August 5, 1955–April 25, 1957
Reuben B. Robertson Jr. was sworn in as the sixth Deputy Secretary of Defense on August 5, 1955. He was Secretary of Defense Charlie Wilson’s third deputy in two years. Like his predecessors, Roger Kyes and Robert Anderson, Robertson was a businessman lured from the board room into government service.
Robertson was born on June 27, 1908, in Asheville, North Carolina. In 1930, he graduated from the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale University with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering. He went to work for the Champion Fibre Company in Canton, North Carolina, which became the Champion Paper & Fibre Company after a merger. In 1950, after 20 years of service at Champion, including a stint as executive vice president, Robertson became president of the company.
During World War II, Robertson served in Control Division of the Army’s Service Forces from 1942 to 1945, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was also a member of the War Production Board in 1942 and was, from 1950 to 1951, an appointee to the Wage Stabilization Board. He was serving as vice chairman of the Hoover Commission Task Force Committee on Business Organization of the Defense Department when Eisenhower nominated him to be Deputy Secretary.
In his confirmation hearing, senators questioned Robertson about possible conflicts of interest arising from his stock holdings. Just as Secretary Charlie Wilson and Deputy Secretary Roger Kyes had been compelled to give up their General Motors investments, Robertson had to divest himself of B.F. Goodrich and Proctor & Gamble stocks because these two entities were defense contractors. Since Champion Paper & Fibre holdings had not sold any paper products to the Defense Department, the Senate Armed Services Committee concluded that Robertson could keep his Champion stock.
Like his predecessors, Robertson participated in preparing the Defense budget. In September and October 1956, he coordinated all of the Services’ budgetary summaries, which described programs for construction, research and development, guided missiles, continental defense, and other monetary considerations essential for finalizing the fiscal year 1958 budget. As part of the budget-making process, Secretary Wilson also sought improvements for retaining skilled civilian and military employees for fiscal year 1959. In March 1956, Deputy Secretary Robertson formed a Defense Advisory Committee on Professional and Technical Compensation and tasked General Electric Corporation President Ralph Cordiner with the chairmanship. Noting that the only way to reward exemplary military personnel was through an increase in rank, the committee suggested adding a performance-based pay scale as an incentive for exemplary work. Similarly, civilian employees would receive a pay increase comparable to their value in the private sector. These initiatives were ultimately tabled, however, until the fiscal year 1959 budget process began in earnest, and by that time both Secretary Wilson and Deputy Secretary Robertson had left the Eisenhower administration.
Robertson’s most notable achievement as Deputy involved his chairmanship of the Ad Hoc Study Group for Manned Aircraft Weapon Systems, also known as the Robertson Committee. In fall 1955, in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s successful development of two long-range jet bombers, which they showcased at the 1954 May Day parade in Moscow, Secretary Wilson created the Robertson Committee to study the creation of American military aircraft from conception to flight. Over the course of six months, Robertson, seven other committee members, and their support staff performed exhaustive research and conducted extensive interviews with Defense officials. In July 1956, the Robertson Committee submitted an 84-page classified report to Secretary Wilson recommending 21 “Action Objectives” for the Services and the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) that would speed up aircraft development and production and close the so-called “bomber gap” between the Soviet Union and the United States. Although the Services ignored many of the nonbinding guidelines, they implemented some measures to hasten bomber production. Nevertheless, despite the lack of an enforcement mechanism, the Robertson Committee’s work furthered OSD’s involvement in the planning, review, and budgeting stages of the acquisitions process.
During summer 1955, Robertson created a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) to study the feasibility of developing an intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) and to determine which Service would have jurisdiction over its production. In November 1955 Secretary Wilson issued a series of directives detailing an IRBM and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program, with responsibilities spread across all of the Services. He also created an OSD Ballistic Missile Committee under the chairmanship of the Deputy Secretary of Defense to review missile research.
In spring 1957, Robertson informed Secretary Wilson of his intention to resign and return to Champion Paper. He left the Defense Department on April 25. On March 13, 1960, Robertson was struck and killed by an automobile as he attempted to assist a driver whom he had hit with his own car. He was 51 years old.