P. 1
Signal Corps the Test

Signal Corps the Test

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Published by Bob Andrepont
United States Army history of the Signal Corps during World War II, part 2 of 3
United States Army history of the Signal Corps during World War II, part 2 of 3

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Published by: Bob Andrepont on Feb 06, 2011
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Prewar planning had assumed that the
procurement districts would take over the
handling of contracts almost entirely once
war started, but it was not possible to free
the districts completely until after the Army
reorganization of March 1942 and the or-
ganization of the War Production Board.65
On 16 March the Under Secretary of War
delegated to the chiefs of the operating serv-
ices of SOS authority to approve contract
awards in amounts up to $5,000,000 as well


(1) Clark, Expediting Activities of the Office
of the Chief Signal Officer, pp. 31-38. (2) Memo,
Exec Officer Mat Br OCSigO for Exec Control Div,
21 Aug 42, p. 6, Sec. IV, Item 1. Weekly Achieve-
ment Rpts, 15 Jun-16 Jul 42, SigC Central Files.
ANCPEA became the Army-Navy Electronics
Production Agency (ANEPA) on 28 October 1942.
Clark, Expediting Activities, p. 37; Exhibit K, p.


Gerard, Story of Supply in the Signal Corps,

Pt. II, p. 17.



as authority to redelegate this function to
their contracting officers.66

Now the legal
machinery was set up to permit the Signal
Corps' procurement districts to move ahead
at a greatly accelerated pace.
The procurement districts were organ-
ized upon a horizontal structure. Each cen-
tralized its purchases to deal with the sort
of equipment most needed in its field.67

measures and directives which conferred
more and more authority upon the districts
brought about administrative reorganiza-
tions to handle new responsibilities. The dis-
trict contracting officers enjoyed a new
freedom both in signing and in amending
contracts and in making advance payments
without reference to higher authority, but
the privilege of independent judgment car-
ried with it heavy responsibilities. Increases
in the price of labor and materials and de-
lays in the delivery of essential raw products
complicated the contractors' problems and
required legal counsel and auditing facili-
ties to be close at hand. Orders multiplied
dizzily, contracting officers placed them
faster, deliveries arrived more quickly and
in greater quantity, and depots overflowed
their warehouses. All installations needed
more workers than they could get and, ex-
cept in Philadelphia, double or treble the
office space on hand.
The new Wright Field Signal Corps Pro-
curement District (soon to be renamed the
Dayton Signal Corps Procurement Dis-
trict) had been in a whirl of activity from
the very first and now, in addition to its
great weight of new orders for aircraft radio
equipment, was struggling with a backlog
of contracts, requisitions, and orders per-

taining to aircraft radio inherited from the
Philadelphia district. The Chicago district
bore the brunt of the requirements for wire
and cable and in addition was responsible
for the procurement of all dry batteries for
the entire Army, estimates for which were
leaping upward by the million. The San
Francisco district was less affected than
others simply because there was little manu-
facturing of Signal Corps items in its vicin-


The busiest of the lot, the Philadelphia
district, was new in name and in location
but derived in fact from the transfer of peo-
ple and functions from the oldest district,
the New York office. It bought ground
radio and radar equipment and all sorts of
associated and miscellaneous items. Phila-
delphia was the approximate center of the
area in which the radio and communica-
tions industry plants were located. And it
was placed halfway between Washington,
whence came the broad policy decisions,
and New York, the major east coast ship-
ping point for overseas operations.
In the sprawling quarters at 5000 Wis-
sahickon Avenue, Col. Archie A. Farmer
held sway as commanding officer of the
Philadelphia Signal Depot, of which the
procurement district was technically a di-
vision even though it functioned as a sepa-
rate agency. Its chief and contracting of-
ficer was Lt. Col. G. L. Thompson, who
had moved with the agency from New York.
He had been with it since 1937, in the days
when he had two civilian assistants, one
for procurement operations and one for in-
spection functions. The number of civilian
employees in that bygone period had fluc-
tuated between 8 and 20. By late 1941 the
staff had grown to 14 officers and 450 civil-
ians. In mid-1942 Colonel Thompson's
force was multiplying so rapidly that it was


CD Gen Dir 29, 16 Mar 42, sub: Clearance
of contract awards.


Gerard, Story of Supply in the Signal Corps, Pt.

II, p. 18.



hard to quote exact figures for any given

The district functions still divided roughly
into the dual patterns of procurement and
inspection. Obviously, if more equipment
were purchased, more inspectors would be
needed to check it before the Signal Corps
accepted it. Each district hired and trained
its own inspectors, and there were never
enough of them. Philadelphia set up a train-
ing school and went aggressively about the
business of hiring men. To recruit appli-
cants for the nine months' course at this
school, it arranged for a civil service repre-
sentative to be located at the depot so that
applicants could be interviewed and ex-
amined on the spot.69
"Speed, not cost, is the dominant factor,"
said the Under Secretary of War in his
memorandum to the supply chiefs on 29
December 1941.70

Speed was the objective
at Philadelphia. Try as a man might, there
was more to placing a contract than a sim-
ple matter of offer and acceptance. In all
conscience, the contracting officers had to
assure themselves that prices were fair and
reasonable and that contracts were in the
best interests of the government. In case of
doubt, they called for a cost analysis. For
the benefit of smaller plants, they negotiated
contracts at prices 15 percent above the
lowest quotation received. They eliminated
bid bonds and performance bonds, broke
up large requirements in order to spread
production, and gave great weight to earlier
delivery dates in evaluating bids.71

Contracting officers had at hand booklets
prepared by the district, containing contract
and purchase request clauses, samples of
contractual instruments, and other informa-
tion useful so long as the contract fell within
the usual legal framework. As often as not,
though, the manufacturer raised special ob-
jections. Signal Corps letters of intent, for
example, set a limit of 10 to 25 percent of
the cost of the material on the amount of
funds that could be spent before the formal
contract was executed. Contractors felt that
this was too severe. If the reason for mak-
ing a letter of intent was to permit con-
tractors to place orders and tool up to start
work immediately, then there should be no
restriction of funds, they argued. They cited
the letters of intent issued by the Navy,
which bore no such limitation.72
Especially in the early months of 1942,
when industry was converting to war work,
the contracting officers found firms bidding
too optimistically. The Office of the Chief
Signal Officer had a Facilities and Mate-
rials Branch formed from the remnants of
the Procurement Planning Section; so did
the Philadelphia district. These groups knew
a great deal about the productive capacity
and capabilities of various manufacturers
and were constantly surveying plants, noting
idle capacity, and assisting industry in vari-
ous ways. Between them, they could usually
supplement the contracting officers' own in-
formation about any given firm. Another
difficulty in making a contract centered in
equipment specifications. Particularly for
the newer equipment, there existed only
rather sketchy performance specifications.
Contractors found them ambiguous, or in-
adequate, or impossible to meet. In such
cases, they either refused to bid, or bid with
exceptions to the specifications, with result-


Cerruti, Historical Narrative of the Philadel-
phia Signal Corps Procurement District, 18-21.


Ltr, OCSigO Proc Sv, Inspec Sec, to Dir of
ARL, 15 Jan 42, sub: Tng of Inspec Pers. SigC
400.163 Inspec 1, Jan-Mar 42.


PC-P 400.13, Broadening the Base of Defense

Prod, 29 Dec 41.


Cerruti, Historical Narrative of Philadelphia
Signal Corps Procurement District, p. 141.


1bid., pp. 180-81.



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