Are There Any Sailors in the Navy?
(See page 1267, September, 1932, Proceedings)
Lieutenant W. S. G. Davis, U. S. Navy.—This article has “hit home” particularly hard. The writer was born and brought up in New England, learned how fast a boom comes over and how far a sudden gust can bury a Swampscott dory’s lee rail from unpleasant immersions in Marblehead Harbor’s waters at a tender age, and is personally familiar with a great many rocks along the Massachusetts and Maine shores from “just not hitting ’em.”
My most preferred form of recreation is handling a small sail boat and I know I have been far from alone in wishing for the opportunity to take part in some of the ocean yacht races Mr. Loomis mentions. The difficulty comes in the lack of that “opportunity.” To take the comparatively short Bermuda race as an example, does Mr. Loomis realize that, in order to take part, an officer would have to:
- Obtain permission from the Secretary of the Navy to travel outside the continental limits of the United States.
- Obtain enough leave to cover at least the period of the race plus time to arrive at starting point plus time to return from Bermuda to his place of duty.
- Have his professional work in such condition that his commanding officer would approve his absence for such a period at that exact time.
- Defray the expenses of travel involved from his own pocket.
- Eliminate this period from the precious limit of 30 days for that year, (a limit which, it is doubtful that Mr. Loomis realizes, is not often possible to enjoy at the times most desired).
I am speaking from personal experience here, in reviewing the sorrow with which I had to decline such an opportunity a very few years ago because of a combination of the above difficulties.
It is because of the belief that Mr. Loomis writes his article from the viewpoint of a fair percentage of yachtsmen and that his pardonable ignorance of the many obstacles that prevent navy participation in ocean yacht racing may be shared generally, that I am making this attempt to clear up some of the questions which seems to have been bothering him.
The answer to his question, carefully paraphrased in the title, “Are there no sailors in the Navy,” is that emphatically there are sailors in the Navy. Does he question navy seamanship? May I ask if any of the skippers of the ocean yachts from their experience as such, would have made better jobs of it than the many instances of heroic rescues at sea by navy ships such as Commander Edwards’ epic with the burning French ammunition-laden transport in the Mediterranean or the more recent rescue of the crew of a sinking windjammer in the Caribbean?
Mr. Loomis makes odious references to a rammed subchaser manned by reserves, apparently condemning all hands “from the commanding officer down” for not knowing the direction of the wind at midnight. I should like to offer a bet that, if Mr. Loomis were skipper of one of his ocean racing yachts and he turned a marker buoy in close quarters with other craft, he would not be able to testify days later the exact direction of the current stream past that buoy. Moreover, while the man at the wheel or tiller might recall the direction of the wind and other deck hands what tack they were on, the chances are strong that his engineer would not. Is he to be condemned to the class below “structural steel workers,” also?
There is, or should be, little or no question that experience gained under canvas is helpful in making a good “steamboat sailor” but I am very much afraid that examining boards passing on an officer’s professional fitness for promotion would be hard to convince that “those who have been trained in sailing ships” must necessarily be better qualified than a former farm hand or garage mechanic to control the fire of guns, supervise the operation and upkeep of a 28,000-horsepower engineering plant, assign the proper frequencies for an intricate communication schedule with various types of surface, subsurface, and air craft, or give the captain an accurate ship’s position when it is overcast or foggy. The latter instance is borne home particularly as the writer is at present doing just that with the aid of a radio direction finder and fathometer while experience in taking sights “from a deck that is never still for an instant” is of no practical value nor has it been for days! And an “almost invisible” lightship must be picked up, too.
There are doubtless many that echo the “lament that the Navy is not partaking in ocean racing” but, until the need is more apparent for an officer to concentrate on the direction of the wind instead of attempting to maintain pace with the development and progress of international and military law, strategy and tactics, marine engineering, electricity, seamanship, gunnery, navigation, aviation, communications and stability and ship control, it is doubtful if Congress can be persuaded to appropriate funds, the Navy Department to apportion the required time, or those who might enjoy it and benefit most to relinquish the time for navy participation in this “rugged introduction to seamanship.”
Lieutenant G. C. Weldin.—On the day of reading this article—as if in answer to the “impudent” question—a local evening newspaper (the San Diego Evening Tribune under date of September 3, 1932) carried the following Associated Press dispatch:
Rear Admiral Wat Tyler Cluverius, new commandant of the Great Lakes naval training station, is serving the first fresh-water duty of his forty years in the service. As he took command, he reminded himself of “another salt-water sailor, assigned to duty on a Great Lakes vessel, whose first act was to order his men to fill the boat breakers, where drinking water was kept. “He forgot he was sailing on fresh water,” the admiral said. “I won’t fill the boat breakers. We’ll get our drinking water over the side.” He praised the type of young men he found at his new command. “Our best recruits come from the middle west,” said the admiral, “but we have a tough time teaching them to swim in salt water. And furthermore, the navy doesn’t want seamen. We need the type of mind suited for mechanics. That’s what the navy is today, and we find it most frequently in boys from the midwest.” Cluverius is the last surviving officer of the battleship Maine disaster in Havana, in 1898, still on the active list.
