Mulling the Glenn Defense Marine Asia Fiasco

by admin on December 13, 2013

Leonard-Francis-0918With Glenn Defense Marine Asia, the Navy is getting some overdue graduate-level training in how harbors—harbors everywhere–do business. The results aren’t pretty, and, as we are discovering with Inchcape, this episode will not be the first time harried American bureaucrats discover that loose-and-fast waterfront business culture (a culture not just confined to Asia, but Africa, the Middle East and even here at home) clashes with, ah, pesky best-practices accounting standards. It is a messy world, where the large, rich and un-engaged are quickly relived of their money.

But then again, to bend a phrase, who among us is surprised that this has happened?  After all, the friction between the shore establishment and the Fleet has been an issue since Samuel Pepys first put pen to paper. The current enforcement action—which has been brewing for years–is a quintessential Captain Louis Renault reaction (“I’m shocked…shocked to find that gambling is going on in there!!”) that came after the abuses hit so high and so hard they could no longer be ignored. It doesn’t take much digging to find evidence of abuse. Any civilian maritime executive would have identified pierside swindles far earlier.

At this point, an interesting question to ask would by “why did it take the Navy so long to start digging into this?”

There are probably quite a few earnest souls out there whose careers were crushed simply for suggesting somebody do some digging. Their stories would be interesting for investigators to hear. And now that the SECNAV has (rightly) ordered further scrutiny into the whole harbor-support business sector, it will soon become a question of just how hard the Navy wants to dig. With the careers of seven or so officers already in jeopardy–and more to come–I question just how much apatite the Navy has for an extended investigation. Will the SECNAV-ordered investigation into dockside maintenance be pursued with appropriate vigor?  With a bunch of officers probably already gone, how many more will go (remember, this scandal was bubbling up for quite a few years, so some seniors had to know their jig was likely up)? How many more officers (and civilians) will be shown the door before somebody in the Club Navale decides that this pruning of the membership rolls is too unseemly to continue?

So…as this scandal continues to unfold, I offer a few items for discussion and consideration.

How much will we rely upon forward, “host-country” supplied services?

The recipe for trouble here was in place. When in Singapore earlier this year, I huddled with a few of the local contracts folks—probably the same ones who were dismissed as “rubber stampers” in the recent Washington Post story. It was a small group because Singapore wants the Navy to maintain a minimal footprint (at the behest of companies like Glenn Defense Marine, I presume).

Anyway, the small-ish group was, by their own description, already overwhelmed, and the added pressures of supporting LCS-1 (which, again, in another case of the LCS shore support needs being underestimated and the people unready) were wearing on the team (This internal complaint, of course, must be weighed against what seemed to be the more leisurely pace of an expat post, far from the Pentagon’s workaholic ways). Prices for things were running far higher than expected. In one example, the nice tent USS Freedom used to throw a flight-deck reception for a Singapore trade-show had been so costly, it had pretty much exhausted the local pot of money allocated towards port calls, and the locals were, at the time I saw them, sweating how they might find a means to support an upcoming visit by Blue Ridge. There was some rumbling about “how could it cost so much,” but that was about it—they were too busy rushing to the next fire to analyze anything

[Now, an aside–It was a real mistake that the first LCS hadn’t shipped out with a Party—er—“Diplomatic” Module, and, so doing, earned an early “success” for the LCS Mission Package concept. I mean, knowing that the LCS visit was going to be a diplomatic/reception heavy affair, I find it inexplicable that the ship seems to have been given nothing more than a few tacky fold-out sun-shades that seem to be meant more for the beach than for throwing Flag-Level receptions.  There is no excuse to have shipped out without a good flight-deck tent and some means to support a fancy reception or two. A tent is not hard, nor is it pricey—until you let local price-gougers set the rental costs. (And the idea that we need to rent reception support–tents/tables/bars/etc.–for the “party in every port” BLUE RIDGE leaves me even more flabbergasted, but, well, heck, I’m just a blogger…). But if the intent was to demonstrate interest in Asia, you need to do the little things to really emphasize that interest (I mean, we celebrate the Great White Fleet, but forget just how much emphasis was put into ceremonial “receptions” or shipboard “dances” and so forth—ceremony is encumbered with meaning, and that still carries an enormous amount of importance in Asia and elsewhere).  If a mission is largely diplomatic, quit scheming over how to hit the other guy’s budget and equip the damn ship properly.]

Again, we need to look at the costs incurred in corrupt practices and determine what could have been absorbed by a tender-type of vessel. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the losses due to corrupt business practices (and other avoidable expenses) were comparable to those “exorbitant” tender operational costs everyone cites when I start yelling for more floating support assets?

port klangWas this a “Navy-Only” Scandal or was MSC involved?

Now…What is fascinating to me is that the Glenn Defense scandal seems focused largely upon Navy combatants. Why? Was it ego? Was he a warship fan-boy? Or did the pursuit of high-profile Navy work support additional business opportunities elsewhere?  I mean, a quick visit to the Glenn Defense Website shows that they really trumpeted their support for warfighters—anything they may have done to support dowdy Military Sealift Command vessels was, well…let’s just say that work didn’t seem to make the corporate website very often.

To be honest, I thought that the Military Sealift Command (MSC) would be the first to run into this sort of trouble-on-the-waterfront. The MSC–as America’s little-recognized “junior” Navy–is growing fast and facing a tough time deploying trained people to effectively manage their ever-growing portfolio of ships and missions. Maintenance, engineering tasks, budget crunches and a blistering operational tempo all combine to make the MSC a great target for profiteers both at home and abroad.  Hopefully MSC (aided by the rest of big Navy) will scrub the books and look (both forward deployed and at home in Norfolk) for deliberate under-bidders, crony maintenance awards and other activities that are symptomatic of an overworked and under-funded professional support corps.

