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Office of the Naval Inspector General
History of the Naval Inspector General


This section presents a brief history of the Naval Inspector General. It illustrates that the concept of a Naval Inspector General is both relatively new for the Navy, and that its roles and missions have continuously changed and evolved over time. Prior to the issuance of this manual, the Department of the Navy did not possess a codified set of systems and concepts to govern its Inspector General mission. To fully understand why the establishment of a formal Naval Inspector General Program is desirable, it is important to have an understanding of the history of the growth and development of the function of an Inspector General within the Navy.

Origins of the Naval Inspector General:

Shortly after the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, both the Continental Congress and American military commanders recognized the need to employ the services of an Inspector General within the continental Army. The first 'effective' military Inspector General for the United States was 'Baron' Wilhelm Friedrich von Steuben, who was appointed to the post on April 30, 1778 by General George Washington, and subsequently confirmed by Congress on May 5, 1778.

The United States Navy was founded by Congress in the Naval Act of 1794. On April 30, 1798, the Department of the Navy was separated from the War Department. When the Navy left the War Department, "the concept of using an Inspector General to improve [the Department] by securing uniformity of practices was not carried over from the War Department." Commanding officers, both afloat and ashore, were responsible for conducting their own inspections and investigations, as well as ensuring their own unit's material and combat readiness.

On February 2, 1815, Congress enacted a law that created the Board of Naval Commissioners. This act was designed to relieve the Secretary of the Navy of many of the day-to-day functions of the Navy by providing oversight of naval materials and supplies. The board consisted of three senior 'Post-Captains.' The most senior Captain served as the Board President, and was given the title of "Commodore" for his tenure as President. Specifically, the Board oversaw the equipping, repair, and preservation of naval vessels; and dealt with all Navy yards and stations. The Board of Naval Commissioners would continue to serve in this capacity until it was disbanded on August 31, 1842.

To replace the Board, the Navy established the Bureau System. Different Bureaus were established to deal with different enterprises within the Navy. For example, the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (today most often referred to as BUMED) was established to oversee all Navy medical issues. Future Bureaus would include the Bureau of Personnel (BUPERS), the Bureau of Ships, and the Bureau of Ordnance. Each Bureau was in charge of conducting its own inspections and investigations. These inquiries took the form of auditing accounts, inspecting supplies, and inspecting material under procurement within that Bureau's cognizance.[1] Officially, the Bureau system would last until 1966, when most Bureaus were converted into Systems Commands.

During the Civil War, the U.S. Navy underwent growth and expansion that was unprecedented at that time in American history. On the eve of the Civil War in 1861, the U.S. Navy had 90 vessels. By the end of the war, the number had risen to 671 vessels. The breadth of the Navy's growth concerned not only the number of ships, but also the technologies and tactics employed by naval vessels. In order to keep up with the Navy's expansion, the Board of Inspection and Survey was formed on March 16, 1869. The original purpose of the Board was to prevent spending money on ships that were no longer serviceable, and to prevent new construction from being stalled.

At first, the new Board was responsible for personnel, material, and military inspections. In its earliest configurations, the Board also had intelligence and advisory functions. However, the Board lost many of these functions over time and soon concentrated solely on the military value and readiness of ships.[1] In particular, the Board of Inspection and Survey concentrated solely on inspecting the material conditions of vessels, particularly for deficiencies and to determine seaworthiness after battle damage or catastrophic mishap.[2]. The Board if Inspection and Survey is still in commission today, though it is best known by its acronym: INSURV.

For over a century, and throughout World War I and the inter war years, the Navy did not have a centralized investigative arm. This was in sharp contrast to both the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps, both of which had established offices of Inspectors General. Each Bureau continued to inspect and investigate matters within its own jurisdiction.

Events during the early stages of World War II would soon drive the U.S. Navy to establish an Office of the Inspector General of its own. In 1940, the French ocean-liner SS Normandie sought refuge from the fighting in Europe in New York City. Normandie was one of the world's fastest and largest ocean liners at the time.[1] Following the fall of France later that year, the United States seized Normandie and renamed the ship USS Lafayette (AP-53); and decided to convert her into a fast troop transport ship. In February 1942, while undergoing conversion in New York Harbor, USS Lafayette caught fire and subsequently capsized. While only one person was killed in the disaster, the loss of such a prestigious and well-known ship was a tremendous embarrassment to the Navy. Congress launched an investigation into the disaster to determine if the ship's loss was an act of foreign sabotage or merely negligence. In its report, Congress expressed frustration with the multiple investigative agencies within the Navy. The committee felt that the Navy Department needed an office of Inspector General to "be charged with the duty of keeping Congress and the Secretary of the Navy informed as to the conditions of the naval service...."[2]

The Office of the Naval Inspector General was formally established on May 18, 1942, per General Order Number 173.

RADM Charles P. Snyder (later ADM) was the first officer named as Inspector General.[3] The staff included one deputy and three assistant inspectors[4]. The Naval Inspector General began the tradition of drafting subject matter experts from other staffs and commands to conduct its inspections and investigations. The office served throughout WWII as a 'troubleshooting' unit for the CNO by conducting inquiries and reporting on all matters which affected the efficiency and economy of the Navy; and by conducting inspections and investigations into any naval matter as required by the Secretary of the Navy, CNO, Congress, or by law.

[1] Armand, Harvey. Normandie, Her Life and Times. Franklin Watts Press (New York, NY). 1985. Pages 46-47.
[2] Report of the Committee on Naval Affairs, United States Senate: On Investigation of Fire and Capsizing of USS Lafayette. Printed 26 May 1942.
[3] IBID #1. Page 1.
[4] IBID #1 Page 4.
[1] IBID #1. Page 6.
[2] IBID #1 Page 8.
[1] IBID #1. Page 6.
[1] Historical Section, Office of the Inspector General. World War II Administrative History of the Navy, 'Office of the Inspector General,' Volume 12. 1946. Page 6.
[2] Symonds, Craig L. Lincoln and His Admirals. Oxford University Press (New York, NY). 2008. Page 68. Post-Captain was the senior naval rank in the United States Navy at the time, as Flag ranks in the U.S. Navy did not exist until the Civil War. A Post-Captain was a captain who had already held the rank of captain at sea.