Chapter V
The Bureau System

Early History

In chapter I of this history mention was made that from 1815 to 1842 a Board of Navy Commissioners were collectively the professional advisers and assistants to the Secretary of the Navy and that their work lay principally in the field of what is now known as logistics. The men appointed to the Board were line officers and as a rule were officers of distinction with a high sense of duty and with well rounded experience in the management of the wood and sail Navy of that day. It was natural for Secretaries of the Navy to select the commissioners from among the older officers, which meant that conservatism became the dominant note in naval administration during that period.

The commissioners guarded the Secretary of the Navy from making serious professional errors but they were never a strong influence for progress. Toward the end of this period the Board came in for much criticism both from within the Navy and from outside. Lack of individual responsibility, extreme conservatism, vacillation, extravagance, delay in the construction, repair and equipment of ships, and favoritism to an inner circle of officer were some of the faults charged to the Board.1 Many professional matters that the Board was best fitted to handle were kept outside of its jurisdiction and were dealt with by the Secretary himself. Political influence often made it impossible for the Board to effect reforms. There is no doubt that the board was held responsible unjustly for much that was wrong with the administration of the Navy Department, but there is also no question that under this organization the Navy had stagnated in technical development as compared to the British and French navies.

Shortly after taking office in 1841, the Secretary of the Navy, Abel P. Upshur, came to the conclusion that the organization and administration


of the Navy Department needed revising. He made some broad generalizations in his first annual report deploring that the Secretary had to devote so much time on trivialities that he had little time for more important things, but his ideas on how to solve the problems of reorganization and the redistribution of duties were quite vague. It remained for a young naval officer, Matthew Fontaine Maury, to state the case for reorganization clearly. Writing under the pseudonym of "Harry Bluff" in the Southern Literary Messenger in 1840 and 1841, he pointed out the principal defects in the Navy Commissioner system and advocated a number of bureaus to take its place. The below extracts from is articles show a remarkable grasp of what was fundamentally wrong with the Navy Department and of the corrective measures that needed to be taken. His writings, furthermore, show that in some respects the problems of the period were not so very different from those of today.

In no period of equal duration have as many improvements been made in naval architecture as there have been within the last 40 years. But on this side of the Atlantic these improvements have been mainly confined to the commercial marine. . . . As our merchant ships have advanced in elegance of model, combining the qualities of strength, capacity, and fleetness in admirable proportions, so have our men-of-war receded.

The vessels built by Humphreys [the frigates Constitution, , United States, Chesapeake, and Constellation] and Eckford [the steamer Robert Fulton and the men-o-war Ohio, New Orleans, and Grampus]--before the present system came existence, or had fairly fastened itself on the Navy--are to this day the favorite and the fastest ships in the Navy. Some of them were built more than 40 years ago. . . . Under the system adopted in the Navy, the constructor is subordinate to the Navy Board, and the Commissioners may approve, alter, or reject the model which he is required to submit to their inspection. . . .

The Commissioners had their own way in the building of the Columbus (74). They undertook to make her the model ship of her class for the Navy. They failed. It is said that Eckford insisted on having his way in the building of one ship. He produced the Ohio (80). SHe is to this day the crack ship of her class in the Navy. . . .

. . . Shipbuilding and ship sailing are entirely distinct and separate professions. When the constructor exhibits the model of a ship to the Navy Board, the Commissioners, like the dealer in pictures, may or may not be a connoisseur in the art. He may tell by the eye whether the piece before him be in comely proportions--whether there be too many hollow lines, too many curves, or proper waterlines--whether too much breadth here, or depth there.

But, let the picture dealer or the Commissioner touch a line or attempt to alter the piece before him, and the whole will be botched and


spoiled. When the models of the Constitution, United States, and the Ohio were drafted, there was no Navy Board with its Commissioners, to improvise--to cut off a little here--to add a little there--and to take away or mystify responsibility. Everybody knows who built the Ohio, but who can tell the father of the Fulton, or of any other of our new or dull ships? Eckford and Humphreys were each wholly and entirely responsible for the success or failure of his own model.

