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CHAPTER 6

MILITARY DEPARTMENTS

A. EVOLUTION OF THE MILITARY DEPARTMENTS

1. Introduction

The origins of the three Military Departments in existence today can be traced in the history of the Federal Government to almost 200 years ago with the creation, as executive departments, of the Department of War in 1789 and the Department of the Navy in 1798. With the exception of uniformed military components under their jurisdiction, the Military Departments are the most abiding components of the present U.S. military establishment.

Although numerous internal changes of an evolutionary nature occurred, the essential organizational structure of the War and Navy Departments as co-equal, executive-level departments remained unchanged through World War II. The experiences of that war led to a recognition of the need for major structural changes in the U.S. national security apparatus, especially within the military establishment.

2. The National Security Act of 1947

In April and May 1944, the House Select Committee on Post-War Military Policy held hearings on a “Proposal to Establish a Single Department of the Armed Forces.” During those hearings, War Department officials urged the establishment of a single Department of Armed Forces while officials of the Navy Department urged further study.

In October 1945, a report from a committee established by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and forwarded to the President recommended (with one member dissenting) that a single Department of Armed Forces be established. Both the proposal before the House Select Committee and the JCS committee report recommended the creation of a separate air force component within the single department. Also in October 1945, the Secretary of the Navy transmitted to the Congress a report prepared by Ferdinand Eberstadt at the request of the Secretary of the Navy and upon the suggestion of the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs. The Eberstadt report advised against the establishment of a single defense department, but did recommend the creation of a new, executive-level air department to be headed by a Secretary who would be an equal of the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Navy.

In October and December of 1945, the Senate Committee on Military Affairs conducted hearings on two bills proposing the establishment of a single defense department. During those hearings, the War Department favored a single department with three autonomous Services - Army, Navy, and Air. The Department of the Navy opposed the single department, suggested the organization proposed in the Eberstadt report, and urged further study of organizational problems.

On December 19, 1945, President Truman stated in a Message to the Congress: “...There is enough evidence now at hand to demonstrate beyond question the need for a unified department.” (The Department of Defense 1944–1978, page 11) The message also sug. gested a broad outline for reorganization. Among other things, it proposed a single “Department of National Defense” consisting of all armed and civilian forces then within the War and Navy Departments and organized into three coordinated branches (land forces, naval forces, and air forces), each under a civilian Assistant Secretary of National Defense. Additionally, the outline suggested that there should be a Chief of Staff of the Department and commanders of the three component branches and that these four military officers should constitute an advisory board to the Secretary of National Defense and the President.

Throughout 1946, President Truman urged War and Navy Department officials to devise a mutually acceptable plan to provide greater unification of the Services. On January 16, 1947, the Secretaries of War and the Navy reported to the President that they had reached agreement on a plan that both Departments would accept. On February 26, 1947, President Truman submitted to the Congress a draft bill for unification that had the approval of the Secretaries of War and the Navy and the JCS. With minor changes, the Senate approved the bill on July 9, and the House of Representatives, with numerous changes, approved a bill on July 19, 1947. After conference action, the

President signed the National Security Act of 1947 on July 26, 1947.

The Act provided, among other things, for the creation of a unified National Military Establishment headed by a Secretary of Defense and composed of three departments: Department of the Army, Department of the Navy, and Department of the Air Force. The Secretary of Defense was given authority to "establish general policies and programs for the National Military Establishment and for all the departments or agencies therein" and to "exercise general direction, authority, and control over such departments and agencies." (emphasis added).

The three Military Departments in the National Military Establishment were to be administered as individual executive departments by their respective Secretaries, and all powers and duties relating to such departments not specifically conferred upon the Secretary of Defense were retained by each of the respective Secretaries. Additionally, each Service Secretary was specifically authorized, after first informing the Secretary of Defense, to present to the President or the Director of the Budget any report or recommendation relating to his respective department. Finally, the roles and missions assigned to each department were set forth in a very general fashion in the Act.

The resolution of the detailed assignment of roles, missions, and functions was left to the JCS. When they were unable to resolve some basic differences, the Secretary of Defense met with the JCS at the Key West Naval Base in 1948. The agreement, produced by that meeting and ultimately approved by the President, was reflected in a document entitled "Functions of the Armed Forces and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.” With only minor changes, the agreement reached in 1948, usually referred to as the Key West Agreement, remains in effect today.

3. The 1949 Amendment to the National Security Act

The first Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, soon discovered that he did not have authority commensurate with his responsibilities. He pointed this out in his first report which covered the first 15 months of operation under the National Security Act of 1947. In that report, he made several suggestions for change, including strengthening the Secretary of Defense's authority over the three Military Departments. He suggested that if the statute were amended to clarify the authority of the Secretary of Defense to establish policies and programs for and to exercise direction, authority, and control over the Military Departments (as opposed to establishing “general” policies and programs and exercising "general” direction, authority and control), then there would be no need to change the titles of the Service Secretaries, as they clearly would serve under the Secretary of Defense.

