Admiral Robert E. Coontz, Chief of Naval Operations, to Senator Frederick Hale of Maine, Chairman of the Subcommittee of the Committee on Naval Affairs.
OFFICE OF NAVAL OPERATIONS,
Washington, June 2, 1920.
MY DEAR SENATOR HALE: Referring to your letter of May 7, 1920, and subsequent correspondence connected therewith,1 I would state that I have finally found an opportunity to write you regarding the preparation of any suggestions that have occurred to me about changes in the organization of the Navy Department that would, in my opinion, be desirable.
The need for some such adjustment of the Navy Department organization appears to have been felt in a greater or lesser degree by all who have come in contact with it during a great number of years, including the civilian heads of the Navy as well as officers of experience. The various Secretaries have met this need in their own characteristic ways, sometimes using a civilian assistant of extensive knowledge in marine matters, at other times organizing boards or councils to furnish the advice needed in technical matters, and occasionally depending largely upon personally chosen officer aids for the advice required for the proper exercise of coordinating authority in purely professional naval matters. The civilian heads of the Navy have been able to make the Navy function as efficiently as it has, although openly or tacitly acknowledging the lack of a properly informed coordinating power in the department, by their successive endeavors to provide for this lack through the acceptance of expedients inherited from previous règimes or devised as a result of their own experience.
These expedients have filled in part the need which practically all familiar with the Navy Department organization admit exists. They have, however, been expedients; and, while accommodating themselves to the particular Secretary who may have devised or retained them, they have been subject to frequent modifications, sometimes amounting to the abolition of one system of procedure and the substitution of another. These frequent modifications have been detrimental to the general naval efficiency. There is still an absence of a coordinating head for the various technical naval activities carried on by the bureaus and offices of the department as now constituted.
The legislation establishing the Office of Naval Operations was a long step toward the remedying of the defect in question, but it failed in its purpose in so far as it restricted the responsibility of the Chief of Naval Operations to the preparation and readiness of plans for the use of the fleet in war, instead of charging him with the preparation and readiness of the fleet itself for use in war, as well as for its operations, for in the final summing up the fleet is the Navy.
The soundest of reasons exist for civilian control of the Naval Establishment, and it is unnecessary to discuss them here. The purpose of this letter is to suggest a means for supplying the deficiency in the department organization, universally recognized by successive civilian heads, which provides no person or body, under the Secretary, definitely charged with the responsibility of coordinating the technical work of the department as carried on by separate bureaus, each bureau having equal authority in the administration of the activities under its cognizance. It is considered important to reiterate the point that the various Secretaries of the Navy over a long period of years have indicated the need they individually have felt of supplying this deficiency. They have supplied the deficiency by various methods, all of which lacked permanency, that would have characterized a method provided for by legislative enactment.
In the development, therefore, of the suggestion upon which this letter is based, it is proposed that the Secretary, in place of a body of aids, a board, or a council to advise him in the technical details of the naval profession, which has been established by himself and which hence is without legal responsibility, be provided with an assistant, subordinate to the Secretary, who is definitely charged by law with the preparation and readiness of the fleet for use in war or any emergency in accordance with policy dictated by the Secretary.2 Legislation with this end in view should be framed particularly to safeguard all of the present powers of the Secretary, which should in no way be compromised in supplying the existing defect in the department organization. Decision should rest with the civilian head in the same degree and in equal measure as at present. The Secretary should continue to dictate the policy of the Navy and should be responsible, in the same manner as at present, for the state of readiness and the employment of the Navy, so far as he may be considered answerable, through the President, to the legislative bodies and the country at large.
It is inevitable in an organization whose varied activities are closely interlocked that differences of opinion should arise. If these differences of opinion are shared by persons of equal authority in the organization and concern professional matters in which each party to the difference has an active and legitimate interest, a decision along the lines of approved policy is required. If the policy should be absent, the Secretary would dictate it. The decision could reasonably be left to his professional assistant, from whom an appeal to the Secretary by any one of the principals would still be possible.
What might be called the supreme expression of naval organization is that found in our major fighting ships. It is a form of organization which, in its essentials, is the result of generations of naval experience. It is familiar to all naval officers. It lends itself readily to the carrying on of naval activities other than those on shipboard, and fits naturally into the thought habits of the vast majority of officers. It is the type organization, with minor modifications, of practically all of the shore establishments of the Navy, except the Navy Department establishment itself. This typical ship organization of the Navy has been examined by civilian experts and has been pronounced a highly efficient one. It is believed, if the Navy Department is organized along the lines suggested by the usual ship organization in such a manner that the Secretary stands in the organization in the relation of the commanding officer of the ship, with a professional assistant and adviser in the relation of the executive officer of the ship, that the present defect in the department organization will be overcome, and that the chain of authority and responsibility will be such as to insure a more efficient and economical naval establishment than is possible under the present organization. The Secretary will not be restricted in his powers, but in the Chief of Naval Operations he will have a professional adviser responsible for the carrying out of his policies and authorized to coordinate the activities of the various bureaus and offices of the department in such a manner as will insure the fleet being in a state of readiness for any emergency and prepared to carry on governmental policies both in peace and war.