Rather than the present system should continue in the Navy, it were better to contract as formerly with private builders of well-established reputation.

. . . To remedy the evils, a Bureau of Construction, under the management of the Chief Naval Constructor, is necessary. The head of each of the bureaus should be independent of all the rest, and responsible to the Secretary alone, and subject only to his orders.

Under the present system, the Medical Department is as much under the control of the Navy Board as you have seen that naval architecture is and the surgeons are quite as much hampered as the constructors.

The holding of officers of one profession responsible for the duties of another which they have never studied and do not understand is not only unwise, but mischievous.

Ordnance, supplies, and the equipment of vessels for service, each of itself constitutes a separate and distinct department and requires the supervision of experienced and intelligent officers.

The Secretary of the Navy comes to office uninformed as to the condition and needs of the Navy. He goes to work in the dark, and of course blunders, and mismanagement ensues. Even to conduct the details of a ship where everything is reduced to the compass of a mere shell, the captain requires the assistance of an officer exclusively for this purpose. The commander of a fleet finds it necessary to assign the details of the fleet to one officer, and the details of his ship to another, that he may give strict attention to the general superintendence and the management of the whole which the general welfare requires. . . . He much more necessary must such assistance be to the Secretary?"

It was no mere coincidence that Maury later achieved worldwide renown as a scientist. in his analysis of the problems of naval administration he demonstrated a capacity for clear thinking that is characteristic of scientists. His criticisms went unerringly to the root of the matter: the need for distributing the work of the Navy Department among a number of bureaus along functional liners and the need of officer specialists to supervise the work of the bureaus. He saw, also, that the Bureau Chiefs must be individually responsible to the Secretary and even envisaged an aide for the Secretary along the lines of a Chief of Naval Operations to


coordinate the work of the Bureaus and to act as his principal military advisor, but unfortunately, this idea was not incorporated in the basic law creating the Bureaus.

The Bureaus Established

The Bureau system was established by Congress on August 31, 1942.2 Five Bureaus were created: (1) Bureau of Navy Yards and Docks, (2) Bureau of Construction, Equipment, and Repair, (3) Bureau of Provisions and Clothing, (4) Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography, and (5) Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. The act prescribed that, ". . . the Secretary of the Navy shall assign and distribute among the said bureaus such of the duties of the Navy Department as he shall judge to be expedient and proper . . "

The replacement of the Board of Navy Commissioners by the Bureaus did not immediately affect the administration of the Navy Department to the extent that might have been expected because four of the five newly created Chiefs of Bureaus were the three Navy Commissioners and the Secretary, respectively, of the late Board. The upper echelon of the new hierarchy was, therefore, much the same as it had been under the Navy Commissioners. This had its good points as it got the new system off to a reasonably smooth start, as indicated by the fact that Secretary Upshur's annual report in December 1842 devoted only one page to the new organization out of the twenty constituting the report.

One of the basic reasons for creating the Bureaus was,however, promptly ignored; the concept that Bureau Chiefs should be technically qualified for the work of their bureaus. The organic act required that the Chief of the Bureau of Construction, Equipment and Repair be" a skillful naval constructor." Commodore David Conner, a former Navy Commissioner, was appointed Chief of that Bureau but he was a line officer and not a naval constructor. The appointment caused much bad feeling. The reason given by Secretary Upshur in his annual report for not appointing a naval constructor as required by the law was somewhat disingenuous. He stated that "in providing a Chief of Bureau of Construction, Equipment and Repair, the alternative was between a naval captain qualified to equip and a naval constructor qualified to build and repair. I did not hesitate to prefer the former and the place is filled by a member of the late Board of Navy Commissioners."

Line officers continued to head that Bureau until 1853 when Congress explicitly directed that its Chief "be a skillful naval constructor as required by the act approved August 31, 1842, instead of a captain of the Navy."


