The Service Secretary: Has He a Useful Role?

Centralization of functions under Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara since 1961 has substantially altered the role of the military Service Secretary. There is a widely held opinion that it remains only for the Congress, in its own good time, to inter decently the Departments of the Army, Navy and Air Force, together with their respective Secretaries. My own experience in two separate statutory tours totaling nearly a decade since 1947 does not at all support this conclusion. The military departments exist today, not as vestigial monuments to tradition, but as viable institutions. They perform in our constitutional democracy a function which emphasizes checks and balances in the determination of military policy.

Each military service continues to play an indispensable role in its own logistics, training and research and development. Each also influences strategy, concepts and force structures. And the Service Secretary, based on the evolution of his role as I have observed and experienced it, fulfills a managerial responsibility at precisely that middle level which cannot be discharged as well anywhere else in the Department of Defense as now constituted.

I approach this evaluation of the Service Secretary's role with concern, if not detachment. Nearly 250 years ago, Voltaire wrote to his friend, Bertin de Rocheret: "The man who ventures to write contemporary history must expect to be attacked both for everything he has said and everything he has not said." And so this appraisal of the Service Secretary in the Pentagon environment must necessarily suffer from the "soonness" of my departure, and be open to justifiable criticism from both flanks. But I trust that freshness of recollection may illuminate from a unique viewpoint the transformation of the national defense organization, to which Mr. McNamara has given the greatest single impetus.

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