Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 27.djvu/866

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.




MUCH has been said in the news-papers during the last few weeks about the mismanagement and irregularities that have been disclosed by official inquiries into the administration of the United States Coast Survey. The superintendent of that branch of the public service has been retired from his office; the assistant in charge was also removed, and then restored; and charges have been made against other parties. It is alleged that expenditures are out of all proportion to results, that the service is inefficient, and the department much demoralized. The first question, of course, in regard to such grave accusations is, to what extent are they true? Is the case as bad as alleged, or only an exaggeration of such defects as are always incident to the administration of governmental affairs? It seems that a committee of investigation was appointed by the Treasury Department to look into the working of the Coast Survey. A committee charged with so serious a duty should certainly have made the most careful and searching inquiry, should have given the accused officers the fullest opportunity of defending themselves, and should have published their results in an explicit and authentic form. We are not aware that this has been done; and if so, common justice requires that judgment should be suspended until decisive evidence is forthcoming, because innocence is to be presumed until guilt is established. Upon these points the following remarks from an excellent editorial in "Science" are so appropriate and fair as to be worthy of quotation:

Without the slightest disposition to screen official mismanagement, if it has been discovered, we must caution our readers against giving credence to insinuations and rumors. All who are under implied censure have a right to be fully heard, and to bring all the facts which are explanatory of their conduct to the eye of a qualified tribunal. They have a right to protest against the arbitrary exercise of personal authority, or against the judicial methods of a star-chamber or a drum-head court-martial. No political purpose, no personal dislike, no disbelief in science, should be allowed, unquestioned, to throw discredit upon a branch of the public service, or dishonor upon a corps hitherto regarded as exemplary in all its official work.

The work of the Coast Survey, during its long history, has been of the highest character. For nearly seventy years it has been approved by successive Congresses and administrations, and by navigators, merchants, and men of exact science. It has received the highest encomiums of foreigners who were qualified to judge of its merits, and were interested in pointing out its defects. The five superintendents—Hassler, Bache, Benjamin Peirce, Patterson, and Hilgard—have each, in different ways, improved its methods and upheld its efficiency. The officers just displaced have grown up in the service, and have won promotion by the ability and fidelity with which they have discharged their great responsibilities. The presumptions of official rectitude are in their favor until positive faults are pointed out. They are entitled by the principles of good government, as well as by their individual services, to all the opportunities they may desire for explanation or defense; and any premature opinion is unfair, especially if it is affected by personal prejudices, or is based upon a lack of appreciation for scientific researches.

In the conduct of such a bureau as the Coast Survey, a large amount of discretion must be left to the chief. He, and he only, can determine a vast number of questions which pertain to the selection of assistants for different kinds of work, the choice of fields of labor, the discrimination between services which have an obvious relation to some immediate want of the public, and those which may be just as serviceable, but are recondite, and unintelligible to the uninformed. It is impossible to mark out the duties of the highest assistants by such rules as may be applied to the clerical services of an ordinary