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Memorandum for General Watson1
April 1, 1940 [Washington, D.C.]
Subject: Transfer of Construction from Q.M.G. to Engineers
The question of transferring construction functions from the Quartermaster Corps to the Chief of Engineers, as suggested by Mr. Starnes, has been considered by the War Department for some time. We have been particularly interested in this project as a possible move in connection with the President’s Reorganization Program.2
However, at present there are two complications, both opposed to such a transfer. One is that the Quartermaster General is now responsible for maintenance and operation of utilities as well as for construction. There is a decided advantage in having the same organization handle both maintenance and construction. The other is the fact that the Quartermaster Department is involved in a tremendous construction program, and a transfer of direction and responsibility at this particular time would be hazardous procedure.
The Assistant Chief of Staff (General Moore), who is responsible for supervision of these activities, happens to have been for many years an officer of the Corps of Engineers and has a very broad view of the entire subject. He has this to say:
“The Corps of Engineers is capable of performing efficiently all of the construction for which the Quartermaster General is now responsible. Construction is a specialized type of engineering and it could very appropriately be placed under a technical branch such as the Engineer Corps rather than under a Supply Branch and to do this would tend to bring to the construction activities of the Army a standard of efficiency not possible under the existing set-up. On the other hand to transfer away from the Quartermaster General the construction for which he is now responsible will result in separating construction from maintenance, repair and operation. The cost of maintenance is dependent on the quality of construction work and, conversely, the lessons learned from maintenance are useful in designing new construction. Much actual construction is necessary under the head of maintenance and it is almost impossible to draw a line of demarcation between these two functions; but while this is not an insurmountable difficulty, to do so would result in duplication, which would nullify to a large extent the advantages that might result from the proposed consolidation.
“The present time is highly inopportune for the proposed consolidation. There is an enormous amount of construction now in progress. The Quartermaster Corps is thoroughly committed to the program and any immediate transfer of responsibility would inevitably result in confusion and delay.”
I concur in the belief that it would be most inopportune to effect a transfer of responsibility at this time, but I am of the opinion that the transfer should be made when the time is more opportune.
Acting Secretary of War.
Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Selected Materials, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.
Document Format: Typed memorandum.
1. Brigadier General Edwin M. Watson was President Roosevelt’s military aide and secretary.
2. In October 1939 House Appropriations Committee members Albert J. Engel, Republican from Michigan, and Joe Starnes, Democrat from Alabama, decided to sponsor legislation transferring the construction function from the Quartermaster Corps to the Corps of Engineers. “The news was not particularly welcome. A premature attempt to bring about the change might ruin the Engineers’ chances for years to come. Although the congressmen seemed in no hurry, General Marshall had to be ready to take a stand should a bill be introduced. Somewhat reluctantly, he reopened the question. The Staff reviewed earlier studies and kept an eye on Quartermaster progress.” (Lenore Fine and Jesse A. Remington, The Corps of Engineers: Construction in the United States, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1972], p. 107.)
Chief of Engineers Major General Julian L. Schley (U.S.M.A., 1903) opposed the idea of any organizational change during this period of global emergency. This argument influenced his U.S.M.A. classmate and fellow engineer, the new Assistant Chief of Staff, G-4, Brigadier General Richard C. Moore. Moore wanted a postponement of at least a year on any transfer and persuaded Marshall and Woodring to wait. (Ibid., p. 108.)
3. Acting Secretary of War Louis Johnson prepared a personal memorandum to General Watson expressing a differing opinion: “The enclosed memorandum dated April 1, 1940, which was prepared for my signature, presents the Staff viewpoint on this question. I have not signed this memorandum because I am not wholly in accord with the viewpoint presented. After extensive study and long conferences with General Craig, then Chief of Staff, I reached the conclusion months ago that the best interests of the War Department would be served by placing all military or semi-military construction work under the Corps of Engineers.” Johnson also informed Watson that he had not discussed this matter with Congressman Starnes, but was in accord with his ideas. (Memorandum for General Watson, April 4, 1940, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)
Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland, Sharon Ritenour Stevens, and Clarence E. Wunderlin, Jr. (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 2, “We Cannot Delay,” July 1, 1939-December 6, 1941 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 184-185.