have been many reasons offered for why today's NOAA Corps is a uniformed
service and its officers serve under commission. Although the roots
of NOAA Corps lie in the system of field assistants, sub-assistants,
and aids dating back to the days of Ferdinand Hassler, the birthday
of the NOAA Corps is officially recognized as May 22, 1917; the date
on which the bill became law establishing the Coast and Geodetic Survey
as a commissioned service. However, although designated a commissioned
service, the pay and benefits of Coast and Geodetic Survey officers
were not on a par with their brethren in the other services at that
time. Consequently, following the end of the First World War, there
was such an exodus of officers from the ranks of the Survey, that
it was feared that the organization would cease to be able to accomplish
its mission. This resulted in Congress passing a law on May 18, 1920,
that established pay and benefit comparability for Coast and Geodetic
Survey officers with the other services. Some of the testimony and
background information regarding the results of that law and the rationale
for the Coast and Geodetic Survey follow. These documents give a glimpse
into the reasoning of E. Lester Jones, the "Father of the commissioned
service of the Coast and Geodetic Survey."
Statement of Herbert Hoover
Secretary of Commerce
November 21, 1921
the period following the signing of the armistice, the demand for
engineers having the highly specialized training that is required
of the commissioned force of the Coast and Geodetic Survey was very
great, and so many attractive inducements were offered them outside
the Coast and Geodetic Survey that the large number of consequent
resignations made imminent a complete breakdown. On May 18, 1920,
the number of officers remaining in the service was less than two-thirds
of the authorized complement.
act of May 18, 1920, checked this disintegration, and there has been
preserved to the public service a nucleus of trained officers about
which to rebuild the corps.
are still existing vacancies, which evidence the fact that the present
pay is none too large to attract men of the necessary training and
feel that any reduction in the pay and allowances of these officers
would result in renewing the disintegration checked by the passage
of the act of May 18, 1920. It is of paramount importance that the
corps be built up as rapidly as possible to the maximum authorized
strength and so maintained, in order that its work may not fall short
of the requirements of our commerce and national defense; and I am
therefore of the opinion that the rates of pay and allowances to be
fixed by Congress should not be less than the rates now in effect.
Testimony of COL. E. Lester Jones
of Service Pay
Jones. Yes, sir. I have been before you, and I have been before the
Naval Affairs Committee of the Senate, and I would like to say - even
though you know the merits of this service -- which is considerably
over a hundred years old - the whole history of the service in time
of national distress and at all other times - these officers are always
in readiness. And this is true of the men who occupied these positions
in past years. All of the records of the country prove that the present
status should have been granted long ago. In the Civil War they were
active in the most important maneuvers, in the most important matters
which had to do with the results of the war, and yet in spite of strong
recommendations of Army and Navy officers these men have gone on up
until within a few years without salaries or positions commensurate
with what they deserved. In the last war in the active service of
the Army and Navy our officers performed conspicuous service. Some
of the characteristics common to all of the commissioned corps and
present not at all or only in part in other Federal services are:
(1) Hazardous duty in time of war. (2) Hazardous duty in time of peace.
(3) Transitory detail in any locality. (4) Educational qualifications.
Hazardous duty in time of war: Every commissioned officer of the Coast
and Geodetic is subject to active military duty with combat forces.
During the World War every commissioned officer below the age of retirement
who was not needed to carry on surveys which had been requested by
either the Army or Navy for home defenses was transferred to either
the Army or Navy and wore the uniform of one of those services and
served side by side with regular Army and Navy officers on whatever
duty was required of him. These officers entirely severed their connection
with the Coast and Geodetic Survey as far as being subject to orders
from that bureau and were for the duration of the war absolutely under
the authority of the Secretary of War or of the Secretary of the Navy.
Sixty-two commissioned officers were detailed to either the Army or
Hazardous duty in time of peace: Every commissioned officer of the
Coast and Geodetic Survey is subject to the same hazardous duty afloat
and ashore that characterizes the life of the explorer and pioneer,
whether from storms in dangerous unsurveyed waters, exposure to severe
and inclement weather, sickness from unhealthy localities, or the
dangers incident to climbing precipitous cliffs and lofty mountains.
This duty is so severe that few officers retain their health and full
vigor beyond middle age.
Transitory detail to any locality: No commissioned officer of the
Coast and Geodetic has any assurance of permanent employment in one
locality. The director holds tenure of office for four years, the
assistant director at the pleasure of the Secretary of Commerce, and
all other officers at the pleasure of the director. There are no permanent
shore or office positions open to any of these commissioned officers,
and less than 10 per cent of the officers on the active list now occupy
office positions, including those on duty at Washington and at the
field stations. All other are afloat (70 per cent) or on field work
ashore (20 per cent) in various parts of the United States and its
possessions and are moving from place to place as they complete surveys
in one locality and take up surveys elsewhere.