It took even longer to establish the practice of appointing a technically educated and trained person as the Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks. Not until 1898 was an officer of the Civil Engineer Corps of the Navy named Chief of that Bureau, and not until then did the full potential of the civil engineering profession become available to the Navy.

Additional Bureaus

Even during the early discussions leading up to the adoption of the system there were differences of opinion as to the number of Bureaus needed. Advances in science and technology indicated the need for more specialization than provided. The subject came to a head with the outbreak of the Civil War and led Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, who had at one time been the Chief of the Bureau of Provisions and Clothing, to recommend additional Bureaus. In accordance with his request Congress, under date of July 5, 1862,3 created eight Bureaus in place of the original five as follows: (1) Yards and Docks, (2) Equipment and Recruiting, (3) Navigation, (4) Ordnance, (5) Construction and Repair, (6) Steam Engineering, (7) Provisions and Clothing, and (8) Medicine and Surgery. Experience was to demonstrate that the creation of a separate Bureau of Steam Engineering was a mistake. It took some 80 years to re-marry the Bureau of Construction and Repair and the Bureau of Engineering to form the Bureau of Ships. On the other hand creating the Bureau of Navigation which eventually dealt with all matters of Naval Personnel was a decided improvement.

In effect the former Bureau of Construction, Equipment and Repair became three Bureaus; Construction and Repair, Steam Engineering, and Equipment and Recruiting. An Engineering Corps had been established in 18424 but the specialty of propelling machinery for the ships was at first handled by a sub-division of the Bureau of Construction, Equipment and Repair but was staffed by officers of the Engineer corps.

The act of 1842 was singularly lacking in any provision for handling personnel; probably because in those days it was still the practice to recruit the crews of ships locally including the officers to some extent. However, with the outbreak of the Civil War the procurement of naval personnel became much more complicated and necessitated centralization of its administration in the Navy Department. As providing the crews for ships was in a measure allied to equipping them, enlisted personnel were placed under the new bureau of Equipment and Recruiting.


The Bureau of Navigation became an outright addition to the Bureau system by the act of 1862. It was intended to be the scientific bureau of the Navy Department. Assigned to it at first were the Naval Observatory, Hydrographic Office, Nautical Almanac Office, and the Naval Academy. In March 1861 Secretary Welles set up an Office of Detail under his personal supervision staffed at first by a single officer and later by a board of three officers. This office looked after the appointment and instruction of the many volunteer officers who had to be brought into the Navy during the Civil War and to their assignment to duty.

On April 28, 1865 that office was placed under the Bureau of Navigation. In 1889 Secretary of the Navy Tracy made some radical changes in the assignment of the duties of the Bureaus of Navigation and Equipment as a result of which the entire function of providing personnel for the Navy including enlisted personnel was placed under the Bureau of Navigation. In exchange the Bureau of Equipment was given cognizance of practically all of the scientific activities that had been placed under the Bureau of Navigation when that Bureau was established by the act of 1862. Personnel eventually became so predominantly the business of the Bureau of Navigation that the title of the Bureau was changed in 1942 to Bureau of Naval Personnel.

The Bureau of Equipment was in many respects a hybrid bureau with duties that were partly scientific, partly nautical, and partly supply. It was for example, charged with the purchase, storage, and issue of coal to ships, presumably because coal had taken the place of the wind for supplying the energy needed to propel ships, and as sails came under the cognizance of that Bureau, coal was placed there also. It would have been more logical to have placed coal under the Bureau of Provisions and Clothing as the latter was developing into the supply bureau of the Navy. The wires of the Bureau of Equipment were constantly getting crossed with those of other Bureaus and it became thereby the storm center of many inter-bureau controversies.

