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STATEMENT OF ADMIRAL A. L. PARSONS, ENGINEER CORPS,
UNITED STATES NAVY, CHIEF OF THE BUREAU OF YARDS AND DOCKS, NAVY DEPARTMENT
The CHAIRMAN. I might say that the Admiral has given this bill a great deal of study; he has submitted to the committee numerous suggestions in the form of statements and recommendations as to changes in the phraseology of the bill. I think he will be a very valuable witness.
Admiral PARSONS. The position of the Navy Department in regard to the inclusion of Navy public works in the bill is outlined in the letter of the department which was submitted to this committee. In continuation of the thought therein.expressed, I should like to present a short statement covering our views.
The CHAIRMAN. I might add the chairman has had printed in pamphlet form, which you will find in front of you, all of the letters so far received from the various departments, up until last night. We held the printing back, thinking some more might come in.
Admiral PARSONS. As far as the Navy Establishment is concerned, the transfer of public works activities which are now directed by the Bureau of Yards and Docks can only be justified if it can be shown that such transfer will enable the Navý to more effectively fulfill its mission. The department feels very strongly that such a showing can not be made, and furthermore, that increased economy will not result so far as naval public works are concerned, and that the character of the service rendered to the Naval Establishment will not be improved.
In any discussion of naval organization it is necessary to bear in mind the fundamental purpose for which this organization has been established and is maintained, viz, the national defense. In considering the construction, improvement, extension, modification, repair, or demolition of a naval shore structure, one must ask, "How will this work out in time of national emergency? Will it fit in with the war plans? Will it best serve the Navy if we must mobilize to-morrow?"* In order to answer these questions correctly, it is essential that those having to do with these works be intimately familiar with the entire naval organization; with our war plans; with what is proposed in time of emergency in connection with the construction and repair of ships, the establishment of supply depots, the building of receiving stations, of training stations, of hospitals, of air bases, of communication systems, radio stations, cable lines, and so forth. These plans are changing from day to day, in accordance with changing world conditions. To properly coordinate the work of the shore establishment with that of the feet requires constant study and planning.
It is necessary, therefore, that there be retained in the naval organization officers who are especially qualified to develop publicworks programs, to fit in with the constantly changing war plans. Obviously, it would be impracticable to confide information of this character to an outside organization whose life work is not wrapped up in the Navy. To do so might make the difference between victory and defeat in a major engagement, and is contrary to all military policies and precedents.
Certain works of a purely military character can not be confided to an outside organization, and the bill recognizes the fact. A highly trained and specialized public-works organization must therefore be retained in the Naval Establishment. This same technical organization has in the past, and can very well continue in the future, to take care of the entire needs of the Naval Establishment with respect to public works, with only a small increase in personnel. To establish alongside of this existing organization another organization which would represent the administration of public works, and which would take care of only part of the duties now confided to the Corps of Civil Engineers of the Navy, would be an uneconomical duplication of organization, would engender friction and confusion, and must inevitably result in an appreciably increased cost to the United States Government.
It should be noted, also, that frequently at an isolated station it is impracticable to assign a civil engineer officer for full-time duty, and naval personnel of other branches of the service are called upon for routine supervision of construction work. It would be impracticable for a civilian representative of the administrator of public works to obtain such services with the same degree of efficiency: The alternative would be to have a civilian representative at these isolated stations where he is not now required. This would result in in.creased expenditure without corresponding benefits.
To sum up, it is obvious that the Navy can not abolish its specialists trained in shore construction. The necessity for directing purely military works and adequate planning to serve the fleet in time of war is vital. To transfer a part of the functions of this organization to another organization under the direction of the administrator of public works would result in duplication and in«creased cost to the Government. The proposed bill is therefore not justified, as far as the Naval Establishment is concerned, on the basis of " increased economy in administration."