Educational qualifications: All of the commissioned services require
higher education of their officers either at the time of admission
or by completion of prescribed courses of instructions after appointment
and before final acceptance. The work of the Coast and Geodetic Survey
can not be done by persons not having the advantage of higher education,
and accordingly no one is accepted for commission who has not completed
a course and received a degree in civil engineering in a college or
engineering school of recognized standing. Fitness for undertaking
this work is further determined by mental and physical examinations
fully as rigid as are required in any of these other services. After
admission to this service officers are required to keep up in their
profession, and no officer can be promoted until he has passed a searching
mental and physical examination and has demonstrated by his work that
he merits advancement to a higher grade.
Officers of the United States
Coast and Geodetic Survey
in Time of Peace and in Time of War
The normal work of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey is
a highly specialized branch of civil engineering, which requires exact,
practical knowledge of astronomy, geodesy, geology, trigonometric
surveying, higher mathematics, physics, navigation, and seamanship.
for admission to the commissioned force, which directs and performs
all the field work and directs all the office work, must have completed,
with credit, a four-year course in a university or engineering school
of recognized standing and must then pass a rigid mental and physical
examination. The successful applicants are then admitted to a temporary
grade where they serve a probationary period [,where] they are under
close observation to determine their fitness for entrance to the commissioned
corps, and [where they] are not accepted until they have shown conclusive
evidence of the qualities which are deemed necessary for the efficient
performance of the work of this bureau.
work of the Coast and Geodetic Survey is largely that of the explorer
and the pioneer; the surveys made by this bureau precede all others
and furnish the fundamental data upon which all other surveys are
geodetic surveys, through the interior of the country, as well as
along the seaboard, are the foundation upon which all topographic
and engineering surveys are constructed and without which these surveys
could not be correlated nor even extended over a large area.
The hydrographic surveys are both the basic and the final surveys
of the coastal waters of the United States and insular and other possessions,
except where special hydrographic surveys are required for river and
harbor improvements, and these latter are controlled largely by previous
surveys of this bureau.
tidal, current and magnetic surveys and investigations by this bureau
are the only source of information on those subjects, and are of the
greatest importance to mariners and surveyors. The coast pilots and
tide tables published by this bureau are from the original investigations
by officers of the bureau and used by all navigators on American and
foreign naval and merchant vessels.
experience which the officers of the Coast and Geodetic Survey acquire
in the performance of these duties and the exact knowledge which they
must have of navigation and piloting, of the use of instruments of
precision and of the methods of higher surveying have long been recognized
as special qualifications for the performance of certain important
military and naval duties for which there are during a war an insufficient
number of trained officers in the Regular Army and Navy Establishments.
in 1917, recognized the military value of the Coast and Geodetic Survey,
and accordingly enacted special legislation to make the personnel
and vessels of the survey readily available for transfer to the Army
or Navy during a national emergency. The engineers of the survey were
commissioned as civilian engineers, but were given relative military
rank, and were made subject to military duty at the discretion of
the President. Under this authority, the President transferred 56
per cent of the officers to the Army or Navy, retaining on duty at
the survey only enough officers to make the special hydrographic and
geodetic surveys that had been requested by the War and Navy Departments
for planning the defenses of the country.
officers transferred to the Navy, without training other than they
had received under the Coast and Geodetic Survey in the performance
of their usual peace-time work, immediately entered upon the duties
to which they were assigned and performed those new duties so well
that nearly all were advanced to higher ranks than they held in the
survey prior to the transfer, and to which they returned when released
from the Navy. They served as navigators, first lieutenants, watch
and division officers on combatant ships, as executive and commanding
officers of auxiliaries and as experts on investigations of submarine-detecting
devices, and on the design and installation of navigating equipment
for naval vessels.
Army they served in the Corps of Engineers, in charge of military
mapping, and in the Artillery as orientation officers, where their
special training in trigonometric surveying made them particularly
valuable. In 1918, after all available officers had been transferred
to either the Army or Navy, the Chief of Engineers, impressed by those
officers who had been transferred to his corps, requested an additional
termination of hostilities these officers were returned to the Coast
and Geodetic Survey in the ranks which they held at the time of entering
the military services and which were, in most cases, from one to two
grades lower than the ranks which they had attained while in the military
services. Furthermore, the pay and allowance of all commissioned ranks
in the Coast and Geodetic Survey were then considerably lower than
the pay and allowance of equivalent rank in the Navy.
condition of unequal pay for equivalent rank and equal degree of responsibility
of position and hardship of employment had long been a subject of
discontent in this service, which was greatly increased with the return
of those officers who had served throughout the war side by side with
officers of the Army and Navy, who had made good in those positions,
and had had full opportunity to measure their skill and ability against
the regular officers of those services.
older officers, confident that Congress would see this injustice and
correct it at an early date, took up their old duties with a will
and endeavored to get the survey back as soon as possible to its prewar
condition. Many officers, however, could not wait, but resigned to
accept more profitable employment elsewhere, and many others, while
willing to await the outcome of pending legislation, stated that if
this legislation failed they must resign. Nearly one-third of the
Corps had resigned prior to the passage of the act of May 18, 1920
(Public No. 210, 66th Cong.), and it is a conservative estimate that
another third would have resigned if this act had failed of passage.
that date there has been no question as to the future of the Coast
and Geodetic Survey: resignations have practically stopped; it has
been possible to fill vacancies as rapidly as officers could be trained
for the work, and all officers are working with an enthusiasm that
will, within another year, put the service on its prewar efficiency.
Earlier return to prewar strength is impossible because the work is
of such a specialized nature that persons qualified to take charge
can not be found outside the bureau, but must be trained for the work.
by C&GS Re: Readjustment of Service Pay March 1922
The Coast and Geodetic Survey as a Military Organization
Coast and Geodetic Survey not only is now a military organization,
it has been such continuously for many years prior to the recent recognition
of that fact by appropriate legislation.
a) Its normal peace time function has long constituted an integral,
essential part of the national defense. It has been so recognized
by the War and Navy Departments, which have constantly delegated to
it certain details as essential to that purpose as are the building
of fortifications or the manning of battleships. For example, the
recognized priority of that function over the demands of commerce
is evidenced by the fact that on military request surveys of important
strategic localities have been made which have never been given to
the public. Conversely, those surveys have not been of the Survey
ready for utilization in case of emergency, indicating clearly that
the Army and Navy recognize a common singleness of purpose, and the
preeminence of the survey within the field delegated to it. [This
last sentence is copied directly from the available text. However,
it appears that the typed copy was apparently not transcribed properly
from original text.]
(b) In every war since the survey was organized its officers have
served with the military forces. They did not sever connections with
the survey and enter the military forces as individuals but were directly
detailed to serve as Coast Survey officers. Space does not permit
an adequate account of such service, and the following instances are
the Civil War they * * * made topographic surveys directly under fire
of the enemy * * * were dangerously wounded * * * were surprised by
a party of the enemy, but instead of being captured took the rebels
prisoners * * * under the fire of the enemy made hydrographic surveys
of obstructed entrances to southern harbors; located obstructions
and piloted Union vessels in safety past them * * * aboard Union vessels
attacking land fortifications utilized methods of hydrographic surveying
in determining the range for gun firing." In connection with
such service, Under Admiral Farragut at the mouth of the Mississippi,
Commander Porter stated: "The results of our mortar practice
here have exceeded anything I ever dreamed of; and for my success,
I am mainly indebted to the accuracy of positions marked down, under
Mr. Gerdes's direction, by Mr. Harris and Mr. Oltmanns. They made
a minute and complete survey from the "jump" to the forts,
most of the time exposed to fire from shot and shell, and from sharpshooters
from the bushes. * * * I can not speak too highly of these gentlemen.
I assure you that I shall never undertake a bombardment, unless I
have them at my side."
men performing the services just described were civilians; they had
no military status and a significant indication of the character and
value of their service is found in the fact that in a number of cases
the Confederate authorities offered special rewards for the apprehension
of the men so engaged. If captured, they would undoubtedly have been
executed as civilians engaged within the zone of military operations.
a matter of record that many high Army and Navy officers at that time
recommended that the survey be merged with the military forces in
order that these men might be relieved of the unnecessary jeopardy
thus incurred but that the superintendent of the survey declined to
consider this for the reason that he preferred to maintain the corps
in tact in order that there might be no delay in the resumption of
its normal peace time function upon the termination of hostilities.
our entrance into the World War Congress recognized the value of this
corps and the need of providing adequate means of utilizing it efficiently,
by legislation commissioning the corps and rendering it subject to
military duty at the discretion of the President. Recognition of the
anomalous condition obtaining during the Civil War and of the unnecessary
jeopardy which it entailed was undoubtedly one of the factors which
caused Congress to take this action.
the World War these officers served in the Army with the Artillery
and the Engineers along various portions of the western front in France,
performing duties identical with those performed by Army officers.
In the Navy they served aboard troop transports and cargo carriers
plying through the submarine zone; aboard the vessels which planted
the mine barrage in the North Sea, and in the destroyer and patrol
fleets about the English coast which assisted so materially in overcoming
the submarine menace. One of the survey vessels is officially credited
with the disabling of the U 39, the submarine which sank the Lusitania,
to such an extent that she was compelled to intern for the remainder
of the war. When she performed this notable service she was manned
in part by officers of the Coast and Geodetic Survey.
(c) The organization of the service is, and has always been, semimilitaristic.
Among the predecessors of the present commissioned corps were Army
and Navy officers who were temporarily detailed to duty in the survey.
Upon the outbreak of the Spanish War the detail of such officers finally
ceased, but the body of regulations and customs, of ship routine and
discipline, which they spent half a century in building up, has gaged
on sea duty. Officers and crews are uniformed. The routine is a direct
survival of the days when naval officers manned the vessels. The ships
fly the commissioned pennant. They go to navy yards for repairs and
outfitting, where they conform in all respects to the regulations
and customs exacted of naval vessels. In foreign ports, or when foreign
government vessels visit home ports upon which they are basing there
is an interchange of courtesies similar to those customary in the
case of our naval vessels. All these details are of long standing
far antedating recent legislation relative to the service.
obvious, therefore, that such recent legislation did not effect any
fundamental change in the status of the Coast and Geodetic Survey,
but merely recognized in the law a body of fact which had long been
in existence in purpose and in actual practice.