Finally, Secretary of the Navy Meyer in 1909 recommended its complete abolishment and began to distribute its duties to the other bureaus. The Bureau was abolished by an act of Congress in 1914. This was a logical step as the principal reason for its existence as a separate Bureau, the furnishing of sails and rigging to ships, had largely disappeared. In the distribution of the duties of the Bureau of Equipment, the Naval Observatory and a number of other scientific activities were again placed under the Bureau of Navigation and remained there until that Bureau became the Bureau of Naval Personnel in 1942 sith practically no functions except those connected with personnel.

The establishment of the Bureau of Aeronautics in 1921 marked the


third major change in the organizational structure of the Bureau system. The genesis of that bureau followed much the same pattern as had the origin of the Bureau of Steam Engineering. In the years from 1910 when the Navy Department first began to take an active interest in aviation up to the establishment of the Bureau in 1921, the design, production, and operation of aircraft were handled much in the same way as for ships. This was a logical and effective approach to the introduction of a new naval activity particularly as the Navy's interest lay at first largely in flying boats and seaplanes rather than in land planes. The fine record made by American naval aviation during the development stage is a great tribute to the technical proficiency and flexibility of the Bureau system as a whole.

In one respect there was a marked difference in the pattern of emergence of Steam Engineering and of Aeronautics as separate Bureaus in the organizational structure. Naval steam engineering, during the early years, depended greatly for its personnel and leadership on civilians, whereas in the case of aviation, career naval personnel in a large measure provided the leadership and pioneered the education and training of civilian aeronautical engineers. The early flyers were however civilians. This aspect of the creation and development of the Bureau of Aeronautics will be covered in greater detail in the chapter on that Bureau.

Merger of C. & R., and Engineering

The fourth and last change up to and including World War II in the units comprising the Bureau system occurred in 1940 with the merger of the Bureaus of Construction and Repair, and Engineering to form the Bureau of Ships. The steps leading up to this consolidation will be covered in some detail in the chapter on the Bureau of Ships.

The splitting up in 1862 of the Bureau of Construction, Equipment and Repair into three Bureaus; Construction and Repair, Steam Engineering, and Equipment, was perhaps logical in the light of the state of development of naval architecture, marine engineering, and shipbuilding at that time. These branches of knowledge were just emerging from the realm of the arts into the domain of the engineering sciences. Distributing them among several Bureaus may have accelerated progress in their development, but became a source of administrative trouble to the Navy Department as a whole and to the efficient management of the Navy Yards.

During the design and construction of ships the split-up made it difficult to arrive at and to enforce an optimum balance between the hull, machinery, and equipment features of ships, including armor protection


and armament. This led to many disputes between the bureaus, especially during the years when the United States began to emerge as a sea power and the Navy Department began building ships from its own designs. The fragmentation of the Bureau of Construction, Equipment and Repair played a part also in duplicating unnecessarily the facilities at the Navy Yards, and in making the management of Navy Yards difficult. This phase in the administration of the Navy Department will be covered in more detail in Chapter XIII, "The Shore Establishment."

The organic act under which the Bureau system was established left no doubt that the Secretary of the Navy had the full responsibility for the administration of the Navy Department. The Chiefs of the Bureaus were given great authority but it was authority delegated to them by the Secretary of the Navy. The provision leaving it to the Secretary to distribute the business of the Navy Department to the Bureaus in such a way as he considered expedient resulted in a system of great flexibility and made it possible to meet the ever changing and expanding logistic needs of the Navy without tearing down completely an existing organization and starting all over from scratch.

The four occasions mentioned above when major changes were made in the units comprising the system demonstrated this flexibility in four different ways. There was first the expansion of the number of Bureaus from five to eight because it was thought that the original number did not adequately take care of specialization, then came the abolition of one of the Bureaus and the distribution of its work to the others after its principal function had become obsolete, then followed the addition of the Bureau of Aeronautics to met an entirely new development in naval warfare and finally the consolidation of two of the Bureaus in the interests of integrating more closely their ship design and construction function. These adjustments in the organizational structure of the system greatly improved the administrative effectiveness of the Navy Department and left no doubt that the system was capable of meeting any situation that might arise.

