On July 28th, 2010 ADM John C. Harvey, Jr was asked about the culture problems discussed in the Balisle report, and ADM Harvey told Congress that he was directly accountable for it, and it was his responsibility to fix that problem. Cultural problems are hard to fix, but this is one way you address the challenge. This speech is remarkable – a lot to think about and discuss. Taken from here.
Remarks as written for ASNE Conference
ADM J.C. Harvey, Jr., U.S. Fleet Forces
Delivered 14 September 2010
Good morning. It’s a privilege to be here with you today to address a subject very near and dear to my heart.
For my remarks today, I would like to address the subject of fleet maintenance and modernization by taking you on a historical journey back to our navy’s roots. It would be impossible to cover all the major decisions and events that have gotten us where we are today regarding fleet maintenance and modernization, and so I will focus on one small, but extremely critical thread – the history of the naval engineer.
And the story of the naval engineer is a complex one: a story that evolved over 170 years and was shaped by politics, personnel policies, prejudices, constantly changing operational demands, and the unyielding advance of technology. Originally civilians under private contract with the navy, the need for a uniformed naval engineer was ushered in by a significant technological advancement – steam propulsion.
The advent and adoption of steam propulsion for navy warships, beginning with the USS Fulton in 1837, brought new skill requirements for navy officers. At first, navy met this requirement through continuing the practice of recruiting civilian engineers under private contract. But by 1841, as the navy built more steamships, new Secretary of the Navy Abel P. Upshur recognized the requirement for the navy to recruit, train, and retain naval officers able to not just design and build, but operate and maintain sophisticated machinery – skills that simply were not found to be in line officers at that time.
In his first annual report, Secretary of the Navy Upshur wrote, quote “the use of steam vessels, in war, will render necessary a different order of scientific knowledge from that which has heretofore been required. If our navy should be increased by the addition of any considerable number of steam-vessels, engineers will form an important class of naval officers. It will be necessary to assign to them an appropriate rank, and subject them to all the laws of the service. Great care should be used in the selection of them, because a great deal will depend upon their skill and competency; hence it is necessary that they should have the proof of their competency which an examination, conducted under their own rules, would afford.”
By 1842, naval engineers were incorporated into the navy’s staff corps – a decision which, very early on, created significant tension with the officers of the line.
In 1842, there were five communities that constituted the staff corps – chaplains, surgeons, navy constructors, paymasters, and engineers. Navy constructors didn’t go to sea and chaplains, surgeons, and paymasters certainly played very important roles, but their responsibilities were ancillary to the operations of the ship.
Naval engineers uniquely stood out from the rest of the staff corps – they were responsible for their ship’s motive power, and this responsibility raised issues over the locus of command authority and the engineers’ place within the shipboard chain-of-command and larger naval hierarchy.
As the demand for engineers increased, so did the tensions between the two officer communities. Prior to 1854, the navy had built an average of 1 steam ship per year; but between 1854 and 1859, the navy constructed an additional thirty steam ships and naval engineers soon outnumbered all other staff corps in numbers on active duty, second in total numbers to the line alone.
Over the next four decades, the navy would struggle with the unique responsibilities and requirements of the naval engineer. Through a series of laws and policy changes, the navy’s professional engineers would achieve “relative rank” to their line counterparts and equal pay; and the navy, responding to the shortage of qualified engineers generated by the civil war, would establish the first class of cadet engineers at the naval academy beginning in 1864.
Over the next twenty years, the contributions and responsibilities of naval engineers continued to increase as greater technological advancements became commonplace aboard navy warships.
The navy of wooden ships powered by wind and sails forty years earlier was quickly being replaced by iron clad ships powered by steam; ships completely reliant on mechanical power for most functions; with significant technological advancements on the horizon as shipboard electrical systems were conceived, developed, and brought aboard.
By the early 1890’s, it became virtually impossible to command a ship without having a fundamental understanding of its machinery.
Engineer in chief George Melville, quoting from the French navy’s journal La Marine Francais would write, “there is strife between the deck and the engineer officer. While the role of the former is growing less every day, that of the latter is constantly increasing in importance…this is the age of the engineer, and he will be the great factor in modern warfare, whether the contest be waged by land or by sea. The trained engineer is a combatant in naval warfare.”
