The Secretary of Defense (Forrestal) to the Assistant Secretary of State (Armour)


Dear Mr. Secretary: The Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force have given very careful consideration to your letter which suggested the establishment by the President of an inter-departmental committee to (1) clarify United States policy with respect to non-United States citizens employed in the Canal Zone and (2) insure uniformity of legislation and regulations with respect to personnel practices on the Isthmus. This proposal follows the recommendations of General McSherry’s report, a report which has been studied by officials of the three Departments both here and in the Canal Zone.

We agree that there are certain important problems relating to American policies with respect to employment in the Canal Zone and that some of these are of mutual interest to several of the federal departments. However, we do not think that these problems are generally of such a character as to justify the formation of another interdepartmental committee, particularly a high level committee of the kind suggested. On the contrary, we believe that each such problem, as it arises, should be handled through informal consultation among the particular departments which are directly concerned with it. There is not identical mutuality of interest among all the departments in all cases. Many policy issues which affect personnel in the Canal Zone have no foreign relations implications whatsoever, and they should be decided by the three Services and the Panama Canal, either in joint consultation with one another, or through such mechanisms for the coordination of personnel matters which may be established by them. In such cases we do not believe that representatives of the State Department, Civil Service Commission and Department of Labor would wish to participate. Other problems will clearly depend for their intelligent solution upon the most thorough examination by the State Department, or by other agencies, of those aspects thereof for which they have an important responsibility. In such cases, we agree, there should be full joint consideration which is participated in by all of the agencies concerned. However, it would appear that this type of consultation, whenever the occasion for it arises, should be worked out on an ad hoc basis and that those agencies and individuals most familiar with the particular subject involved should be invited to participate. [Page 966] In a given case, the specific problem might well be one that did not require decisions at the Assistant Secretary level. We also feel that to the extent that coordination of legislation affecting the operations of the several federal departments and agencies active in the Canal Zone is necessary, this can be satisfactorily accomplished through existing government procedures established for such purpose.

In the event that the President should conclude that the establishment of an inter-departmental committee along the lines recommended by you is desirable, the National Military Establishment would wish the Departments of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force each to be directly represented on such committee in lieu of a single representative for the entire Establishment who might be designated by me. Each of these Departments has important responsibilities within the Canal Zone and it would be important that its point of view and problems be directly before the Committee. The conclusions of any such committee might well be unsound if they did not fully take into account the kind of considerations which these three Departments would alone be in a position to present.

You will be interested to know that I have requested the Department of the Army, through the Commanding General, Caribbean Area, to obtain the views of the various federal officials who have active responsibilities within the Canal Zone on the report of General McSherry. In this way, I hope to secure a clearer picture from people at the operating level of those recommendations in the report which require action at this level, either in the form of policy decisions or implementing legislation. When these views have been collected, I am certain that representatives of the Army, Navy and Air Force will be in a much better position to judge which problems can be handled by them jointly without burdening outside agencies, and which of them are matters which other agencies must also consider. Those three Departments will, of course, be glad to discuss any Canal Zone problems with the State Department whenever you believe such discussions are in order.

Sincerely yours,

James Forrestal