Monday, August 8, 2011

Budget Wrangling over Guantanamo Bay, 1919 Edition

From a 1919 hearing of the House Appropriations Committee. The micromanaging chairman was the marvelously named J. Swagar Sherley (D-KY; 1918 photo at left). Committee members were James F. Byrnes (D-SC) and Frank W. Mondell (R-WY).

Note that they're haggling over the cost of new housing--authorized 7 years previously--for a poor (literally!) keeper and his even poorer assistants, who'd been living in sheds for 20 years.



THE CHAIRMAN: Your first item is "Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, aids to navigation: For dwelling for keepers of the lights in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and improving the lighting. $14,000."

MR. PUTNAM: This item was authorized by the act of July 27, 1912, and it is made necessary by the destruction of the former keeper's dwelling at this station in the insurrection of 1898. Since that time the keepers have been housed in sheds, very unfit and insanitary, as you will see by these photographs. In addition to the dwelling this item provides for making certain improvements to the lights there which will result in reducing the number of keepers from three to two, so that the saving in a keeper's pay would more than offset the interest on the appropriation asked for here.

THE CHAIRMAN: What are you paying these keepers now?

MR. PUTNAM: The keeper is paid $960 and the assistants $672 and $552 a year.

THE CHAIRMAN: Are they natives or white men?

MR. PUTNAM: The keeper is a white man, as is also one assistant, a native of Spain from Porto Rico. The other assistant is a Filipino.

THE CHAIRMAN: What sort of a house do you propose to put up there?

MR. PUTNAM: We will probably put up a reinforced concrete house, something more permanent than a wooden house.

THE CHAIRMAN: What sort of lights are there?

MR. PUTNAM: There is a principal light

SECRETARY REDFIELD (interposing): Wooden structures are not practicable in that climate.

MR. PUTNAM: The main light in Guantanamo Bay is on Windward Point, at the east side of the entrance to Guantanamo Bay: there are small range lights on each side of the harbor: there are five, lights there all together.

THE CHAIRMAN: They are attended to by three keepers?

MR. PUTNAM: Yes, sir; they are now attended to by three keepers, and if this change is made we will reduce the number to two. This picture shows the kind of a lighthouse there is on Windward Point [indicating].

THE CHAIRMAN: What sort of a structure is it?

MR. PUTNAM: I have not been to Guantanamo Bay. but from this picture it appears to be a metal tower.

SECRETARY REDFIELD: It is an old Spanish tower, is it not?

MR. PUTNAM: Yes; I think so. It was taken over from the Spanish.

THE CHAIRMAN: It can not be automatically lighted?

MR. PUTNAM: No, sir: I do not think that kind of a light should properly be without a keeper: the other lights will be automatic lights, so that the keepers will only have to go to them occasionally.

THE CHAIRMAN: Why would not that be true of this light, because it is very close to these other lights?

MR. PUTNAM: We think we ought to have keepers for such an important light as that—the light that is at the entrance to Guantanamo Bay.

THE CHAIRMAN: That might be true if the automatic light would not work.

MR. PUTNAM: They can not be absolutely depended upon.

THE CHAIRMAN: How near is that to any settlement?

MR. PUTNAM: The American naval station is within a couple of miles.

THE CHAIRMAN: I was wondering whether or not, that being so, you could within that distance be sure of taking care of the lights without the necessity of having a keeper right at the light.

MR. PUTNAM: I think for five lights like that and one main entrance light we could not properly do without keepers. We are maintaining many unimportant lights without having a resident keeper by simply having men go to the lights once a day or once a week, but it would not do in a place like this, in my opinion.

THE CHAIRMAN: Have you thought about that at all?

MR. PUTNAM: Yes, sir.

THE CHAIRMAN: You are only 2 miles away from the naval station?

MR. PUTNAM: We could not call on the naval station. We could not do that without having some one with the definite responsibility of looking after the lights. We have sometimes attempted to have Army and Navy posts take care of lights, but on account of the changes in duty, etc., it has not proved satisfactory.

THE CHAIRMAN: How much of this $14,000 is intended for the dwelling, and how much for improving the lighting?

MR. PUTNAM: The dwelling for the two keepers is estimated to cost $8,000; four acetylene lights, $5,600, and contingencies $400, making a total of $14,000.

THE CHAIRMAN: When did you get those estimates?

MR. PUTNAM: Those estimates were submitted about October.

THE CHAIRMAN: You have had the same estimates since 1915?

MR. PUTNAM: Yes, sir.

THE CHAIRMAN: The reason I am asking you that is to determine whether your estimates are modern enough to be reliable.

MR. PUTNAM: Yes, sir; if anything there will be an increase.

THE CHAIRMAN: That is just what I had in mind. If we should give you $14,000 now, and then have you coming back within a few months asking for $4,000, $5.000, or $10,000 more.

MR. PUTNAM (interposing): We revised all of our estimates at the time these were submitted, and it was not considered necessary to make any revision in this particular estimate. In a number of cases we have had to increase the figures that were submitted last year.

MR. BYRNES: This is in charge of the naval officer at that station, is it not?

THE CHAIRMAN: A naval officer at Guantanamo acts as local inspector, but the station is under the general supervision of the lighthouse inspector stationed at San Juan, Porto Rico. The naval officer pays the keepers, purchases supplies, etc.

MR. BYRNES: If you put in that automatic light, can you make out with one keeper?

MR. PUTNAM: We propose to do away with one keeper. We have three keepers now, and propose to have only two.

THE CHAIRMAN: Where do the keepers live?

MR. PUTNAM: We have three keepers, and these three photographs [indicating] show their present dwellings. One of them lives in a shed which was formerly a stable. This one [indicating] is out on the wharf, and it must have been for storage of some kind. The original dwelling was destroyed in 1898.

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