Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Rear Admiral William S. Sims, President, Naval War College, to Senator Frederick Hale of Maine, Chairman of the Subcommittee of the Committee on Naval Affairs.

                                                                  NAVAL WAR COLLEGE,

                                                                  Newport, R. I., May 13, 1920.

     MY DEAR SENATOR HALE: I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of May 7, requesting me to give you any suggestions that may occur to me about desirable changes in the organization of the Navy Department.

     In compliance with your request, I inclose herewith a brief suggestion of the principles which I think should be included in any sound organization.

          Very Sincerely, yours,

                                                                   WM. S. SIMS,

                                                             Rear Admiral, United States Navy.

Senator Frederick Hale,

          1001 Sixteenth Street N W., Washington, D. C.




     In keeping with the “ check and balance “ doctrine of our form of government to insure to the Congress the maximum efficiency of the Navy—to insure the maximum return to the country for Government funds allotted by Congress for the Navy.


     Congress provides the means of creating a body of expert professional personnel to handle the Navy.

     Purely from a standpoint of business efficiency and of insuring return on money invested, it is evident that Congress should require the maximum utilization of the expert knowledge which it creates.

     Experience has shown the necessity of specifically requiring by legislation the method by which the above-mentioned expert knowledge should be utilized.

     The above-mentioned expert knowledge refers solely to to subjects commonly termed “ military “ or to “ the profession of arms.” In the Navy military questions concern those of the following types:

(a)  Determining military characteristics of men-of-war and their equipment.

(b)  Methods of inspection and supply of the above.

(c)  Providing and training of personnel of the Navy.

(d)  Disposition and employment of ships and men.

(e)  Preparation and execution of military plans.

(f)  Internal organization and management of the Navy and of its ships and supporting shore establishments.

(g)  Discipline of the Navy, etc.

All of the above and kindred questions must be based upon national policy; but once that policy is determined and laid down the Congress should see to it that it is carried out in accordance with the responsible advice of trained military (naval) experts.

Acceptance of such military measures, of course, rests with the President or his authorized representative, but Congress is entitled to know upon what grounds such decisions are based.

The present laws go into too much detail as regards the various essential but subordinate parts of the Navy Department organization without providing for the coordination of those parts and without insuring accomplishment or some of the principal considerations above set forth.

From the standpoint of the Congress, the following should be laid down by legislation:

(1)    A Cabinet officer (civilian, appointed by and with the advice and consent of the Senate) should act as the direct representative of the President in charge of the Naval Establishment, charged with insuring that the Navy is prepared and conducted in accordance with national policy.

(2)    This Cabinet officer should have but two principal subordinates:

(a)  A civilian Assistant Secretary, to whom should be delegated all civil questions connected with the Navy, such as detailed dealings with Congress, labor, contracts, appropriations, etc.

(b)  Military assistant, to whom should be delegated all questions of a strictly military nature.

(3)    In order to relieve the above assistants of undue burden of details, the law should recognize certain other subordinates, such as the present chiefs of bureaus, who should be empowered to expend and be accountable for expenditures of funds; but the activities of these subordinates must be entirely controlled and directed by the above two principal assistants of the Secretary. The coordination of their individual activities is of far greater importance than any of the activities themselves, which activities are in a large degree futile and inefficient unless properly coordinated. It is to the lack of this coordination that is due the inefficiency of the Navy Department.

(4)    Experience has shown the necessity of further congressional action in order to insure the accomplishment of the considerations set forth above. The following are suggested:

(a) The military assistant shall be held strictly accountable, subject to the supervision of the Secretary as regards national policy, for the military efficiency of the Navy, its preparation for war, and its conduct in war.

(b)  All measures of a strictly military nature must, of course, be in accordance with general political policies laid down by the Secretary, but the law should specifically require that the responsibility as regards military consequences shall rest entirely with the military assistant, unless he is clearly and definitely overruled by higher authority. Having the responsibility for military results placed squarely upon him the military assistant must have the necessary authority to enable him to insure that such results will be satisfactory.

In other words, the Congress should require by law that when the expert advice and assistance, which it provides, are overruled or disregarded, the fact can in no wise be obscured as a matter of official record; and when such occurs the fact should always be known to the Congress when acting in the discharge of its constitutional duty of supervision over the Navy.1 The present system allows great chances for obscurity of responsibility. Witness the present senatorial efforts to fix responsibility.

It is submitted that the above provisions are all that should be recognized by law. Any attempt to go further may do more harm than good.

The only possible addition that might be suggested is for Congress to require, with all estimates for appropriations, the military plans upon which they are based. This would of necessity require measures of secrecy.

Source Note: TCy, Naval Investigation, 3407-8.

Footnote 1: Throughout his testimony, Sims frequently criticized the Navy Department for ignoring or overruling his advice, noting that, “Instead of relying upon the judgment of those who had actual war experience in this peculiar warfare, the Navy Department, though lacking not only this experience, but also lacking adequate information concerning it, insisted upon a number of plans that could not be carried out.” Naval Investigation, 9.

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