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Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels to President Woodrow Wilson




April 20, 1917.    

My dear Mr. Vice-President:

     I deem it my duty to urge action by the Congress upon a matter of great importance to naval efficiency.

     The space occupied by the Navy Department in the State, War and Navy Building is practically that assigned it in 1882, when the total enlisted strength of the Navy was 8,250 men and its other activities in proportion. Since 1903 the Navy Department has rented, first the Mills Building, and now the Walker-Johnson Building, each having more space than that which the Department occupies in the State, War and Navy Building.

     During the last year, with an authorized enlisted force of 51,500 men, which was increased in August, 1916, to 68,700 men, it has been necessary to obtain other space. At present one important technical bureau of the Department has no space for drafting room and its drafting work must be done at the Navy Yard. A second technical bureau has its drafting force divided between the State, War and Navy Building and outside privately owned building which is altogether unsuited for the purpose under peace conditions, and, in view of the lack of security against fire, etc., obviously most undesirable under war conditions. A third bureau, which has recently had a large expansion of work incident to naval development, has been compelled to divide its drafting work for projects desired by Congress and the Department to be completed at the earliest possible moment between five places. As regards the bureaus dealing with personnel, it seems unnecessary to enlarge upon their situation in view of the fact that they were already overcrowded a year ago when the authorized enlisted strength of the Navy, as above stated, was 51,500 men, and the present authorized strength is 87,000 men, regular force, with an immediate perspective increase to 150,000 men. An instance that may be cited, however, is the situation in which the Director of Naval Communications is placed. His work has expanded enormously, and, instead of being located in the immediate vicinity of the Chief of Naval Operations,1 as efficiency dictates, he has been compelled to use an office in the Southern Building--about a quarter of a mile from the Department.

     An increase in the force of officers, clerks, and draftsmen is necessary and can only be accomplished at the present time by further scattering them in a most objectionable manner over the city of Washington, involving delay, confusion and inefficiency in the conduct of the work of the Department. The sanitary officer has already reported to the Surgeon General2 that the conditions of overcrowding have been deplorable under ordinary conditions and will become even more serious with the necessarily larger force.

     The amount of space now occupied by the various bureaus and offices under the Navy Department, not including valuable space in the Washington Navy Yard, which is not properly a part of the Navy Yard, is as follows, the figures being net:

State, War and Navy Building3 .....   54,231 Sq.ft.

Walker-Johnson Building (Navy Annex)4 88,000  " "

Neff Building........................    4,000  "  "

522 Seventeenth Street, N.W. (Private

     residence)......................  4,000  "  "

Southern Building.................... 10,034  "  "

Hibbs Building.......................  3,000  "  "

Treasury Department Building (space occupied by courtesy of the Secretary of the Treasury)........  2,000 "  "

          Total (net office space)... 165,265 "  "

     The amount of space actually needed at the present time to correct existing conditions and to provide the immediate expansion necessary for the proper administration of naval affairs during the war is estimated at 300,000 square feet of net office space. The need for additional space will be permanent and will continue after the war.

     It is entirely evident from the foregoing that the Navy Department, for proper administration, should occupy a building of such size as would enable it to house all of its activities therein.

     In case it is impossible for the Navy Department to make any other arrangements during the coming year, it will be forced to scatter its activities over a great number of rented spaces in addition to those we already have. If necessary to pursue this course it is of the greatest moment that the forces be brought together under one roof at the earliest date practicable.

     Therefore, I request an authorization to erect with the utmost expedition, a building suited to the requirements of the Navy Department, to cost, exclusive of land, not exceeding $4,000,000. In case it should be decided to erect this building on land not owned by the Government, authorization to acquire the land and appropriation therefor will be necessary.5

Sincerely yours,   

Josephus Daniels   

Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Special Correspondence, Roll 65. On, “SECRETARY OF THE NAVY./WASHINGTON.,” stationary. Addressed below close: “The Vice President.”

Footnote 1: Director of Naval Communications Comdr. David W. Todd. Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations.

Footnote 2: Radm. William C. Braisted, Surgeon General and Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.

Footnote 3: This is today the Eisenhower Executive Office building, probably better known by its former name, the Old Executive Office building.

Footnote 4: The Walker-Johnson building on New York Avenue in the District of Columbia is still standing.

Footnote 5: The result of Daniel’s request was the construction of the Main Navy and Munitions buildings, which were completed in 1918. These buildings were located on the north side of the National Mall in Washington, DC, and housed workspace for 14,000 Navy Department employees. The buildings, which were intended to be temporary, remained in use until 1970, when they were torn down and replaced by the Constitution Gardens and eventually, in 1982, by the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. “Main Navy and Munitions Buildings,” Histories of the National Mall, Accessed April 11, 2017,

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