The public works of the Navy are now confided to the Bureau of Yards and Docks and the Corps of Civil Engineers, consisting of officers who are devoting their lives to specializing in those types of structures which are peculiarly adapted to naval needs. Every naval activity is conducted for the ultimate purpose of obtaining efficiency in time of national emergency. One of the basic objectives of the United States naval policy is “ to make the strength of the Navy for battle of primary importance.” With this in mind, it is obvious that the naval civil engineer will develop a far different conception of the character of structures which he must build than will the civilian engineer. The naval engineer continually asks himself, “ What type of structure will serve best in time of war? Should I sacrifice immediate advantages to obtain superior service in time of war?” Only those who have been trained in naval matters for many years can be thoroughly qualified to answer these questions. An outside organization can not be depended upon for such decisions.
Another consideration of importance is that the necessity for emergency construction services in the Navy frequently arises on short notice. The commandant of a Navy yard is often called upon to make quick changes in existing structures or facilities in order to further the operation of the fieet. He may be required to extend a transmission line, modify the structure of a dry dock, demolish an obstruction to navigation, or to perform some similar urgent work. Under present conditions, the commandant has complete authority over the personnel engaged in such works, and the work is accomplished with a minimum of delay. Contrast this with conditions which would exist were the forces engaged on such work under an entirely separate department of the Government, whose interests are not primarily naval interests. Delay in such work, even if of minor character, might well result in seriously hampering the movements of the fleet, and even in the loss of valuable naval property.
Another important point is that, under the proposed arrangement, the administrator of public works is sole judge of the priority which will be assigned to the public works of the various departments of the Government. It would be well within his power to give preference to rivers, harbors, roads, and other similar works of nonmilitary character, with consequent delay of naval construction urgently required for the national defense.
The Constitution of the United States provides that Congress shall have power to provide for the common defense. The operation of the shore establishment of the Navy is a vital part of that common or national defense. To confide this activity to an organization not under the control of the responsible executive head of the Navy Department would be a division of the responsibility for carrying out the wishes of Congress. Under such circumstances there would be placed upon the Secretary of the Navy a great responsibility without corresponding authority.
In considering the proposed change, we must ask ourselves whether the new organization will better meet the requirements of the United States naval policy. As a part of the operating policy, the Navy is required to operate naval districts, yards, stations, and bases for the maintenance of the fleet and their operation in peace so that these activities can be expanded for war. As indicated in the foregoing discussion, effective war expansion can not be obtained with dual organization. Certainly in time of war it would be necessary to throw the entire responsibility for expansion of the naval shore establishment upon the Navy itself. Under these circumstances it is essential that the existing nucleus organization be retained at all times. Otherwise, in time of war, chaotic conditions would prevail, and delays and increased expenditures would inevitably result, with possible vital effect on the outcome of the war.
To sum up, it is evident that the proposed transfer of naval public-works functions to the public-works administration would result in less efficient service to the Naval Establishment, and might easily jeopardize the safety of operating units of the fleet. It would interfere, also, with the development of the war organization, and would result in increased expense and confusion in time of emergency.
I have had an investigation made of the method of carrying on naval public works abroad, where there are public-works administrations of the Government, in three countries, Great Britain, France, and Italy, and I would like to insert in the record the description of their systems. In all cases, these countries have a central administration of public works, but in each case naval public works are excluded, and the organization for the conducting of nava!
public works is much the same as in our service. In other words, the Navy in this country and the navies abroad in those three countries have a public-works administration for the navy. The publicworks administration under the Bureau of Yards and Docks has been a development covering a period of many years. The Bureau of Yards and Docks was one of the original five bureaus of the Navy Department, as reorganized in 1842, and its duties then comprised largely dry docks and the building of structures at the navy yards, which were comparatively simple. We only had repair yards, and very few of them. As the Navy grew, it became the practice to provide for public works under other bureaus of the Navy Department, under the Bureau of Ordnance, for instance, at an ordnance station, or the Marine Corps for marine barracks, and under the Bureau of Equipment for coaling plants and fuel stations. This latter bureau was abolished in 1913. In 1904 Congress of its own volition authorized all power plants at navy yards to be consolidated under the Bureau of Yards and Docks. This was done. The practice had been that each bureau had a separate power plant at the several navy yards. In 1907 the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery requested the Bureau of Yards and Docks to take over all of its hospital construction.