This tension over place and privilege continued to grow until a compromise solution championed by then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt was adopted. The policy was an amalgamation of the engineer and the line. This amalgamation was signed into law by the 55th congress on 3 March 1899 and modified in 1916 to allow line officers to select engineering duty only when they had achieved the rank of lieutenant commander.
Over the next sixty years, the importance and responsibilities of naval engineers continued to grow. By the time World War II was won and the navy was focused on the cold war, naval engineers were the navy’s technical experts – responsible for designing, operating, maintaining, and modernizing navy’s technologically advanced fleet.
Ironically, just as the advent of steam power ushered in the age of the naval engineer, the next great leap, to shipboard nuclear propulsion, almost brought about its end. The incorporation of nuclear power into the navy – spearheaded by Admiral Rickover (an engineering duty officer of some note) reinvigorated the debate concerning the proper relationship between engineers and officers of the line.
Admiral Rickover summarized his position by stating, “the man of the future on whom we shall depend more and more is the technical expert. Today he is still subservient to non-technical leaders in government and industry, and his work is hampered and sometimes destroyed by men in whom is vested great power but who cannot understand the realities of the new, artificial, technological age. But the ‘verbal’ men are on the way out… We have taken cognizance of this demand for a different kind of man…”
Which pretty much explains the volcanic reaction ADM Rickover had when I, a naval academy political science major, walked into his office for my nuclear propulsion program interview. I was not the different kind of man ADM Rickover was looking for.
Admiral Rickover’s statement closely mirrored Secretary of the Navy Upshur’s sentiment 100 years earlier.
But, instead of looking to the EDO community as the solution, admiral Rickover drove the navy to focus instead on creating a new version of the line officer with the goal of reducing navy’s reliance on the EDO community and creating a much more technically-focused line officer. And in 1958, the Franke board, led by future Secretary of the Navy William Franke, took the first steps down that path by significantly reducing the size of the EDO community with the assumption that the line community would take up the technological load.
And they did, but over time, increasingly complex operational realities and new career path requirements resulting from Goldwater-Nichols and other changes to law and policy have caused the line community to search anew for the proper balance of expertise between the naval engineer and our line officers.
At stake is nothing less than how we will hold the line on maintaining standards of technological expertise and performance for our ships, submarines, and aircraft.
Now, after covering almost 170 years of navy history and personnel policy development in about 10 minutes, I only scratched the surface of this incredibly important and complex issue. So you may be asking yourself, “what is the point here?” “Why is the commander of U.S. Fleet Forces giving us a somewhat academic lecture on the development of the naval engineer?” Well, I have two reasons.
First, we sometimes forget why certain decisions were made and we often assume that – in our navy’s case – our organizations, processes, and policy represent the culmination of 234 years of lessons learned.
In reality, the organizations, policies and processes we have today are a representation of a snapshot in time…
A picture resulting from a set of serial decisions, each made in response to specific challenges at very specific times and a unique set of circumstances.
And so, as we add our own decisions in response to our own unique set of circumstances, we often lose sight of the history of what worked and what didn’t work, and why. We become consumed by the fierce urgency of now.
Which leads me to the second reason I took you on a brief tour of the history of the naval engineer – I believe we have lost sight of our roots and the reason why we established the professional engineer in the first place.
At one time in our history, rapidly advancing technology overwhelmed the line officer and we needed the naval engineer to re-balance the equation in our ships, to ensure we could fight our ships.
ADM Rickover’s efforts restored the balance in our ships, the balance we enjoy today, by forcing the development of a far more technically competent line officer, officers who can both operate and fight their ships.
Now, our primary challenge has shifted ashore – to the design, development, construction, testing and delivery of our ships and the sustainment of their hulls and installed engineering and combat systems over time.
And it is to overcome this challenge, which we have not done successfully in the past 10 years, that I call to our professional naval engineers to return to their roots and re-establish themselves as the keepers of the standards of technological excellence.
