
By the naval act of March 4, 1917, the President was authorized to suspend the provisions of the eight-hour law during the national emergency, and he did so by more than 40 Executive orders, covering various classes of work, as occasion arose. The act provided that eight hours should constitute a basic day, and that all time in excess of that should be paid at the rate of at least time and one-half time. Under these provisions overtime was worked on all naval contracts, time and one-half being paid for overtime except in the building trades and in ship repair work, where double time was allowed.
With the signing of the armistice the department discontinued the working of overtime except in certain cases still considered as emergencies, and it became necessary to readjust working conditions upon all contracts. The eight-hour law does not govern all Government work, and only limits the hours of laborers and mechanics in any kind of work. With the stoppage of overtime, it became necessary to again apply the eight-hour law according to its terms, and a number of decisions were rendered by the office in this connection.
As an assistance in this direction this office prepared and published a pamphlet containing the various enactments, the decisions of the courts and of the Attorneys General construing them, and the Executive orders suspending their operation. This was broadly distributed, and there still remain on hand enough copies for those who are likely to be interested in the subject."
Two years later, however, the Secretary reported that on May 10, 1921, the Department ordered the convening of wage boards at the various navy yards to collect data and submit recommendations. In addition, the department "appointed a commissioned officer of the Navy, a civilian official of the department, and a representative of labor to act as a reviewing board. This board received all the reports from the yard boards, went into the matter from all angles and submitted a unanimous report advocating various wage reductions, which has been adopted. It is worthy of note that the navy-yard employees are discharging their duties with their customary fidelity."
By that time, the Navy was entering once more upon lean years with drastically reduced appropriations. The total number of workers in this group dropped from 71,000 on June 30, 1921 to 47,000 three months later, and 40,000 by mid-1923.
The new Navy Yard Division indicated some of the difficulties of this deflation process in its report for 1923:
"All matters pertaining to civilian personnel and labor in the Naval Establishment have been handled by the Navy Yard Division. This has resulted in standardization of ratings and adjustment of duties, responsibilities and compensation for the various ratings, and in a more uniform and equitable application of these rules to all employees. The reduction in naval appropriations has necessitated smaller allotments of funds to navy yards with the consequent reduction in employees and reassignments of work on vessels to the various navy yards to stabilize the work loads and to meet operating schedules of the fleet. The necessary adjustments have occasioned some inquiries, complaints, and protests on the part of employees and their friends, committees, civic organizations, and other bodies interested in the welfare of the districts in which navy yards and stations are located. The department, in its action and in meeting these representations, in these matters has been guided by the law, the best interests of the Navy and the Nation, and an earnest and sincere desire to afford just and equitable treatment to everyone concerned.
To obviate the necessity of discharging a greater number of employees during the period when considerable unemployment existed in industrial circles the Navy shore establishments were operated on a five-day work week basis from July, 1921, until December, 1922. The regular full six-day work week was resumed in December, 1922, when the private industries were able readily to absorb those employees necessarily laid off. A gradual reduction of employees has been taking place throughout the year, from a total of 54,474 on July 1, 1922 (including 3,101 on leave without pay), to 40,846 total on July 1, 1923, as made necessary by the reduction in naval appropriations and the retrenchment of expenditures.
After exhaustive investigation by local boards and departmental boards of review of the wages received in private industries by employees engaged in work similar to that of Navy civilian employees, wage schedules were revised to meet existing conditions. The present schedule was made effective July 1, 1923."
That cold general report could not indicate all the personal privations resulting from that procedure. Admiral Fisher, who was then in a junior capacity at Charleston Navy Yard, was assigned the trying task of cutting the permanent yard personnel in half, and tells of the excellent spirit on which the workers helped to arrive at the decision as to who should go, according to their relative family responsibilities.
When the depression struck its depths in the early thirties, the workers, prevailed upon Congress to freeze their wages at a specific level, which cut loose from the tumbling wages in outside private plants. Not until the late thirties did outside wages begin to climb up toward the Navy level again; the Wage Boards, which had consequently been abeyance during those years, had nearly forgotten their old procedures when finally reconvened in 1939.
The Shore Establishments Division, during the interval between the wars, had assumed many varied duties in connection with the industrial personnel, although its sphere of influence in that respect somewhat overlapped the work of the civilian personnel staff in the Secretary's Office, later P.S. &M. The whole story of SOSED has been told in another report, and is too detailed to recount here, but in one field, it reported a specific achievement in 1937:
"The prevention of accidental injuries to the civilian employees in the shore establishments of the Navy has continued to show gratifying progress. With the main objective of eliminating the intangible factors of reduced earning power, suffering, and tragedy, there is coupled a substantial saving of Government funds. The number of days lost by accidental injury, for which compensation is paid has been reduced 70 percent since 1926; and the compensation payments reduced from over $400,000 annually to about $135,000 during the same period. "
That Shore Establishments Division would be faced with increasingly complex problems as the Second World War came on, particularly in the rapid growth of the private plants working on naval contracts. Its relationship with P.S.&M. was the subject of lengthy study during the middle months of 1943, resulting in a clear definition of spheres of influence.
The number of industrial workers in the Shore Establishment increased steadily as the war progressed:
The story of these three groups, the departmental force, the IV(B)'s and the industrial workers, has been traced down through the 145 years of the Navy Department's history, and, at the time of writing, have arrived at swollen totals which make the civilian groups of 1812 and the Civil War seem infinitesimal and even dwarf what seemed tremendous in 1918. The problems which they raise are greater than ever, but so, too, is the intelligent effort to overcome them. The primary purpose of these pages is to show that those problems are not sudden novelties of this war crisis, but are the natural result of forces which have been at work for decades and even for generations.
1798 Navy Department established.
1842 Bureau systems established.
1853 First general classification act.
1854 First general classification act modified.
1862 Navy yard labor wages adjusted to surrounding private industry.
1869-82 "Dark Ages."
1882 First appropriation for "New Navy."
1883 "Pendleton Act"; civil service for Department
Modification of 1854 classification act - new lower grades.
1891 Navy yard merit selection of workers - Labor Boards.
1892 Navy yard labor placed under Assistant Secretary.
1896 Civil Service for salaried field civilians; 1891 setup of labor Boards accepted by Civil Service Commission.
1904-12 Complaints about low pay, lack of future and overcrowding in Department.
1911 Aide for Navy Yards established.
1912 Labor more directly under Civil Service Commission.
1917-18 Naval Reserve yeomen and yeomanettes to fill gaps in emergency clerical force.
1921 Navy Yard Division (later Shore Establishment Division).
1923 New classification act - split into Professional, subprofessional, "CAF" and Custodial.
1938 P.S. &M. (Division of Personnel Supervision and Management).
6 November 2003