The Navy reached a milestone of sorts in April. It was the first month of 2010 that the service didn’t have to remove a commanding officer for misconduct.First things first. I would like to see what criteria the Navy's IG used, their data sample, regression analysis, and other aspects of their study.
The Navy removed seven commanding officers between Jan. 1 and March 15, a pace that would have more than doubled last year’s total of 17 fired officers and far outpaced the past five years.
So why aren’t unfit officers weeded out before being given commands of warships or installations?
The Navy Inspector General’s office is again searching for answers, according to an official who requested anonymity because the report will not be complete until later this year.
Five years ago, after the Navy experienced a similar uptick in firings, the Inspector General reviewed dismissals between 1999 and 2004 to determine whether systemic factors contributed to the removals.
That study recommended counseling changes and a course at command school to better prepare its leaders, but found no predictors of who would fail as a commanding officer.
“Now, with the rise in issues, [the Navy has] initiated a follow-up effort to that study to see if there are trends or pre-existing tendencies that might have been indicators earlier in officer’s careers,” the official said.
Garbage in and garbage out - and do not underestimate the ability to steer a study away from things you don't want to talk about. Talk to anyone with a few semesters of graduate-level statistics about it. The fact they found "no predictors" is a red flag to me. If you tell me you have no idea why people may fail - then how can you look people in the eye and tell them you know why people succeed?
S&S goes on to discuss some of the ideas it came up with after talking to a few folks - but the best of the bunch came from CAPT Jan van Tol, USN (Ret.). In summary;
...there are many official and informal flows of information that could tip off a commander when a subordinate officer has a serious professional or character flaw.I think that is a good start to a conversation - benchmarking other nations' systems like the British and German would be a good start as well.
Unfortunately, he said, some commanding officers promote subordinates with such flaws because it’s easier than telling them they aren’t cut out for command.
“I consider the commanding officer to have the absolute obligation to be frank, and I have always tried to be that as a CO, but it’s a tough thing, and many COs don’t have the stomach for it.”
Van Tol’s idea to get around that: Make individual fitness reports available only to promotion boards and the Navy detailers who counsel officers on their careers.
Officers would still receive informal appraisals from their supervisors and get a good idea of how they stack up against their peers Navy-wide from detailers, he said. But evaluated officers would never see their own fitness reports.
Not so much the full solution - but the problem he nails right on.
Van Tol believes the system itself is crippling the Navy’s ability to promote the right officers,Exactly.
He says the system discourages innovative officers from taking calculated risks — a trait that may make the difference in victory or defeat during the fluidity of battle. Many fear that any risk could result in a mistake and cost them a promotion. A bad recommendation can torpedo a career; keeping a low profile is safer.
If it’s a close call in the promotion process, he said, a senior officer is more likely to drop the officer who made a mistake.
Another way an unfit leader can rise is by gaming the system, building a career by avoiding anything that would catch the eyes of senior officers. An unfit officer can also get promotion recommendations by being favorably judged head-to-head against lesser officers. He doesn’t have to be the best, just the best of a mediocre group.
There are other things that need to be looked at. More, not fewer, opportunities for Command for LTs and LCDRs. No War College until after CDR Command. Let CDR Command and below officers focus their energies on what the taxpayer expects; mastery of the Tactical Level of leadership. Shore duty as an instructor, a value added Commands like NAVSEA, or to get a Masters and/or PhD - sure - but purge the shore establishment as much as possible. Cut and combine Staffs.
Sea Duty, sea duty, overseas, sea duty. No more COs with little time on the bridge of the numbers of flight hours once seen only in LTs.
Leaders are honed, educated, and proven at sea. All else is bureaucratic puffery.
Boards are an issue as well. This idea has great merit.
“We are making the assumption that our leadership is accurately making a judgment of the performance level and capability of our officers,” said Capt. David Steindl, director of surface warfare distribution and former command screening board member.Would it take awhile? Sure. Need to do it with all board eligible? No. Top 50% or top 25%? Yes. Worth it.
Although board size and methods vary among Navy specialties, the surface warfare community generally includes 13 to 17 officers. Each reviews a stack of personnel files.
Afterward, reviewers gather in a room where the candidate’s fitness report is posted on a big screen. The reviewers present the case for each officer. They assign scores from 0 to 100 based on a confidential vote.
Some officers praised the screening board’s procedure for its objectivity.
But one active-duty surface warfare officer noted that the final chance to decide whether an officer should take the helm of a warship lacks something that even military commissary employees go through: a job interview.
A grilling in front of 17 captains and admirals might reveal something not found in a personnel file, the officer said.
Good ideas - but the question is if Big Navy is doing anything about the problem and is open to outside suggestions for improvement? Do we have a problem? Yes. Did the Navy IG punt the issue? Of course. Can we build a better system? Yes. Do we need to? Yes.
Is fixing it a priority for senior leadership?
I think that question is already answered.