7 August 1789: OAA’s history dates back to the earliest days of the Nation, when the Articles of Confederation written by the Continental Congress in January 1782 provided for a Chief Clerk to the Secretary of War. On 7 August 1789, the Congress created a Department of War and specified that the Secretary of War should appoint a Chief Clerk. Mr. William Knox was the first to hold that position, brother of Henry Knox, who was then serving as the Secretary of War. From the 1790s through the War of 1812, the War Department was primarily an administrative and record-keeping bureau that served as a conduit for the military’s large volume of correspondence and reports. The department’s handful of clerks were charged with keeping military papers in order and expediting departmental business.
1812–1900: When British forces attacked Washington, DC, in 1814, the War Department clerks played a critical role in removing nearly all papers from the Secretary’s offices near the White House and saving captured standards and colors from the American Revolution before the British arrived. The clerks would perform a similar role during the Civil War when, in 1864, they joined other department civilians in manning Washington’s defenses for a time to help protect the city from a Confederate threat. The Chief Clerk was charged with transacting departmental business as assigned by the Secretary of War. If the Secretary was away from Washington, the Chief Clerk could manage affairs and take substantive action based on correspondence from the Secretary. In addition, throughout the first half of the 19th century, the Chief Clerk served as Acting Secretary of War when the cabinet position became vacant. Unlike the Secretary, the Chief Clerk did not necessarily change with the political administrations.
1900–1946: A 22 May 1908 act of Congress changed the Chief Clerk‘s title to “Assistant and Chief Clerk” and more accurately reflected the expansion of responsibilities during the preceding century. The workload of the official who had since been designated the “Assistant and Chief Clerk” increased with the 1917 entry of the United States into World War I. Faced with an unparalleled expansion of the Army via a draft and the related growth of the War Department, Chief Clerk John C. Scofield scrambled to hire additional staff and secure sufficient office space and equipment. In this environment, the main responsibility of the clerks changed from knowing a substantial but relatively limited number of War Department precedents (and where the records containing them were filed) to managing a tidal wave of paper that almost submerged the department in the early stages of the war. Scofield continued in this position after the war, assisting the Secretary with planning activities designed to better prepare the department for future conflicts.
At the conclusion of Scofield’s impressive 33-year tenure, the Secretary of War renamed the position as the “Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of War.“‘ By the time the United States entered World War II in 1941, the Administrative Assistant was supervising records management, printing, civilian medical treatment, and procurement and accounting within the Secretariat, along with other activities. In 1946, the Office of the Administrative (OAA) was established from former Office of the Secretary of War-assigned authorizations.
Post-World War II: In July 1947, the National Security Act created the National Military Establishment. The Department of War was re-designated as the Department of Army, changed the Secretary’s title accordingly, and left the titles of other Department officials to the discretion of the Secretary. The Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of War was re-designated as the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The incumbent continued to act as the Secretary’s right hand, and OAA’s footprint within the recently constructed Pentagon grew.
During subsequent decades, the duties of the Administrative Assistant continued to expand. The Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 reaffirmed the Administrative Assistant’s title and greatly expanded the associated responsibilities. By 2000, OAA was responsible for administrative management, maintaining official records, and managing the programs that provided service, supply, and equipment for the Department of Defense (DoD) within the National Capital Region (NCR). Critical services included contracting, passports, and motor pool, as well as telephones and computer operations in the Pentagon.
9/11 Terrorist Attack: 11 September 2001 was an especially dark day for OAA, but the event demonstrated the remarkable resilience of its people. That morning, a plane hijacked by terrorists hit the west side of the Pentagon, ripping through the outer three rings of the building and killing 125 servicemembers and civilians who were working in the building. The Administrative Assistant’s staff sustained 40 of the 75 Army deaths. In one brief moment, the office lost nearly all of its financial experts and computer files, just weeks before the end of the fiscal year. Working around the clock—assisted by volunteer retirees and budget analysts and accountants from other government agencies—OAA finished its end-of-year work on time. The staff also reestablished computer and telecommunications connectivity throughout the building and found workspace to make up for the 400,000 SF destroyed. These extraordinary efforts reestablished normal operations within days and contributed to the reopening of the newly rebuilt sections of the Pentagon on 11 September 2002.
2003–2004: OAA continued to manage resources for the Headquarters, Department of the Army (HQDA), providing administrative support to the Secretary of the Army and senior Army leaders and overseeing a range of services across DoD, even while receiving other missions. In 2003, for example, OAA was assigned as an Executive Agent to aid in the rebuilding of Iraq. It provided administrative, human resource, logistics, information technology, facilities, acquisition, and fiscal support to the Coalition Provisional Authority offices in Washington and Baghdad. Prior to the 2004 presidential election, Congress called on DoD to ensure every Armed Forces member could vote, and OAA worked with other organizations to ensure that more than 2 million ballots were printed and shipped to military posts, camps, and stations worldwide.
2009–2011: OAA worked with the HQDA BRAC 132 office to implement base realignment and closure recommendations, which resulted in the reduction of 1.28 million SF of leased office space in the NCR. Army tenants were relocated to military installations and the Pentagon. The recommendations reduced the number of leased buildings from 56 to 29, equating to a 35% reduction in leased space. Over 6 years, OAA worked with all affected tenants, HQDA, the Washington Headquarters Services (WHS), the General Services Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and DoD to plan, document, and execute facility renovations and tenant moves affecting more than 3,300 employees. OAA had direct responsibility and oversight in the preparation and fit-out of 12 buildings on Fort Belvoir, VA, for inbound BRAC personnel, including 13 OAA directorates relocating from the Taylor building in Crystal City, VA.
2013–2023: OAA has participated in multiple HQDA reform efforts over the last decade. Three major field operating agencies (ITA/CMH/ESA (AHS)) were transferred in, and then out, of the organization. Additionally, several Pentagon “shared services” were moved from OAA to OSD/WHS, including the Pentagon Motor Pool, Athletic Center, Library, Carpentry Shop, and Mail Room. Despite OAA’s ever-changing mission set, the customer service rendered to the Nation by its team of military and civilian professionals has remained steady for more than 200 years.