47.

NO MORE NITPICKING

Those words, “highest priority above all others” and “maximum urgency,” were what Gardner and Schriever had been scheming and hoping for so long. They lost no time seizing the momentum a president’s pronouncements could release. With forty-two potential naysayers in their path, Bennie and his staff at WDD in California had been driven to distraction by the hurdles races they constantly had to run to get anything accomplished. One day at the Pentagon, Schriever had grown so exasperated with an Air Force functionary called the deputy assistant secretary for logistics that his habitual self-control had shattered like a glass hitting the floor. “You son of a bitch,” he had abruptly shouted at the man, “you are holding up the whole goddamn program.” His surprise loss of temper had intimidated the bureaucrat and won the argument for him on this occasion, but obviously one could not do business like this on an everyday basis and survive.

In late August, Schriever had begun to document precisely how this bureaucratic octopus held the ICBM project in its tentacles. Bennie had his staff draw up a dozen flip charts listing the multitude of offices and agencies involved and illustrating, with lines going here and there in a bewildering, crisscrossing maze, how many had to be contacted to approve what and how long the tortured process was taking. When they were completed, Schriever dubbed them his “spaghetti charts,” and headed off to Washington to brief Gardner. As he went through one chart after another even Gardner, who had heard so often from Schriever of what an incredible tangle they were encountering, was astonished. “Let’s go down and see Quarles,” he said as soon as Schriever was done, taking him by the arm and marching to Quarles’s office. The secretary was about to leave for a meeting, but Gardner was insistent. “Don, you’ve got to listen to this,” he said. With Quarles standing behind his desk, Bennie propped his charts up on an armchair in front and repeated his briefing, this time to Quarles’s astonishment. “Is that really what you have to do?” he asked Schriever. Assured that it was, Quarles said, “Well, we’ve got to do something about this.” Turning to Gardner, he said, “Trev, you set up a study effort and come up with some recommendations on how to do it.” With this license in his pocket, Gardner proceeded to settle the argument once and for all.

On the same day, September 13, 1955, that Eisenhower signed the NSC directive with the magic words, Gardner named a civilian official to head such a study who was both a supporter of the ICBM enterprise and familiar with the obstacles it was encountering. His name was Hyde Gillette and he was the deputy for budget and program management in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management. Gillette formed a twenty-five-member committee and allowed Gardner and Schriever to select its members and to seed it with their own people. Schriever, Ramo, and Ford were members, along with ten of Schriever’s officers from WDD. Gillette divided the committee into seven panels to cover all aspects. It met both in Washington and out at WDD. Within five weeks, the work was done. Gardner swiftly approved the committee’s report and sent it to Wilson’s office on October 21, 1955.

Wilson abandoned his opposition in the face of Eisenhower’s decision. He approved the reforms in a memo to Quarles on November 8. Subsequently called the Gillette Procedures, they were a dramatic and drastic streamlining of the decision-making process. Three quarters of the forty-two reviewing agencies and offices were jettisoned and the remaining ten consolidated into two committees. At the top was the Ballistic Missile Committee of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, chaired by Wilson’s deputy. Beneath it at the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force level was the Air Force Ballistic Missile Committee. Quarles chaired this committee, but Gardner managed to have himself appointed its vice chairman and liaison with its OSD counterpart. The Gillette Procedures pushed authority downward to those who were doing the work. Schriever was to decide how the job was to be done. His WDD command was to draw up and present to Quarles’s committee on December 1, 1955, a comprehensive five-year plan covering everything from missile design to trial launches at Cape Canaveral. Gone were the days of piecemeal requests and incessant bureaucratic tussles to obtain permission for each and every element of the project. Everything would be included in one document. Authorization to proceed would be granted by Quarles’s committee in one-year increments for the year currently under consideration. This was subject to review by the higher committee at Wilson’s level, but approval was virtually automatic. Once authorization had been given, the plan for that year’s work became the equivalent of a directive that Schriever could use as a shield to ward off interference by anyone.

He and Gardner did not succeed in getting a separate budget for the ICBM. Missile funds would continue to be included within the overall Air Force appropriation. But they got the next best thing to it. A budget annex accompanied the comprehensive development plan submitted to Quarles’s committee and, once approved, the funds became the WDD budget for that year. No other Air Force organization could touch them. As a fillip to their achievement, Gardner and Schriever arranged for scientific advice that would be critical when necessary but unfailingly supportive. The ICBM Scientific Advisory Committee that von Neumann had helped them to organize under his chairmanship for WDD was named the scientific advisory body for both the Wilson and Quarles committees. The same November 8 memo from Wilson to Quarles approving the Gillette Procedures stated that “the Air Force ballistic missile programs [would] be subject to no other outside scientific consultant review.” Bennie Schriever’s troubles were by no means at an end. In some ways, they were just beginning. But two and a half years after his pilgrimage to von Neumann’s office at Princeton, the road ahead of him was finally open.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!