During World War II, the Office of Procurement and Material was set up as one of the Secretary's executive offices to coordinate the work of the material bureaus and to serve as the liaison in policy matters between the war emergency agencies dealing with material and particularly to provide liaison between the War Production Board and the Navy Department. At the end of the war its tile was changed to Material Division and was eventually given legal status by Congress as the Office of Naval Material to "effectuate policies of procurement contracting, and production of material" under direction of the Secretary of the Navy thus rounding out the coordination of certain of the material functions of the Bureaus.


The history of the origin and the functions performed by the Office of Procurement and Material will be found in the Chapter on "Industrial Mobilization and Material Procurement" in this work.


A clear and definite understanding of the jurisdictional limits of the respective Bureaus with respect to their work, responsibilities and authority was originally and still remains fundamental to the effective functioning of the system. In naval parlance this concept is expressed by the term "cognizance". The broad areas of cognizance are indicated by the names of the Bureaus. Hearings before Congress and the wording of Appropriation Acts have, from time to time, still further delimited these areas, but Congress never, by statue, defined the duties of the Bureaus in the sense that it defined the duties of the Chiefs of the various Army Corps and subdivisions of the War Department. The organic act of 1842 giving the Secretary of the Navy authority to distribute the duties of the Navy Department among the Bureaus in such manner as he considered expedient, remained the basis for fixing cognizance during World War II.

One of the purposes of Navy Regulations, General Orders, and Directives is to define in unequivocal terms the cognizances of the respective Bureaus. Cognizance, is not however always based on logic. Furthermore, in anything so compact and complex as a warship, the line separating the responsibilities of one bureau from those of another cannot always be sharply drawn. Good arguments can usually be advanced by both sides in any controversy involving cognizance.

Arguments over departures from established cognizance were common in the early days of the Bureau system, and sometimes had their roots in the ambitions of powerful Bureau chiefs to enlarge their spheres of authority. It is part of human nature for anyone in a strategic position in government to do this by making raids on the work and prerogatives of bordering activities. A Bureau Chief who had the ear of the Secretary and perhaps of other highly placed civilians could often enlarge the scope of his work by such practices. At about the halfway period in the existence of the Bureau system disputes over cognizance kept the Navy Department in an constant state of turmoil and led to much friction and bad feeling between the Bureaus; thus one of the strong points of the system, its elasticity, became also an element of weakness. An example of the ramification of cognizance disputes will be of interest.

The means for lighting ships have always been important items of their equipment. In the original distribution of work to the Bureaus lamps and candles were assigned to the Bureau of Construction, Equipment and


Repair. Under the 1862 reorganization, for some reason not clear from the record, lamps and candles were assigned to the new Bureau of Navigation and not to the Bureau of Equipment and Recruiting, which might logically have been given cognizance of such equipment.

In the early 80's the first experiments were made in lighting ships by electricity. When Secretary Benjamin F. Tracy in 1889 reshuffled the duties of the Bureaus of Navigation and of Equipment, lamps and candles including lighting by electricity were assigned to the Bureau of Equipment. With the increasing use of electricity during the next twenty years the Bureau of Equipment made a continual effort to control everything electrical on naval ships, thus slowing down the application of electricity for naval use in general. Eventually, however, electricity was looked upon as a means to an end which any bureau could use but the electric generating plant was assigned to the Bureau of Steam Engineering.

There was also much cognizance trouble over the foundations for machinery and guns, pipes passing through bulkhead where water tight integrity was involved, floor plates in machinery spaces, store rooms and ship space provided for the respective bureau activities, etc. Finally through an unexpected chain of circumstances a cure for minor cognizance annoyances was found.