In other words, the Navy, like the world in general, has progressed far beyond the age of sail—we are in the age of machinery, and are passing into that of electricity. Our modern ships are turbo-electric drive, those of the Germans, Diesel drive, and it appears that before long our own will perhaps pass into the age of Diesel-electric drive. Therefore, it is not sailors but mechanics that are the Navy’s crying need as Admiral Cluverius has so clearly stated.
It is true that weather, more especially foggy weather, will be one of the chief elements and handicaps for sailormen to overcome—or should we say for scientists and mechanics (Navy as well as civilian) to overcome? Even now our papers tell of British lighthouses which warn mariners by radio voice to keep clear of danger when in fog; of beaten paths made in the sea where a ship is guided by radio beam so that from observing the color of an indicator light errors in the course can be detected, as red light off to the left, green light off to the right, yellow all is well—you are on your course. Although the Navy and sailormen in general have the reputation of being very conservative, which keeps alive the tradition that the Navy changes slowly, our modern Navy is a very up-to-date organization, and the direction and force of the wind, while interesting, (whether or not it has been truly logged) will not cause the fleet to go in one direction when its mission calls for it go in another. The Navy will, as always, be “conservatively progressive” in the forefront of modern appliances, so that it will reach its destination and win its engagement, not only with, but if necessary in spite of, Weather and direction of wind.
To be serious, it would indeed be nice for the Navy, and it would seem for midshipmen in particular, to be able to spend the summer on a yachting cruise. It must be admitted that in this particular “depression” year there are probably quite a number of officers that would welcome that “public benefactor” should he present them with a yacht on which to “spend” their legislative furlough; but how could this summer of yachting be arranged and still carry out required schedules? If it were possible, just how far would this tend to perfect our naval officer in the serious business of the Navy—of keeping itself in such powerful condition as to preserve the peace—or, peace failing, by its fighting ability to bring about the peace so urgently desired.
It is not the sailor who is most in demand now (except as that term means “man-of-war’s man”) but that clear-eyed and alert mechanic, the man who can keep the generator running, or who can keep the director (whose life stream is the electricity from the generator) effectively upon the target. Only as it is true that the yachtsman is trained to be always mentally alert by ever threatening danger of the weather is yachting experience apt to prove of value to the Navy. The yachtsman’s fellow countryman, the machinist, trained to measure accuracy by the thousandth of an inch, is more apt to fit in and prove to be of vital use to the Navy in its time of dire need, when the test of strength by arms occurs.
All this not to detract from the yachtsman and seaman but to give due credit to those equally earnest and equally required specialists of the Navy, the “black gang,” the “gunner’s gang,” (to say nothing of the metal smith and other artificers), for after all it is the engineer as well as the navigator who brings the ship to the scene of the action. The best destroyer is not necessarily the one that is all “dolled up,” but the ship that can steam the best (get to the scene of action), fire the best (get through the enemy screen), and deliver at the point desired (upon the enemy battleships), not part, but its whole broadside of torpedoes (each one to go effectively to its mark); that is the destroyer fit to fly the much coveted “meat ball.”
“Are There Any Sailors in the Navy?” The answer is that, if by sailors are meant men to sail boats, probably there are not many, for, although the love of the sport is probably as deeply embedded in us as in other days, modern conditions do not permit its indulgence. As this is the type of sailor meant in the article under discussion we must admit that in that sense of the word we probably must answer, “not many.”
This gives rise to another question, “Does the Navy need sailors?” The answer, “Yes, ’’ when “sailor” is given the meaning of “man-of-war’s man.” Our modern navy has these modern sailors.
The Conquest of the Baltic Islands
(See page 971, July, 1932, Proceedings)
Fletcher Pratt.—Captain von Koblinski’s article, while very informative as to the German side of the Baltic Islands operation, leaves one with the impression that the defenders had no chance against the careful organization of the attack. This is based, evidently, on a misconception of the conditions existing in the Russian naval and coast defense services at the time of the operation for he says, “The Russian fleet, unlike the army, had not shown any signs of slackness in efficiency and courage”; and again, “The behavior of the Russian Navy was excellent. The fighting in the Kassar Wiek was very fierce. . . .”
In direct contradiction to these statements is the testimony of an eyewitness on the Russian side, Commander Graf, who has given a striking picture of the strange and anomalous conditions that existed in the Russian marine at the time of the attack; which conditions materially aided the German operation at least, and were probably the basic reason for its success.
The February revolution (1917) had begun in the Russian Navy at Kronstadt by a series of attacks on officers. On two of the battleships (Andrei Pervosvanni and Imperator Pavel) the entire officer personnel was shot, and there was hardly a ship in the whole Baltic fleet which had not lost at least one officer by murder. Many officers who escaped the shootings had been driven from their ships by the revolutionists, with the result that when the German attack came in October, many ships had cadets fresh from the schools as watch keepers, and in all there was a shortage of trained officers. Moreover, at the time of the attack, all ships in the fleet were ruled by sailors’ councils; the officers had been told bluntly that they were retained on board only because of their technical knowledge; they had very little to do with operations.
Five different admirals had commanded the Baltic fleet in the space of nine months and the naval staff had ceased to exist, while the officer personnel that did remain could depend neither on themselves, the personnel of the ships, nor that of the non-combatant services. Two extracts from Graf’s account are particularly illustrative.
