SECNAV Ray Mabus Needs A Full Bench

by admin on August 26, 2013

When SECNAV John Lehman transformed the fleet, he did so with the help of a committed, empowered staff.  SECNAV Mabus, for the lack of a full leadership team and fully-empowered staff, has, for all intents and purposes, been hamstrung, unable to implement ambitious environmental goals, plan ahead for the Pacific Pivot or–more ominously–protect the Navy’s budget in the current environment.  With a Navy-led strike on Syria looming, and the Pacific vaulting to the forefront of strategic importance, the Nation needs a fully-staffed Navy Department.

The SECNAV’s principal deputy–Under Secretary–has been vacant since Under Secretary Robert Work left in March.  This vacancy was no surprise, given that Under Secretary Work signaled his departure well in advance.  I presume there is a nominee hidden someplace, but, if not, SECNAV Mabus needs that person to be named and confirmed NOW.  He deserves somebody who can help run the department, while refining the Navy Department’s message and pressing ahead with the SECNAV’s agenda.

Adding insult to injury, the Assistant Secretary for Energy, Installations and the Environment–went unfilled, with no nominees, for over a year (Newly confirmed Assistant Secretary Dennis McGinn can’t get into office soon enough!).  This Assistant Secretary was desperately needed a year ago. For two years now, the SECNAV’s Green initiatives have been under vicious–and relatively uncontested–attack.  Outside environmental advocacy, there has been little discussion of matching basing resources with wider Pacific Pivot requirements (somebody needs to start pushing dispersed facilities pretty darn soon).

(And, as an aside, these two new Appointees should serve as something of an “attack dog”, out there waging a very public war on mendacious policy attacks like this.  But I will have more on the SECNAV’s need for bulldogs tomorrow.)

With an unfilled leadership team, I worry about two things.

First, failure to promptly fill the vacant DoN posts takes a personal toll, passing the burden to the existing DoN leadership–some of whom are likely to be running dangerously near burnout.

We do not recognize that the DoN leadership team is quietly chalking up some record tenures.  Take naval shipbuilding guru–and future Department of Defense leader–Mr. Sean Stackley.  Mr. Stackley was appointed under the Bush Administration and is, today, the longest-serving Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development and Acquisitions) in history (Congratulations!).  In a few more years he will tie Franklin Roosevelt’s 7-year record as the longest-serving Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

The remaining Assistant Secretaries are also chalking up long tenures as well.  In October, Mr. Juan M. Garcia III will be the second-longest serving Assistant Secretary (Manpower and Reserve Affairs) in the history of the position By November, Ms. Gladys Commons will be the second-longest serving Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Financial Management and Comptroller) in the history of that position (Correction: She left office in April 2013).  

Certainly, the continuity of Navy’s steady leadership team has some advantages–but these posts also demand an enormous amount of energy.  We need to do a better job of weighing the advantages that come from continuity with the wear and tear of a demanding service tenure.

Secondly, the leadership vacuum comes with a gigantic opportunity cost.  The SECNAV can only do so much; without an environmental leader “on point” with day-to-day issues, the Navy’s work in Green Tech will continue to struggle for recognition and resources.  Without a a person empowered to discuss doctrine and tech, the good work done by Mr. Stackley risks going un-exploited.  And, without administrative support, the critical Pacific pivot will founder unless somebody dives in and guides the development of dispersed facilities throughout the Pacific.  And then there’s the budget–without support there, the entire Navy suffers.

SECNAV Mabus cannot do it all on his own.  The Navy needs a dynamic Under Secretary and a fully-empowered and fully-staffed leadership team.

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