The Army and Economic Mobilization

By R. Elberton Smith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER X
Major Issues in Contract Placement

Military Responsibility for Procurement

A primary question in the field of contract placement was who should conduct the actual purchasing and contracting operations essential to military procurement. Consideration of this question, which arose early in World War II, illuminates a number of important aspects of the total task of economic mobilization.

Fundamental to the Army's entire scheme of organization and operation was the premise that it would have and retain direct responsibility and authority for the procurement of its own equipment and supplies. By the time of World War II, Army procurement was deeply rooted in history and law, going back to the early part of the nineteenth century. During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress had conducted or directed many of the procurement operations needed to fill the Army's crude and relatively small matériel requirements. In 1792 the U.S. Congress established the office of Purveyor of Public Supplies, whose procurement jurisdiction extended to arms and ammunition. The War of 1812--the first to be waged by the new republic--necessitated greater specialization of the military, procurement responsibility. In March 1812 Congress created the position of Commissary General of Purchases under the Secretary of War and reestablished the office of Quartermaster General which had existed during the Revolutionary period. In May 1812 the Ordnance Department was created, and by 1815 it had obtained permanent jurisdiction over the procurement of arms and ammunition. The overlapping procurement responsibilities of the Quartermaster General and the Commissary General were gradually clarified by the ascendancy of the Quartermaster General and the discontinuance, in 1842, of the office of the Commissary General of Purchases.1 Meanwhile, the establishment of the Corps of Engineers and the Medical Department on a permanent basis in 1802 laid the foundation for eventual procurement responsibility in these branches of the Army. By the beginning of World War I, there were five Army branches or departments charged with procurement; by the end of the war the number had grown to eight.2

During the first year after America's entry into World War I, when confusion was rampant and the fruits of the nation's industrial mobilization were meager, considerable sentiment arose in favor of proposals to

____________________
1
(1) Risch, QMC Supply, I, 3-5. (2) Green, Thomson, and Roots, The Ordnance Department: Planning Munitions for War, pp.14ff. (3) U.S. Statutes at Large, II, 696-99, 816-18; III, 203; V, 513.
2
(1) Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army ( Washington: Government Printing Office, 1903), I, 41-43. (2) War Department, Engineer Procurement Manual, 1933 ed., p. 2, ICAF Library.

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