The Slava did not wish to go down into Moon Sound, and the committees from the other boats spent considerable time in persuading her. At the most decisive moment of the defense of the Kassarsky basin, the Pripiat (the only shallow-draft mine layer in the fleet) refused to lay her mines and the trawlers to drag the passage.
And later on,
On September 26, the destroyer Okhotnik sank after striking a mine while patrolling the Irben Strait. When the explosion took place the men thought of nothing but saving their lives, seized on life belts and hammocks and piled into the boats, which were soon filled with sailors. The officers, to whom no one thought of offering a place, remained silently on the destroyer, watching the boats move off. The ship sank rapidly and the water soon covered the bridge, on which the officers remained.
This is certainly a very peculiar type of efficiency and courage.
As for the operation itself, Commander Graf states that the Russians had ample warning of it a month in advance, the remarkable German naval activity from that time on indicating that something of the kind was to take place. A similar attempt (which Captain von Koblinski does not mention) had been made the year before and had been beaten off. At this time the defenses of the islands were strengthened and a channel dredged through Moon Sound to permit the battleships to come down into the gulf. Months before the attack, this channel was deep enough to admit the Slava, the Tsarevitch and all the armored cruisers to the Gulf of Riga, and there was ample time to deepen it so far as to admit the four dreadnoughts and the other two predreadnoughts. But the councils decided not to proceed with the work and the committees on the dreadnoughts and on some of the armored cruisers voted not to take part in the defense.
The same cause hamstrung every operation of the defense. Some of the submarines refused to go out at all. After the first German landing the admiral commanding the destroyer division planned a midnight destroyer raid on the German transports, which in view of Baltic conditions and the speed and power of the Russian craft, might have been a very serious matter. Listen to Commander Graf again:
At twilight, the 5th and 6th flotillas (14 destroyers, all told) were chosen for the attack, but a little later came a radio countermanding the operation. We found out the reason later; some of the councils had decided against it.
Throughout, the batteries on the islands offered almost no resistance to the German attacks, this being particularly true of the big Zerel Battery, the key of the defense, which mounted 12-inch guns. The gunners demanded help from the fleet; the Slava and Tsarevitch were sent down, but a little later came back “bringing part of the gunners from Sworbe. The enemy had asked the gunners in our batteries to surrender, promising them the best conditions of captivity if they ceased fire. The 12-inch battery was disposed to accept, but some of the others refused, so the batteries were blown up” by their own gunners.
The instances of good conduct by the Russian fleet in this defense were, on the whole, rare and isolated cases, and were found mostly among the older destroyers and the little gunboats where the long-service crews had been in more intimate contact with their officers than on the larger ships and where they regarded them less as agents of “Tsarist reaction” than as human beings co-operating for the common cause. The old gunboat Khraby, for instance, built in 1897, on which the crew had elected their officers to the sailors’ council, covered herself with glory, stood up to the fire of a whole German destroyer division and sank one of them. But this was an isolated case. Any one who studies the accounts from both sides cannot avoid the conclusion that the Germans won a rather cheap and easy victory at the expense of an enemy riddled with dry rot.
Growth of Naval Officers
(See page 1325, September, 1932, Proceedings)
Admiral Joseph Strauss, U. S. Navy (Retired).—In Captain Todd’s application of mathematics to psychology he has laid bare and discussed soundly the several terms that go to make up his equation. I believe, however, that the formula that he deduces is too simple. For example, there must be a point of inflection to the age curve else we are confronted with the inadmissible proposition that an officer’s value will go on increasing as long as he lives and can observe intelligently, and remember what he observes. That is the conclusion that curve No. 5 presents. And then there are other terms that must be included: courage for one—I mean mental courage—the ability and willingness to make decisions against accepted beliefs and at the risk of displeasing those higher in authority.
An interesting and frequently heard postulate is included in the essay in which the technician is denied administrative ability. It seems to me that the same brains and energy that he has chosen to devote to the conquest of the technique of a profession would serve him quite well in managing it. So many examples of this could be cited that it is hardly worth while to begin although I am tempted to start with the noted engineer Goethals.
It is to be hoped that Captain Todd will go further in the work he has so ably begun. The resulting equation may become very complex, but it will be worth while.
Examinations for Promotion of Junior Officers
(See page 1264, September, 1932, Proceedings)
Captain F. H. Sadler, U. S. Navy.— This article brings to notice a subject which many officers have thought about a lot and also have tried to do something about so that officers could acquire the knowledge needed in a navy career gradually and continuously, rather than by a series of crams followed by long periods of vacation. The process of “learn and forget,” so generally condemned, has readily enough prepared candidates for the required examinations, but the impression exists that from the process there has been no lasting benefit to the officer. This interest in the residual of study for examination is not in each case a matter of paternalism, but one of trying to increase the power of the ship or station by such handy means as building up officer ability through study for use as opposed to study for examination. The navy regulations require that all officers, in order to be promoted, must pass such professional, moral, mental, and physical examinations as the Secretary of the Navy may from time to time prescribe. The establishment of any policy concerning examinations is therefore within the authority of the Navy Department and in that regard the recommendations of the chiefs of bureaus are usually final in effect. It is probable, however, that members of the naval examining board will resist any lessening of the power of that board in matters that determine the competency of an officer for promotion, and therefore any plan suggested will have to make clear the fact that the proposed plan is better for the service than is the present one.