In November 1948, a Committee on National Security Organization (known as the Eberstadt Task Force), of the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government (usually referred to as the Hoover Commission) submitted a report to the Hoover Commission expressing many of the same concerns as Secretary Forrestal. Included in the recommendations of this report were several specific changes to strengthen the Secretary of Defense's control and direction over the Military Departments. These may be summarized as follows: (1) removing the limiting term "general” from the Secretary of Defense's basic authority statute; (2) giving the Secretary of Defense authority to exercise direction and control" over the preparation of military budget estimates; (3) giving the Secretary of Defense authority to supervise expenditures of the Military Departments in accordance with appropriations and control and direction over requests for authorization; (4) repealing the Service Secretaries' right to appeal to the President or the Director of the Budget and repealing the reservation to those Secretaries of powers not specifically conferred on the Secretary of Defense; and (5) making the administration of the three departments by the respective Secretaries subject to the direction of the Secretary of Defense.

The Hoover Commission itself, in its report of February 1949, agreed with the major recommendations of the Eberstadt Task Force, but also recommended that the Service Secretaries be designated as Under Secretaries of Defense for the Army, Navy, and Air Force and that the three military Services be administered by these three under secretaries subject to the full direction and authority of the Secretary of Defense.

In a message to the Congress transmitted on March 7, 1949, President Truman recommended most of the changes previously suggested by Secretary Forrestal, the Eberstadt Task Force, and the Hoover Commission. While recommending that the Secretary of Defense's responsibility for exercising direction, authority, and control over the affairs of the Department of Defense be made clear, the President did not endorse abolition of the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force and their respective Service Secre taries, as recommended by the Hoover Commission. Rather, he recommended these departments be designated as "military departments" (as opposed to executive departments), that the Secretaries of these departments no longer serve on the National Security Council, and that the Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force administer their departments under the authority, direction, and control of the Secretary of Defense and without the right to appeal to the President or Director of the Budget. He specifically did not recommend blanket transfer of all statutory authority of the three Military Departments to the Secretary of Defense or any change to the statutory assignment of combat functions to the Army, Navy, and Air Force.

The recommendations of the President, with two significant changes, were enacted into law on August 10, 1949. The two significant changes were (1) that, while the Secretary of Defense's authority over the Military Departments was made clear, the Secretary was prohibited by law, from transferring, reassigning, abolishing, or consolidating any of the combatant functions assigned to the various Military Departments, and (2) that, while the Secretaries lost their right of direct appeal to the President or the Director of the Budget, they, along with the members of the JCS, were given the right to present recommendations on their own initiative to the Congress after first informing the Secretary of Defense. (The Senate position on this matter had been to terminate any right of the Service Secretary to direct appeal above the Secretary of De fense. However, the House of Representatives insisted on such a right.)

4. The 1953 Reorganization Plan

In April 1953, President Eisenhower, after having received reports from the Secretary of Defense and from a Committee appointed by the Secretary and headed by Nelson Rockefeller, transmitted Reorganization Plan No. 6 to the Congress. That plan further strengthened the position of the Secretary of Defense as the head of the Department of Defense. At the same time, the President directed the Secretary of Defense to revise the Key West Agreement to clarify that the chain of command to the unified commands was from the President to the Secretary of Defense and to the Secretary of the Military Department designated by the Secretary of Defense as executive agent for the unified command concerned. This was designed to ensure clear lines of civilian control over the unified commands.

5. The 1958 Amendment to the National Security Act

The final major historical step leading to the present organization, structure, and functions of the Military Departments occurred in 1958. This step followed the report of the second Hoover Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government which, in short, recommended strengthening the role of the Secretary of Defense over the business affairs of the Department, and a Presidential Message to the Congress which, likewise, recommended increased authority for the Secretary of Defense. The re sulting legislation, Public Law 85-599 (the Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1958) was designed to leave little doubt that the management, control, and direction of the Department of Defense were the responsibility of the Secretary of Defense. The explicit changes of the 1958 amendment were as follows:

(1) The Secretary of Defense was authorized to assign common supply or service activities to a single department or agency.

(2) The Secretary of Defense was authorized to assign development and operational use of new weapons to any department or service.

(3) Functions assigned by law could be transferred or abolished after 30 days notice to Congress, except major combatant functions could not be transferred or abolished if disapproved by either House of Congress.

(4) Assistant Secretaries of Defense were permitted to issue orders to Secretaries of the Military Departments by written authorization of the Secretary of Defense.

(5) The Secretaries of the Military Departments and the Service Chiefs were removed from the chain of command to the unified and specified commands.

(6) The Military Departments were to be separately organized (as opposed to being separately administered) under the Service Secretaries but would function under the direction, control, and authority of the Secretary of Defense, and the number of Assistant Secretaries of the Military Departments was reduced from 4 to 3. However, the Service Secretaries retained their right to make recommendations directly to the Congress after first informing the Secretary of Defense. (Once again, as had been the case in 1949, the Senate supported abolition of this Service Secretary authority. However, the House insisted that existing law be continued, and the House position prevailed in conference.)

Developments Since 1958 Since 1958, various minor changes have occurred in the organization, structure, and functions of the Military Departments, mostly relating to the number of assistant secretaries and the duties to be assigned to them. For example, Public Law 91-611 added a fifth Assistant Secretary of the Army, mandated that one of those assistant secretaries be Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, and prescribed the duties of that position. In March 1978, the Secretary of Defense, exercising the reorganization authority of section 125(a) of title 10, United States Code, reduced the number of assistant secretaries in each of the Military Departments by one. Finally, the Department of Defense Authorization Act, 1984 (Public Law 98-94), enacted on September 24, 1983, restored one assistant secretary to both the Army and Navy. B. KEY ORGANIZATIONAL TRENDS

1. Strengthening of the Authority of the Secretary of Defense at the Expense of the Service Secretaries

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