The analogy between the Secretary and the commanding officer of a ship in the proposed organization of the Navy Department is necessarily not perfect, on account of the lack of strictly professional knowledge of the Navy on the part of the former as compared with the latter. This department from an exact analogy, however, is not material, if the legislation covering the duties of the Secretary’s professional adviser is so drawn as to make the latter responsible for the preparation and execution of all plans for the development and use of the Navy under the predetermined and guiding policies of the Secretary. The relation between the Secretary and his leading professional adviser would, in this particular, be similar to that between the president of an industrial organization and the executive manager of the organization.
The defect in the present organization of the Navy Department, in which the only common superior of a number of coordinate technical administrative bureaus and offices is the Secretary, while the operations of the fleet are in charge of the Chief of Naval Operation under the Secretary, results in placing upon the Chief of Naval Operations the responsibility for the success of naval operations, without investing him with commensurate authority over the administrative activities, which must be depended upon to provide personnel for and to supply and maintain the fleet in any given theater of operations.
If, then, the Chief of Naval Operations is given by law the status of leading professional adviser to the Secretary, and, under the Secretary as the supreme authority in the Navy, is charged with the operations of the fleet, with the preparation and readiness of plans for its development in peace, as well as its use in war, and is invested with the necessary authority over all of the technical administrative activities of the Navy to insure that approved plans and policies are carried out, there will result an organization, analogous in its essential to that which has been found most efficient in all military establishments, and which will present a logical chain of command and responsibility, and will remedy at once the essential defects of the present organization.
There are some important details to be developed and decided upon in connection with the above suggested plan of organization. In this connection I am of the opinion that in the interests of economy, efficiency, and lack of friction the Pay Corps,3 the Construction Corps,4 and the Civil Engineer Corps5 should be amalgamated with the line of the Navy along the same lines that the old Engineer Corps was amalgamated by the act of March 3, 1899.6 All troubles over bureau coordination, industrial management, etc., will then fade away. The remaining two corps—the Medical Corps and the Chaplain Corps—can be given rank and title along the same lines as these matters are handled by the Army. The question as to the future of the General Board can be handled by its amalgamation with the plans committee of Operations and then making of it the permanent policy and plan section. All estimated of naval appropriation, from whatever source, should be based on approved plans for the development and use of the Navy. These plans would indicate the relative importance of the various features entering into the plans, and estimates of appropriations for carrying them out should be coordinated by the Chief of Naval Operations and approved by the Secretary of the Navy. There is, under the present organization, no coordinating branch in connection with personnel activities, and the matèriel division of Operations is without proper powers effective to aid in the material development of the fleet and the shore establishment as a whole. These difficulties readily lend themselves to a solution with the limits of elasticity which should be accorded to the organization of the Navy Department as a whole. The really essential feature which will enable the Navy to function as an effective fighting machine is to provide the Secretary by law with a professional adviser charged with the responsibilities as outline herein and invested with adequate authority to discharge such responsibilities.
The Navy has functioned in the past and will continue to function in the future, but to assure economy and efficiency I will roughly summarize the foregoing desirable needs as follow:
(a) Amalgamate the Supply Corps, the Construction Corps, and the Civil Engineer Corps with the line of the Navy.
(b) Establish the budget system.
(c) Clothe the Chief of Naval Operations with the responsibility and authority heretofore mentioned, under the direction of the Secretary of the Navy.
(d) Amalgamate the General Board with the Plans Division of Operations.
R. E. COONTZ,
Admiral, United States Navy,
Chief of Naval Operations.7
Hon. Frederick Hale,
Chairman Subcommittee Senate Committee on Naval Affairs,
United States Senate.
Source Note: TCy, Naval Investigation, 2:3393-5.
Footnote 1: Unless Coontz is referring to the other letters sent in response to Sen. Hale’s inquiry, the aforementioned correspondence has not been published as part of the Senate subcommittee’s final report.
Footnote 2: Coontz’s argument very much echoes Bradley Fiske’s original proposal that the position of CNO should “be responsible for the readiness of the Navy for war and be charged with its general direction.” Morison, Naval Administration, II-8.
Footnote 3: The Pay Corps had actually been re-designated as the Supply Corps in 1919. It remains a part of the staff corps to this day. An Act Making appropriations for the naval service for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1920, and for other purposes. Public Law 8, U.S. Statutes at Large 41 (1919): 147.
Footnote 4: The Construction Corps would eventually be transferred to the line on 25 June 1940. An Act to transfer the active list of the Construction Corps to the line of the Navy, and for other purposes. Public Law 657, U.S. Statutes at Large 54 (1940): 527-31.
Footnote 5: The Civil Engineer Corps (CEC) remains a staff corps rather than a part of the line, though, as of 19 March 1942, U.S. Navy regulations allow CEC officers to command Seabee units. Building the Navy’s Bases in World War II: History of the Bureau of Yards and Docks and the Civil Engineer Corps 1940-1946 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1947), 1:134-5.
Footnote 6: An Act To reorganize and increase the efficiency of the personnel of the Navy and Marine Corps of the United States. Sess. III, Ch. 413, U.S. Statutes at Large 30, (1899): 1004-5.
Footnote 7: Robert E. Coontz served as CNO from 1 November 1919 to 1 July 1923.