In 1910 the Marine Corps turned over all of its public-works construction at marine stations. In 1912 the Naval Affairs Committee consolidated all appropriations for all naval public works under the Bureau of Yards and Docks, and since that time the bureau has handled the design and construction of all public works for the Navy Department, including the Marine Corps.
Mr. DALLINGER. Mr. Chairman, may I ask, in these foreign countries where they except the navy, whether the army is excepted too?
Admiral Parsons. I think they are, so far as the military public works are concerned. I am sure they are. I did not, in my investigation, look that up; but I am quite sure that they are.
The CHAIRMAN. Admiral, you say you have taken over the construction work for the Navy barracks, hospitals, and so forth, and you are doing the construction work, I presume, of officers' quarters, and so forth?
Admiral PARSONS. Yes, sir.
The CHAIRMAN. Can you give us any idea of the difference in the cost of the work performed by you in comparison with the work performed by the supervising architect of the War Department; have you any idea as to that?
Admiral PARSONS. I have no information on that subject and, of course, the character of the buildings, especially those the supervising architect erects, is quite different-I do not know; I have no information as to the cost of their structures.
Mr. DALLINGER. You always ask for bids, do you not?
Admiral PARSONS. We always ask for bids, and we find construction costs to-day are materially less.
Mr. DALLINGER. The law provides you shall give the contract to the lowest responsible bidder, just as in the case of the Treasury Department; is that right?
Admiral PARSONS. Yes, sir.
The CHAIRMAN. You do not employ any outside architects to assist you?
Admiral PARSONS. In only two cases, Mr. Chairman, have we employed outside architects since the war. Of course, during the war we employed a good many on a cost-plus basis to assist us, on account of inability to get employees. The two cases where we are now employing outside architects are for the naval hospital and medical center at Washington and the naval hospital at Philadelphia. These two projects are large projects, amounting to about $3,000,000 each, and it was deemed desirable for two reasons to employ outside architects to assist us; one was we did not have the force to draw the plans; the second was that these were monumental structures which would have to fit in with the surroundings concerned, and we felt it desirable to secure the best architectural talent, primarly for the architectural appearance of the buildings. We have ourselves laid out the entire arrangement of the hospitals themselves—that is, the arrangement of wards, the operating rooms, the diet kitchens, and the other facilities and have furnished the architects with those layouts. They have taken the layouts and incorporated them into what they thought would be desirable architectural features of the buildings.
Mr. DALLINGER. What is the status of the proposed new naval hospital; has the appropriation been made ?
Admiral PARSONS. The status of both naval hospitals is the same: The authorization bills have passed; no appropriation has been made, but the authorization bill for the Washington hospital provided that $100,000 could be taken from the naval kospital fund by the Secretary of the Navy and used for plans. The Philadelphia bill provided for $300,000 to be taken from the same fund and made $200,000 available for the purchase of land. The land is being purchased in Philadelphia at a very reasonable price—about $150,000. The hospital will face a public park, a very desirable site.
Mr. DALLINGER. Has not the construction of the proposed new hospitals at Philadelphia and Washington been delayed in the name of economy? Is it not a fact that if appropriations were made now by Congress of certain amounts for those two naval hospitals, you could proceed with the work at a more rapid rate than you are now?
Admiral PARSONS. No; that is not exactly correct; the plans are not completed to such a point that we could advertise for bids. We have sufficient funds to complete the plans, but until the plans are completed we could not utilize any money for construction.
Mr. DALLINGER. Has a request been made of the Budget for appropriations for these hospitals?
Admiral PARSONS. These items were not included in the request to the Budget.
Mr. SCHAFER. You said you employed private architects. For instance, who drew the plans and specifications for the traveling cranes, the three traveling cranes for the Puget Sound Navy Yard, on a contract amounting to over $500,000?
Admiral PARSON. Those plans and specifications were drawn entirely by the Bureau of Yards and Docks.
Mr. ŠCHAFER. They were very incomplete, were they not?