When George von L. Meyer became Secretary of the Navy in 1909 he wished to make a number of radical changes in the organization and administration of the Navy Department and in the distribution of work to the Bureaus, but not being certain of his ground, refrained from going to Congress for the authority to carry out his plans. Instead toward the latter part of 1909 he asked the Attorney General for a ruling as to whether he had the authority to modify the Navy Regulations to cover the contemplated changes without going to Congress for authority. The Attorney General gave a favorable opinion on the proposed changes but ruled that notwithstanding the working of the organic act creating the Bureaus, the fact that Congress made appropriations to the respective bureaus for specific purposes, bared the Secretary of the Navy during the life of such appropriations, usually the current fiscal year, from assigning the work in question to a bureau other than the one named in the appropriation act as that in effect, would result in reallocating funds appropriated by Congress for a specified purpose.5


The ruling had a profound effect on the relationships between the Bureaus as it largely eliminated the cause of friction between them even though it reduced somewhat the flexibility and elasticity of the system. A Bureau Chief, no matter how aggressive, thereafter hesitated to go after the work of another bureau as any change of cognizance had first to be thrashed out before a Congressional Committee during the hearings on the appropriation bill for the coming year. Intrigue and secret deals to broaden the cognizance of a Bureau practically disappeared as a result of the decision. The ruling governed the procedure for making changes in cognizance right up to the passage of the National Security Act of 1947.

Thus the acts by which Congress made appropriations for the support of the Naval Establishment became an important factor in fixing the jurisdictional limits of the various Bureaus. The Bureaus in a desire to define their functions positively, and to tighten their grip on matters in which they were interested, often requested Congress to make specific appropriations for such purposes. Congress was usually not loath to do so because the practice strengthened the hold of the committees on the Naval purse strings.

Structure of Naval Appropriation Acts

Appropriation acts after the Attorney General's ruling of 1909 gravitated toward a main or leading appropriation covering the principal activities of each Bureau with numerous additional title and more specific in their nature. The number of appropriation titles increased gradually over the years until there were upward of two hundred separate items in the annual naval appropriation acts after World War I. The large number of title multiplied accounting problems and among other things made it difficult to determine costs, particularly the cost of the work done at navy yards.

During World War II a great shortage in accounting personnel still further underlined the problems of dealing with so many appropriations and of obtaining financial statistics timely enough to be of any use in the administration of the Navy Department. Toward the end of the war these considerations and the desire to clarify management and fiscal responsibility led to a general overhauling of the appropriations structure, resulting in a great reduction in the number of titles under which appropriations were made.

There were, however, some disadvantages inherent in these changes. Congress, for one thing, relinquished thereby much of its control over the Naval Establishment and naval expenditures. The work of the Bureaus in planning and carrying out their programs became more difficult because


of the uncertainty under the new procedures as to the funds available for the work even during the year for which the appropriations were made.6

The Bureau System and the Operating Forces

In the preceding pages the origin and evolution of the Bureau system as an instrument of Navy Department administration was outlined. At no time during the more than one hundred years of its existence has the system been free from attack and criticism. Such attacks have come from within the Navy more than from the outside. The Bureaus are the tools of management of the upper civilian and military echelons charged with administering the Naval Establishment. Perfection cannot be expected of these tools as they consist of human beings, but the personnel of the Bureaus, whether civilian or in uniform, rank in competence and dedication to their work fully as high as the personnel in other branches of the government. Man unprejudiced witnesses have given a higher rating to Navy Department administration than given to other government activities but it cannot be said that the Bureaus have ever been popular with the operating forces of the Navy.

Much of the unpopularity springs from the fact that in the last analysis the Bureaus, in the past at least, held the purse strings of the appropriations made by Congress for the Navy. Funds for the Navy are never plentiful except in time of war and the Bureaus, especially the technical Bureaus, are never able to meet all of the money demands made on them by ships and shore establishments. In addition to the worthwhile projects that the Bureaus must disapprove because of lack of funds there are always many that cannot stand up under the technical and policy scrutiny of the Bureaus and other offices in the Navy Department.