Can the Navy start being responsible about ethical “Grey Areas”?

Why was the Glenn Defense Marine Asia treatment—the red-carpet treatment, ranging up to bribes and hookers—was so effective?  In my discussions with folks, one sage observer (and a junior one at that!) wrote that Leonard Glenn Francis likely understood Navy culture better than we did ourselves, and he knew that shipboard leaders liked to be treated like royalty.  Well…Who doesn’t??  It’s just that Mr. Francis’ gifts were so effective in getting results….that’s the question that intrigues me. I…almost think that the Navy’s iron-clad conflict-of-interest regulations make officers poorly equipped to handle acts of spontaneous “generosity”.

I’ll be frank here—I really appreciate Navy peers who go the extra mile to prevent any hint of favorable treatment with his or her Contractor.  But, that said, any Captain who is scared to join his contractor partner for a beer or two is going to miss an opportunity to build stronger working ties. And that is a loss for both parties. As the JAGs recover from their shock and horror at this, I’m just going to say that there is a real difference between a contractor-bought beer and a contractor-bought beer that comes with an envelope of cash and some prostitutes. Somewhere between the two extremes, there’s a line where proper becomes improper, and, because that line is difficult to define, we’ve gone an absolutist route, where it’s hard for a Navy employee to accept anything. Anything at all. An absolute prohibition is certainly unimpeachable, but it may be too limiting if we are trying to build bonds with forward communities.

I think if there was a more sophisticated policy that helped Navy folk operate within standard cultural norms (hey, gifts sometimes are just that), while providing guidance to work through the “grey area” better, it might be harder for underhanded gift-givers to gain an advantage. If gift-giving is a cultural norm requiring little or no reciprocity, then, educate our folks…Right now, I think Navy folks are far too easily moved by a gifted six-pack of Brahma Beer (Wow, this guy REALLY likes me! He’s my pal!). Surely there is a way to gracefully accept pleasantries while not being corrupted…(But then again, I’m an optimist.) I’ll be interested to see how officers were selected by the contractor, wooed, pushed into a quid-pro-quo arrangement or otherwise recruited. Were they targeted for weaknesses?

This scandal will also materially impact the way the Navy does business forward…I mean, any good port engineer, maintenance supervisor or supply officer needs a little room to maneuver outside the bureaucratic Six Sigma of Best Pentagon Accounting Practices…and the occasional rejection of bureaucracy in support of an impending operational requirement has a hallowed place in Naval lore. Now, with everybody questioning the potential impact of a casual beer, that flexibility to get things done outside of standard bureaucratic channels will be gone—at least for a while.

Ultimately, we need to take a long, hard look at these “Grey Areas” and come to a better consensus on what is acceptable and what isn’t.  And if total prohibition is the answer, then, well, let’s equip the force with the backroom help necessary to provide a responsive support network and, so doing, eliminate any temptation to step outside of the Navy’s established support protocols to keep ships operating forward.

What is the impact on the Fleet?

Another area that I am fascinated with is what it will mean for the Fleet. I am willing to bet that, over the past decade, agents of Glenn Defense Maritime Asia bought gifts for every Supo, XO and Captain who operated in the region some sort of “gift”.  What will this mean?  What are the implications for the Navy?  This tawdry business can’t be something that inspires Mr. Sean Stackley—or any Navy leader–to get out of bed day after day. I cannot imagine the drive into work…“yay, after seven years of service, I get to go dig into a scandal and end some careers” is an inspiring call to duty.  The goal should be to avoid a quagmire–I hope the resources are available to conduct the investigation quickly, make the cuts fast, and then move forward. (The hapless Air Force—on the verge of seeing their scandal-encumbered nuclear deterrence mission handed to the Navy—has got to be happy about this mess.)

I suspect the Inchcape issue will be a sleeper problem. How will the Navy operate in ports where Inchcape (or other like-minded corporations) have the exclusive rights to husbanding services?  That’s an issue here at home for even the most mundane of Non-Naval-Facility Port Calls.


This is a fascinating scandal. Somewhat disheartening, but I trust that the Navy–if it moves quickly and cuts those tainted without remorse–will emerge from this far stronger, with far more realistic picture of the challenges inherent in carrying out host-facilitated forward-deployments.

That said, we should have seen this scandal coming–and it is the fact we didn’t (until it became impossible to ignore) should scare the bejezus out of everybody.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Craig Hooper December 16, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Great comment. This is exactly the type of problem I am pondering here…I think by refusing to play the game (or by forcing guys on the line to do it themselves), we create more problems than we solve….And what is amazing that–for all the money poured into baloney like “Human Terrain” and so forth–is that we haven’t rationalized our gift-giving-and-getting protocol after more than a decade of intense operations in the Middle East…



Paul December 16, 2013 at 2:32 pm

We as a DoD do not take local culture into account, and the implications for doing business. Another example: When I went to Iraq (and I suspect this is true for many Middle East nations), the giving and receiving of gifts is an important custom. Yet we do not budget any resources for this, that I could find anyway. At one point, I tried to get my command to buy some arabic-english miliary dictionaries from Amazon at around $10.00 a piece to give to the Iraqi JHQ M5 staff officers, but could not find one person with a credit card to do it. I bought a couple myself, but I was supporting a family on my pay, and couldn’t really do this right.


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