In 1909 the governance of the Navy was vested in the Secretary of the Navy, and under him the afloat commanders and the chiefs of bureaus responsible for the Navy’s material requirements, such as the Bureau of Yards and Docks. SECNAV had no operational director or advisor, and no one responsible for coordinating the work of the bureaus. Coordination problems with operations and with ship construction led to a long and sometimes very public discussion about the need for a senior uniformed advisor and military staff for SECNAV. Statutory authorization for such an advisor and staff was unlikely because of concerns among senior leadership that such an organizational change would create a German-style general staff and diminish the authority of the Bureaus.
On 1 December 1909 SECNAV George von L. Meyer took matters into his own hands, establishing on his own authority an “aide system”—four rear admirals, responsible respectively for Operations, Material, Personnel, and Inspections—to provide SECNAV with advice and professional information on the coordination of the work of the bureaus. These positions had no statutory existence and therefore only as much authority as SECNAV chose to (and could by law) provide them. In fact Meyer’s successor, Josephus Daniels, did not support the aide system, and allowed three of the four aide positions to dissolve. The remaining Aide for Operations position laid the groundwork for the establishment of the Navy’s highest ranking post.
On 3 March 1915 Congress passed the naval appropriation act for FY 1916, which established the position of Chief of Naval Operations as we know it today.