Until comparatively recent times the approval of the Bureaus was required before the navy yards were permitted to undertake even repairs on ships. After World War I there was, however, inaugurated a method of controlling repairs, maintenance, and the issue of consumable stores to


ships through allotments of money made to the forces afloat and to the navy yards without stipulating in detail how the money was to be spent. This change was made in the interests of saving time and paper work and of decentralizing some of the authority for naval expenditures into the field.The method worked out well as it gave ships and shore establishments a greater sense of responsibility for the expenditure of government money.

Alterations to ships have always had to be approved by the Bureaus because considerations other than just the availability of funds are usually involved, such as strength, stability, watertight integrity, safety and the like. When in the past such proposals were disapproved, the Bureau concerned was often charged by the advocates of the alteration with lack of understanding of the operating conditions necessitating the proposed changes. To meet this criticism, a Ship Characteristics Board was established under the Chief of Naval Operations toward the end of World War II, which, among other matters, dealt with proposed alterations as described in Chapter III of this work.

The problem of controlling alterations to ships is is an old one. in 1915, the argument for creating the Board of Navy Commissioners was clinched when the Secretary of the Navy informed Congress that he particularly needed naval advisers to help him in dealing with the extravagant expenditures for alterations made by the commanding officers of ships. Under the Aide System in 1909, during the regime of Secretary of the Navy Meyer, the Bureaus were required to submit to the Secretary, through the Naval Aide for Material, all requests for alterations recommended for disapproval by the Bureaus.

The Bureaus are often criticized because they over-standardize and over-channelize their procedures. Such tendencies are indeed the curse of all bureaucracy. No one realizes this more fully than do the Naval Officers in the upper administrative levels of the Bureaus. Nevertheless, no business of the size and complexity of the Navy Department can possibly function without standardization and channelization; the problem is to keep these necessities within reasonable bounds. Exaggeration of these practices are the sins, particularly of the permanent civilian elements in the Bureaus. The personnel in uniform rotate in and out of the Bureaus and are, therefore, less likely to be over-impressed with the need for slavish adherence to established procedures and standards. Naval Officers bring into the Bureaus a constant flow of sea and shore establishment experience, thus underlining the importance of making decisions on the merits of individual situations so far as that is possible instead of blind observance of past practices.

The non-technical bureaus have been fully as vulnerable to the charge


of inelasticity in that respect as the technical bureaus. A complaint against the Bureau of Naval Personnel, for example, is that in the assignment of officers to duty they are not always given jobs fitted to their abilities and that as a consequence, the Navy does not get the most out of the capabilities of its officers. The answer of the Bureau of Personnel is that versatility is of such importance to the effective working of the command system that a broad range of duty assignments, even if for many officers in unfamiliar fields, must supplement the education and training of such officers.

Naval Personnel in the Bureaus

Over the years, some of the best scientific, engineering, and administrative minds were to be found among career naval officers in the technical bureaus. Most of these officers became identified with such work through their own choice and inclination, largely, however, because in earlier days there were special incentives for specializing in engineering, using the term in its broadest sense.

In recent years, incentives have, however, been lacking for officers to specialize in the work of certain of the Bureaus, notably Ships, Yards and Docks, and Supplies and Accounts.7 Officers on duty in the Bureaus of Ordnance, Naval Personnel, and most of those in Aeronautics being unrestricted line officers have open to them the many opportunities for attaining high rank and distinction that go with the command branch of the Navy. Practically all officers in the Bureau of Aeronautics also receive extra pay as an inducement for taking up aviation. The same is true of the officers in the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. To the officers in the Bureaus of Ships, Supplies and Accounts, and yards and Docks, the satisfaction of being employed on important work and doing it well is the only stimulus for their efforts, but it comes too late to be an incentive for young officers to take up such work at the outset of their naval careers.

Summing up

In 1842, Congress enacted the Bureau system, which through the years was expanded, and the distribution of their functions, as described in the foregoing pages. The system proved itself flexible and capable of handling under changing conditions the Navy's logistic work, especially so after the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations was established to provide coordination for the activities of the bureaus. Fully as important


to success as the flexibility and adaptability of the system was the policy followed in staffing the system.

