Trends in DoD Political Appointees
The National Security Act of 1947 established the position of Secretary of Defense, the first OSD presidential appointment that required Senate confirmation. The organization itself was at that time called the National Military Establishment but was renamed two years later as the Department of Defense through amendments to the act. James V. Forrestal was sworn in as the first Secretary of Defense on September 17, 1947.
For approximately 150 years, the armed forces of the United States were administered by two departments: War (renamed Army in 1947) and Navy. The National Security Act of 1947 added a third department for the newly independent Air Force (Watson, 1997). From 1789 until the moment the first Secretary of Defense was sworn in, it had been the President's duty as commander in chief to provide unified direction to the armed forces. The arrangement worked reasonably well until the early 20th century, when the United States emerged as a world power. The increasing demands on the President's time forced him to rely ever more heavily on subordinates to discharge his military duties. This became particularly apparent during World War II, as President Franklin Roosevelt increasingly delegated authority through improvised mechanisms. By the end of that war, “with the United States confronting security problems unprecedented in scale and scope, the need for organizational reform appeared more urgent than ever.”
In the summer of 1947, Congress responded to this need by passing the National Security Act. This act subordinated the secretaries of the Army, the Navy, and the newly established Air Force to a new Secretary of Defense, thus inserting a new layer of civilian authority between the services and their commander in chief. Over the years, the organization has been progressively refined, and new layers of authority have been inserted with the intended purpose of strengthening the secretary's control.____________________