General Order 49 of May 28, 1921, announces an outline for the examination of permanent grades of lieutenant, lieutenant (j.g.), and ensigns. The subjects included are:
(2.). Military law
(3.) International law
(4.) Strategy and tactics
(5.) Navigation (practical)
(6.) Navigation and piloting
(7.) Ordnance and gunnery
(8.) Main engines and boilers
General Order 119 of November 19, 1923, adds under strategy and tactics “questions on naval communications.” Bureau of Navigation circular letter 42-31 of May 18, 1931, exempts from examinations for promotion the subject of strategy and tactics under certain conditions. General Order 126 of March 12, 1924, adds to the examinations “questions on theory, design, and operation of gyrocompass,” under both navigation and electricity.
The above orders give the scope of the examinations that lieutenants, lieutenants (j.g.), and ensigns of the line must pass, but there is another law which permits the promotion of certain officers without examination. U.S. Statutes at Large under date of March 3, 1915, stipulate concerning assistant naval constructors appointed from the line of the Navy, that:
officers of the line of the Navy who have had not less than three years’ service in the grade of ensign and have taken or are taking satisfactorily a postgraduate course in naval architecture under orders from the Secretary of the Navy shall be eligible for transfer to the grade of assistant naval constructor.
The above quoted law entitles the officers therein mentioned to be promoted from the grade of ensign to the grade of lieutenant (j.g.) without examination when their competency has been shown by the work done while taking postgraduate courses.
The general line courses prosecuted by students attending the school of the line at the postgraduate school bear the same relation to the education of line officers that the naval architecture courses bear to the education of assistant naval constructors. These courses in the school of the line have aroused keen interest among senior officers who continually make suggestions that keep them in a constant state of revision in order to meet changing conditions. There is much attention given to inspirational and technical subjects, and, in the adjustments made to strengthen the weaknesses exposed by service criticism, improvements have been made that keep all study directed toward the attainment of knowledge for every day use. The subjects covered at the postgraduate school are those prescribed in General Order 49, with the exceptions of seamanship and international law.
Officers of the line “who have taken or are taking satisfactorily a postgraduate course” can then within the law be considered as qualified for promotion without the usual mental examinations.
With the advent of the probationary ensigns, and the examinations two years after graduation required for them, the plan suggested by Ensign Haile seems especially desirable to take the place of the additional examinations which at present will have to be held three years after graduation to qualify the permanent ensigns of one year for promotion to the grade of lieutenant (j.g.). The Bureau of Navigation plans to make postgraduate courses available to a larger number of lieutenants (j.g.), and it is proposed that for them a certificate of graduation from the postgraduate school be accepted in lieu of examinations for promotion to the grade of lieutenant. The subjects of seamanship and international law are to be excepted. Such a change would benefit student officers who now have to take time from school duties in order to prepare to answer promotion examination questions.
The Education of Merchant Marine Officers
(See page 1277, September, 1932, Proceedings)
Lieutenant Commander F. E. Cross, U. S. Naval Reserve.—From time to time articles and discussions on the above topic have been published in the Naval Institute Proceedings. It is indeed pertinent that yet another paper on the merchant marine officer training problem should appear, and that such should be written by one of the merchant marine academy superintendents. In his article, Captain Tomb has boldly envisioned a school similar in character, surroundings, and scope to the Naval Academy, or Coast Guard Academy; and so, the question arises in one’s mind—would such a school perform the purpose intended: that of properly training merchant marine officers?
Frankly, the writer believes that the graduates of the academy, as proposed, would feel little, if any, zest to continue a sea career in the merchant marine. He believes that after a year, or less, in the capacity of junior officers on freighters, say, they would seek positions ashore, preferably in the shipping business. Since the chief motive of the school is to turn out ship’s officers and marine engineers, it would seem expedient to emphasize this fact by giving the cadets, particularly the deck cadets, a closer and longer contact with the sea by increasing the length of the annual cruises during the four-year course.
The entrance requirements for candidates, as outlined in Captain Tomb’s article, are believed to be too rigid. Why insist on high-school graduates only for appointment; and why wait until the youth is seventeen years of age? Since the purpose of the school is to train ship’s officers, such training should begin between sixteen and eighteen, and three years of high school should suffice. At such a time the youthful tyro would begin his training at a time when he is most enthusiastic about the call of the sea, and before the glamor fades. Practical experience at sea is the most important side of a ship’s officer’s training, and the sooner begun the better. Besides, the annual cruise should be of not less than five, or even six months’ duration, in order that the youth be early indoctrinated in his future calling.
The writer believes that the idea of erecting certain buildings at the “academy plant” should be changed in favor of building a training ship suitable for the work. For it is on shipboard that most of the education of a prospective merchant officer begins and ends. Undoubtedly, the only type of vessel satisfactory for training merchant marine officers is a steam, or motor, auxiliary bark-rigged vessel, or perhaps a four-masted bark which would serve for deck cadets only. Certainly sailing vessels are generally conceded by shipmasters and merchant officers as the most satisfactory means of training young men for the merchant marine. Not only are real seamen made in vessels having sail power, but valuable physical development of the men who sail in them is assured.
All men are molded, sooner or later, to their respective careers. In the case of the merchant marine officer it has long been proved necessary that his contact with the sea should come at an early age. Postponing the consummation of this urge of the candidate and requiring him to spend several years in technical pursuits beforehand is, it would seem, a sure way of diverting his ambition to other channels. It is of interest to know that in competing maritime nations the average period of training for embryo officers is not only some years longer than in the United States, but begins about two years earlier. Sail training for deck officers is generally preferred, and in most countries demanded.
The thing expected of a nautical school is to produce a graduate who is capable in every respect of performing the duties of a junior officer on shipboard; and who, having been suckled by the sea, looks upon it as a future career. It is not improbable that such a school will some day come into being.
The Annual Naval Appropriation Bill—How It Becomes a Law
(See Page 1723, this issue)
Brigadier General George Richards, The Paymaster, U. S. Marine Corps.—Captain David Potter’s contribution under the above title comes in response to an invitation contained in the Secretary’s Notes in the Proceedings for September, 1932. It is from the pen of a former paymaster general of the Navy, one who had some years ago much to do with the preparation of the naval estimates and their justification before the director of the Bureau of the Budget and the proper committees of the Congress. It is of vast importance that the service at large should be familiar with the procedure obtaining through which the naval appropriation acts emerge from the Congress as the authority for naval expenditures. Since Captain Potter’s release in 1925 from his responsibilities as paymaster general there have been but few changes in the procedure he has described. But the recurrent drastic reductions in annual expenditures marking recent years have necessitated some slight innovations. Among these may be mentioned that now in May of each year the Secretary of the Navy’s policy letter is distributed for guidance in the preparation of estimates. This outlines the operating plan of the office of operations and indicates the prospective strength in ships of all classes expected to be maintained with personnel complements. And more recently there has been resumed the open conferences where all the interested subordinates appear to confer with each other and before the Secretary of the Navy to determine the best means of meeting budgetary curtailments. These estimates now are transmitted to the director of the Bureau of the Budget on September first of each year instead of the middle of July as formerly. In other respects, as stated, the procedure Captain Potter outlines is still adhered to. This paper is a valuable contribution to service literature—we have regarded this subject in times past solely as one with which officers of the staff are concerned. A better understanding by the service at large of these problems is important. It is not one for the study of officers only of the supply or financial branches of the naval establishment.
The methods described are those that custom has built up from the beginnings of our government. The leaders in our earlier Congresses were men who had been members of the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia in 1787, as the framers of our American government. Centralized authority was to them no new thing. It guided them as our new government took its first steps. That central authority had been a condition from which America had escaped.
In the century and a half of our national existence, under the pressure of varying circumstances, efforts have been made to modify systems of administration touching public expenditures and in other particulars without an authorizing amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Captain Potter describes the procedure following the enactment of the so-called budget and accounting act of 1921. Some years ago (1923), before the Field and Company Officers’ Schools at Quantico, this writer had this to say with respect to a subject correlated to what Captain Potter discusses:
It is an essential part of that [the American] system that expenditures must be supervised by civilians. Civilian control over military expenditures either in their initiation or in their final adjustment and audit is a condition that must be accepted. From the very beginning, the American people were extremely jealous of the powers of the military. They provided measures to prevent the evil of a standing army. The Army and Navy can live only from year to year as appropriations are renewed by the people annually for the maintenance of the military and naval establishments. We must never forget that America has a people’s government. In the beginning the money needed for the Marine Corps can only be secured from the people, from civilians utterly unfamiliar with military questions, to whom the details of military life may be distinctly distasteful. The moneys so secured must be disbursed and accounted for in accordance with laws, framed likewise by civilians. Further, in determining whether these laws are faithfully conformed to by us, civilian supervision follows. The theory that military officers are without business instincts is in itself fundamentally wrong. Military officers must be given financial responsibility, they must be given opportunity to perfect themselves in the development of business instincts. There is nothing wrong with the system that provides for civilian control in the passing upon our expenditures. The problem of adjusting our responsibilities with the responsibilities of the Treasury officials is simple. See to it that the channels of information are not obstructed. See to it that they not only know what we are doing, but also why we are so doing certain things.
Some years ago Major General John A. Hull, then Judge Advocate General of the Army and now a judge of one of the highest of the courts of the Philippine government, spoke at the Army War College in Washington with reference to that law of 1921 and in these terms:
The comptroller general . . . has asserted such supervision over governmental expenditures that if allowed would make him all-powerful and all executives would have only advisory functions, as most executive decisions require the expenditure of public funds to carry them into execution. These natural divergent theories . . . have not yet reached a state of equilibrium. Without going into detail, it may be said that many differences of opinion have arisen, and probably will continue to arise, between the departments, on the one hand, and the comptroller general and the general accounting office, on the other, as to the exact limits of the comptroller general’s authority and powers. These differences of opinion are, to say the least, unfortunate, but it is hoped that in time, through mutual efforts to reach a better understanding, all these difficulties may be ironed out. I do caution you, however, that you are part of the executive, that your loyalty is to the President and you should take good council before any act or word of yours weakens his powers.
At the close of the World War, with our country saddled with a debt of approximately twenty-five billions of dollars and its annual expenditures approaching four times the pre-war outlay, it became of importance to consider better methods through which the expenditure needs of government be determined in relation to the estimated revenues. For many years there had been discussion in committees of the Congress, in the public press, and in business organizations in general concerning the need of a proper budgetary system for the administration of federal finances. Our annual expenditures approximating five billions of dollars had impressed on the public mind the urgent need of a more systematic estimate of public receipts and a better method of control over expenditures. These, briefly, were the conditions which brought forth the budget and accounting act of 1921.
The solution of the problem before the lawmakers presented no simple task. True, they had before them the experience of many foreign governments. These were examples of financial management under budgetary systems. But the practices followed by Great Britain and other countries under the parliamentary system of government were not readily adaptable to our needs. The American system of government is not the pure democracy of England. Ours is that system where the executive branch of government is of the more stable type. The American public official in these two branches of government (executive and legislative) is established in office with the delegated power of the people for a fixed period of service. In European countries administered under the parliamentary system this condition obtains only with members of the legislative branch of government, a branch vested with executive as well as legislative powers.
In Great Britain the ministry, i.e., the government, is chosen not by the people but by the parliamentary body. Its own members constitute the executive power not for a fixed term of office but only for so long as they govern in accord with the views of the majority of the Parliament. The ministry 'falls, its principal members cease to function the moment its acts fan to receive parliamentary support in any important issue. Though the ministry in this relationship functions only under the aegis of the legislative, while it exists as representative of the legislative majority it dominates the Parliament. The ministerial or executive budget must pass the Parliament with no important modification; otherwise the government falls. The American system of government, however, is wholly different. The executive does not dominate over the legislative branch, nor vice versa. Equality and independence mark their relation. This condition is inherent to our form of constitutional government. Our Congress is vested solely with legislative power; the executive power is entrusted elsewhere. A budgetary scheme adaptable to the parliamentary system needed the most radical of changes to produce methods of financial administration wholly in harmony with American ideals.
While no one expected what might evolve would embody more than a start in the right direction, it has been found that the strictly budgetary features of the enactment have fulfilled all expectations. These fundamental features of the enactment were:
- The direction given to the executive annually to prepare a comprehensive document under the director of the budget giving complete information regarding the condition of the treasury, its past revenues and expenditures with a program respecting future expenditures including where necessary the methods under which they might be financed.
- The prohibition that no subordinate officer of the executive branch of government should initiate before the Congress measures contemplating further grant of funds that failed to accord to the financial policy of the President.
- The reorganization of the machinery of the Congress itself the better to consider appropriations to accord to the presidential recommendations. Certain isolated committees of the House, fourteen in all, were relieved of jurisdiction over appropriation bills; a number of other committees, eleven in all, having jurisdiction over accounts and expenditures were abolished. The responsibilities of the first group were assumed by an enlarged committee on appropriations of thirty-five members to consider as a whole the executive budget as submitted. The functions of the eleven abolished committees were assumed by an enlarged committee on expenditures for the executive departments whose duties contemplated a study of the reports of accounts of expenditures as made to the Congress.
As a result of these budgetary features there has come a change in the character of the office of the President of the United States, affecting radically his relations to the Congress. His director of the budget by reason of the supervision and control maintained over budget activities in the several departments and establishments has accomplished a co-ordination of effort and a uniformity in procedure in relation to expenditures. This has resulted in economies in operation without serious detriment to efficiency. The principal difficulty of adopting the British system to our needs was solved not by vesting in the President the determination of the financial program but by giving him means through which requisite information was to be collected and embodied in his budgetary report. His plan was subject, however, to revision in the discretion of the legislative branch of government. These provisions take from the Congress none of its constitutional authority with regard to the making of appropriations. Congress may reduce or increase the items in the executive estimates at the same time retaining the power to initiate appropriations not recommended therein. These strictly budgetary features, so embodied in the law, had the support of public opinion. There was no opposition voiced from any of the other branches of our government. Experience has strengthened the support that was given to these features of the enactment.
There were other features of the law of 1921 as to which the foregoing remarks cannot apply. Apparently the legislators enacting that statute felt that the word “responsibility” in its relation to government was peculiarly a quality attributable solely to them of the legislative branch. No official in the executive branch had such a responsibility as theirs. They of the lower house had the more frequently to return to the people with an account of their activities, a condition not shared by the President nor the heads of our executive departments. The latter were not the cabinet ministers peculiar to the parliamentary systems.
The Honorable Halvor Steenerson, Representative from Minnesota, said:
We often hear it said that the President is responsible, and the cabinet officers are responsible. . . . The origin of that word comes from the responsible governments in Europe, parliamentary governments, and not from our presidential government. You cannot have that responsibility when you have the term of office of the President fixed at four years, because it does not make any difference what he does; unless it is impeachable, you cannot remove him. The cabinet officers are not elected by anybody. They cannot be responsible to the people. The “responsibility” that was used in parliamentary discussion is the responsibility of the cabinet officers in the continental system and the British system, and that is a continuing responsibility. . . .
And again, Mr. Steenerson said, with reference to the executive branch:
We elect here, with all due respect to the present incumbents—I am not referring to them, but I am referring to the system of government—we elect here an autocrat for four years and he surrounds himself . . . with ten what you call “cabinet officers”—cabinet ministers. They are not cabinet ministers; they are heads of the departments. . . .
It was evident that the legislators had in mind the creation in the proposed comptroller general an office similar to those existing in the British parliamentary system.
There is an officer of the British Parliament styled the comptroller and exchequer auditor general. His department is entitled the “exchequer and auditing department.” He is an officer of the House of Commons, independent of the executive government in the same way as a judge is independent. He has statutory powers to call for all books and papers relating to expenditures. He is provided with subordinates, one of whom is located in the Admiralty with authority to examine into the accounts of the Navy. These subordinates act as advisers with authority to disallow items of proposed expenditures as well as power to refuse credit for disbursements that do not accord to financial policy. Wherever the administrative action taken shows signs of defective financial control, or where avoidable expenditures or wastefulness is indicated, the comptroller and auditor general after passing upon the merits of the transaction involved, refers the transaction in question to the public accounts committee of the House of Commons. The chairman of that committee is one of the opposition. This committee may call before it the cabinet minister involved who is likewise a member of the Commons, may clear the accounts, or may sustain the action of the comptroller and auditor general, as in their judgment the public interest may require.
Our lawmakers of twelve years ago were persuaded to endeavor to transplant from Europe a feature of parliamentary government with respect to legislative control over expenditures similar to the functions of this parliamentary officer. With no authorizing amendment to our Constitution, the law of 1921 attempts to establish an office purely executive in character under the sole control of the legislative branch of our government. Now the function of appropriating money is purely legislative. The spending of this money with us is a field of responsibility peculiarly executive. We account for these expenditures to the treasury. In Great Britain the accounting is direct to the Parliament. Our legislators have attempted to create in the general accounting office an auditing agency whose functions shall obtain independent of any executive department and in this relation equally independent of the President. With us the spending of money and the audit of the expenditures are not legislative but executive functions. The Constitution describes the President as the sole repository of the executive power. It likewise charges him with duties of importance—“he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” The law of 1921 purports to take from the President the power to execute such of the laws of the Congress as relate to the use of appropriations. It attempts to lodge that power in an office essentially executive in character, an office now frequently referred to as an “arm of the Congress,” and require of it under the aegis of the legislative branch to take care that these particular laws are faithfully executed. This effort by a statute only, with no authorizing amendment to the Constitution, to create such an office would seem not in harmony with the principles recognized by the founders of the American form of government and set forth in such unmistakable terms by the Father of our Country.
But be these views as they may, and as to which opinions may differ, they are related here only to draw attention to the diverse systems of administration that prevail in the English-speaking peoples on opposite shores of the Atlantic.
As a discussion of the Potter paper, some interesting data may be offered disclosing wherein our procedure essentially differs from that of the British government in identical functions. In appropriating money for the maintenance of the British fleet and its naval shore establishments, there is a general similarity in procedure touching the preparation of estimates and the grant of appropriations. But there are noticeable differences of peculiar interest. The British Parliament, after its grant of moneys for these purposes, receives the accounting for of the funds so appropriated, while with us, as stated, the accounting for is to the department of the treasury. That executive department is the only one required to render its annual report to the Congress. All other executive departments report to the President.
There are other differences in procedure that may be summarized as follows:
- The United States fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30. The British financial year runs from April 1 to March 31.
- In the United States the numerical strength of the personnel of the military services is usually determined by the executive branch. Appropriations are made not so much dependent upon the personnel strength estimated by the executive branch, but upon factors of ways and means, policy, economy, etc., on the premise that the executive department concerned will regulate its military personnel strength accordingly and thus “cut the coat to fit the cloth.” In Great Britain, Parliament votes the strength to be maintained during the ensuing financial year, before any appropriations, or “money votes” as they are called in England, are made. Parliament is, of course, informed as to the estimated needs of the Crown by reason of the fact that the Ministers of the Crown are ex officio members of Parliament.
- In the United States, as previously stated, the Congress is purely a legislative body; it is entirely separate and distinct from the executive; it can, in fact, enact laws over the disapproval of the executive. While Parliament, of course, has legislative functions, it is not a purely legislative body; it is an arm of the executive, and likewise the executive is represented by the Parliament.
- Congressional appropriations for executive departments in the United States are voluminous documents, sometimes consisting of 100 or more pages. Each little detail is set forth, each item is specifically mentioned, and in numerous instances limitations are set beyond which the executive department concerned must not encroach. These itemizations and limitations are repeated year after year. Occasionally, legislation not germane to an appropriation act is included by unanimous consent. Such legislation, if of a permanent nature, thus becomes buried and difficult to locate in the future. The difference in this respect, that is, in the physical accomplishment of supply enactments, as existing between the two governments, is due, of course, to the fact that Parliament and the Crown are necessarily co-ordinated as to functions, whereas in the United States the legislative and the executive branches are widely separated and extremely jealous of their own functions. It is therefore necessary for Congress in making appropriations to be as specific as possible in order that the executive branches may not take advantage of money grants for purposes which may not be exactly within the intent of the Legislature. The “money votes” enacted by Parliament, which correspond to congressional appropriations, consist merely of a certain number of tabulated items, depending upon the scope of the particular service for which money is being appropriated, without enabling language or limitations of any description. The actual printed enactment, therefore, occupies only a few printed pages.
- In the United States, acts making appropriations of public money, while originating in the House of Representatives, cannot become law without the approval of the Senate. In Great Britain, on the other hand, “money votes” originate in the House of Commons and become the law without the approval of the House of Lords.
- In the United States, Congress through its ways and means committee first acquires money in the general fund for the entire expense of the government. When appropriations are made by Congress they are usually prefaced by the clause, “There is hereby appropriated out of any money in the treasury not otherwise appropriated.” In other words, the appropriation is authorized without definitely knowing whether there is any money in the treasury not otherwise appropriated. In Great Britain, the shoe is on the other foot. Parliament makes its money votes and then the ways and means committee takes its steps to provide the money appropriated.
- In the United States, it is the privilege of Congress to increase or reduce estimates for appropriations made by the executive branch. A member of Congress has the constitutional right to propose an appropriation for any purpose that commends itself to him, without any action or consent of the executive. If a majority of Congress approve of his proposition, it becomes a law with the President’s signature. The President, of course, cannot disapprove of any item in an appropriation act without disapproving the entire act. In Great Britain, nobody can propose in Parliament to spend public money except a minister speaking in the King’s name. What that means is that the estimates cannot be increased by parliamentary action; they may be reduced. The theory of this procedure is that the legislative body should know that the executive branch will not ask for less than it needs; in practice, and on the side of safety, it will be constrained to ask for more.
- In the United States, the treasury is just another department and has nothing to say so far as concerns the requirements of executive departments other than its own. There is an independent bureau of the budget which, in fact, is merely the arm of the executive himself, who is ex officio the head of all executive departments. In Great Britain, the estimates for all government branches are prepared by the minister responsible for that branch in consultation with the treasury.
- In the United States, the estimates for the various services are prepared by the executive department concerned, submitted by its head to the Bureau of the Budget, and by the latter transmitted to the President. The President transmits them to the Speaker of the House of Representatives. In Great Britain, at the proper time, the King addresses the Commons and demands the annual supply for the public service and informs them that the detailed estimates will later be laid before them. The estimates are later laid upon the table of the House of Commons by the minister responsible for the service concerned, who is also a member of Parliament by virtue of his office.
- In the United States, the estimates are referred to the committee on appropriations, which immediately commences to hold hearings, which may be protracted for weeks and even months, calling to its committee rooms for examination any person connected with the government service who in its opinion may be able to offer information or testimony bearing on the estimates under consideration. After these hearings the “appropriation bill” is prepared and reported to the Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union. After the estimates have been received in the House of Commons, they are referred to the committee of supply (which committee is in fact the whole House of Commons, and might be compared to our house committee known as the Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union). Any discussion or debate takes place in this committee with its chairman presiding instead of the Speaker being in the chair.
- The procedure in the Congress of the United States has been clearly detailed in Captain Potter’s article. But in the British Parliament, as above indicated, the Procedure is simpler. To recapitulate, the King addresses the House of Commons and demands the annual supply. The estimates are then laid on the table of the House of Commons. The estimate is in the form of a number of “money votes.” The House of Commons resolves itself into committee of supply” and considers the votes.” The “money votes” may be reduced but cannot be increased. After all the “votes” have been acted upon by the committee of supply, the committee rises and the Speaker resumes the chair. The House then acts on the resolutions of the committee of supply. The resolution of the committee of ways and means is then embodied in a bill which passes through the usual stages of an act of Parliament. This resolution provides the money from the consolidated fund of the Kingdom to meet the “money votes” authorized by the House of Commons. The Sovereign by royal writ then makes the money available for the executive service concerned.
- In the United States, after an appropriation has been enacted into law it remains available for the executive department concerned for a period of two fiscal years after the expiration of the year for which it was appropriated, and during that period expenditures may be charged to the appropriation for that fiscal year to cover obligations or commitments entered into during that fiscal year. In Great Britain, the situation is much different. The appropriation for a particular financial year is available only until the end of that year when any unexpended balance thereof automatically reverts to the exchequer. It is therefore necessary in compiling the estimates to make provision for items which may be “carried over” from the previous year. For instance, an individual may not be in a position to receive his pay for the month of March. The amount of that pay must then be “carried over” into the new “money vote” in order that the obligation of the government may be discharged in the following financial year. As a businesslike proposition this does not appear to compare favorably with the system in the United States.
This writer feels that what Captain Potter has disclosed in his paper deserves the serious study of officers of the line. It is the practice to designate line officers of the Navy for responsibilities in connection with the budgetary activities pertaining to the naval establishment. Captain Potter’s contribution is the first to be offered to the Proceedings of the Naval Institute for the object of enlightening the Navy of the many details underlying an activity of transcendent importance to the naval establishment.