Until te period with which this history deals, the key positions in the Navy Department below the level of the Secretary and his presidentially appointed civilian assistant had been occupied by career naval officers, and so far as such officers were available this remained the practice during World War II. Under this policy naval officers were rotated in duty between the field (the field being the operating forces and the shore establishment) and the Navy Department. This provided the operating experience which is so necessary to efficient headquarters administration. Conversely, following a tour of duty in the Navy Department, the officer carried with him into the field experience with respect to the administration of the Navy Department that was invaluable not only to his new station but to him personally throughout his career.

The policy in no way lessened the need for qualified specialized civilian personnel in the Navy Department. Such personnel, for one thing, provided continuity in handling the routine administrative work of the Navy Department. Civilian personnel also provided the special skills and knowledge needed to carry out projects and programs to keep the Bureaus in the forefront of advances in science and technology of interest to the Navy. The civilian employee cannot, however, be considered an all-around substitute for the career naval officer in key administrative billets, because there was, and is, no way of giving him the field operating experience so necessary to the efficient performance of Navy Department duties at the administrative level. Only rotation in duty can provide th3e experience needed for such work, but rotation is impracticable for civilians in a military service. It was tried in the past and resulted in giving officer status to the personnel involved.

The success of the Bureau system has depended furthermore on the selection of the Chiefs of the Bureaus from naval personnel qualified to perform the specialized duties assigned to their bureaus. This policy did much to provide an incentive for competent young men to take up the work of the specialized bureaus. The prospect of becoming the Chief of a Bureau also stimulated the morale and esprit de corps of the staff corps and of the officers restricted to engineering duty.

The Bureau system has demonstrated its viability, elasticity, and competence over the years by meeting successfully the exigent requirements of five wars and also the very different problems of the intervening peace periods.8


Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (4) * Next Chapter (6)


1. Paulin, C,O., "Naval Administration Under the Navy Commissioners," Proceedings (Naval Institute), June 1907.

2. 5 Stat. 579.

3. 12 Stat. 510.

4. Bennett, Frank M., The Steam Navy of the United States, 1896, Warren and Company, Pittsburgh.

5. Decision of Attorney General regarding "The Proposed Changes in the Regulations for the Government of the Navy, Edition of 1909"--Department of Justice, October 27, 1909.

6. After the period with which this history deals, changes in the appropriation acts became necessary also to meet the requirements of the National Security Act Amendments of 1949 as well as the recommendations of the Hoover Commission to Congress with respect to the making of the Federal budget. As a result, such acts ceased to play a direct part in fixing the cognizance of the bureaus. For the fiscal year 1955 there were only some twenty-three headings in the Naval Appropriation Act, (See Vol. 68, Part 1--Statues at Large, 83rd Congress, 2nd Session, 1954). Beginning with the fiscal year 1951, there has in fact been no mention in the acts of the bureaus by name.

There are certain advantages in the new structure adopted in 1951, as it separates capital programs from operating programs. Operating programs gather into one appropriation all the charges of ship operations, overhaul, etc. even though the money is not specifically assigned to the Bureau CHiefs, they must justify to Congress the amounts requested in the budget estimates, and can spend only the amounts allotted to them by the upper level civilian echelons, subject to revision at any time. This however makes the planning of their programs difficult.

7. The trend in lessening incentives was emphasized after World War II by downgrading the Chiefs of all Bureaus except the Chief of the Bureau of Naval Personnel to two-star rank, whereas the DCNO's retained the three-star rank that had been assigned to them.

8. The trend since World War II of duplicating in the organization of the Chief of Naval Operations much of the work done in the Bureaus threatens the value of the Bureau system as an efficient instrument of Navy Department administration. The practice leads to extravagance in the employment of personnel, to slowing down the work of the Navy Department, particularly of the Bureaus, and to irresponsible decisions.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation