James R. Reckner, in Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet, described how the “bureau gang” became defensive regarding complaints about oversized gun ports, incorrectly placed armor belts, badly designed turret ammunition hoists, etc. I recalled submarine skippers’ frustrations during World War II because the bureaucracy didn’t react fast enough to their complaints about torpedoes that did not explode.
I also recalled many of my own experiences during the early sixties when I was assigned to the Navy’s office of the Supervisor of Shipbuilding in Seattle. The Supervisor’s responsibilities included administering contracts that were prepared and awarded by the Bureau of Ships to private shipyards located in Washington and Oregon. During the flood of post-contract changes that were issued by the Bureau, the often-frustrated shipyard managers never knew how many of the Bureau’s gaffs my office intercepted. It was especially difficult to deal with the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. who were both defensive and, as the British would say, “who by virtue of their pips and crowns believed they knew more than anyone else.”
During a visit to the admiral in charge of the Bureau’s ship-type desks, I advised that his people were not sending timely replies to the problems we were required to forward to them for resolution. Being a realist who knew the limitations imposed on him by civil-service regulations, he gave me startling and effective advice. He suggested that I send a message once each week that simply listed outstanding correspondence for which requested reply dates had elapsed. “Use one line per item, and include an ‘X’ for each week that a reply is overdue,” he said.
The Admiral suggested the following format:
The area covered by the Xs convey at a glance the extent of the correspondence backlog. He also told me that messages received were teletyped on ditto masters and regardless of their subject matter, copies were immediately sent to every admiral in the Bureau.
As I was leaving the Admiral added, “Send your follow-up messages on Thursday evenings. They will be read on Friday mornings and you will succeed in ruining many weekends.”