Naval engineers are our bulwarks against bad decisions. Just as the CHENG is the one who must tell the co the sometimes unwelcome news concerning the ship’s limitations – so must our program managers, regional maintenance commanders and shipyard commanding officers hold the standard, and if the standard is not achievable, let that fact be known and identify what must be done to meet the standard upon which the fleet depends.
I recently read the navy engineer journal’s “Story of Aegis” edition. It is a terrific read – highly educational and I recommend it to everyone here.
One of the articles in the journal was Rear Admiral Wayne E. Meyer’s reflection on what made the Aegis program so successful.
I won’t bore you with all of the details, but he attributes his success to two major characteristics. First – good governance, which included a very high degree of personal accountability. For 15 years, Admiral Meyer was the single accountable officer responsible for bringing Aegis from concept to implementation.
And PMS 400 was the single organization responsible for the Aegis program.
We no longer have an Admiral Meyer and PMS 400. Aegis was once a small island in a big fleet – now Aegis is the fleet. And as Aegis has grown, so have the number of organizations responsible for some piece of the Aegis pie. Which leaves us the question – “who is now responsible and accountable for the whole pie?”
Second, Admiral Meyer describes the importance of single minded dedication to the pursuit of technical excellence combined with being obstinate.
Admiral Meyer understood both the operational impacts and the burdens that would be placed on the backs of our sailors if he delivered a combat system that was not operationally effective, suitable, and reliable. And so Admiral Meyer refused to budge one iota from that standard of system performance, reliability, and effectiveness.
Admiral Wayne Meyer and his team were true to his roots as a professional navy engineer – he never wandered, he never waffled. His example shines before us to this day – an enduring commitment to excellence. Now, I know many of you here today aren’t EDO ‘s. But that doesn’t matter – I believe my message applies to everyone here today. Whether you are an EDO , a government civilian, or a private contractor; whether you work at a shipyard, a regional maintenance center, or at a headquarters – we are all one team.
And so my message to you today reflects my expectations as a fleet commander for the maintenance and modernization of our ships – our foundation must be the absolute adherence to the time-tested standards of performance, reliability, and effectiveness.
We don’t need maintenance managers or system life-cycle managers – we need technically savvy, hard-nosed systems engineers who are absolutely committed to delivering excellence in design, development, construction, test and delivery.
I need you focused first and foremost on effectiveness – if it’s cheap, efficient, but doesn’t work – it does the fleet no good. The worst sin we commit is when a new system or platform is expensive and still doesn’t perform to specification and requires still more expensive fixes to get right.
You are the front line in the battle to maintain our standards, it all starts with you. I expect you to ensure our ships are built correctly, receive all the proper maintenance necessary to reach expected service life, and that the ships and their installed combat and engineering systems will perform to design specifications as long as our crews do their jobs underway correctly and conscientiously.
No matter what organization you’re in, and whatever “box” you’re in within that organization – and however the boxes are arranged linking you with other boxes or other organizations – straight lines, dotted lines, dashed lines, or imaginary lines – be obstinate! Never, never, never give way on our standards of excellence. And you know what they are…
The standards that have sustained our navy so well for so long – standards of technical rigor in design and performance, standards of uncompromising adherence to our maintenance plans and standards of professional performance in every aspect of your duties.
These are the standards this community brought to our navy in response to Secretary usher’s call to arms in 1841 – they are in your DNA.
Today, each of you must make the personal choice to go back to your roots, face today’s challenges head-on and take ownership of whatever actions are necessary to bring our design, development, construction, test, delivery and maintenance programs back to standard.
And you, each one of you, must consider yourself accountable, wherever you serve and whatever you do, to the fleet sailor to sustain those standards.
That accountability is non-negotiable and must drive your daily work just as it drove Admiral Meyer.
I fully understand how challenging this work will be given our current operational tempo and our navy’s growing fiscal challenges. It is truly varsity-level work. But then, I’m talking to the varsity, aren’t I?
Meeting and maintaining the standard, not giving way on the imperative of excellence, that has been the work of the naval engineer since 1837.
And it is the work you can do, it is the work you must do, and it is the work we will do, for it is the work upon which the future of our navy depends.
And so, my naval engineers, let’s get at it, with a vengeance.
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