In this special two-part interview, Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer discusses meeting readiness goals, office reorganization and the path to a 355-ship navy.
From the restructuring of their offices to investigating ship collisions, the Department of the Navy is having a very busy year. In charge of it all is Richard V. Spencer, 76th Secretary of the Navy. Spencer says that the department’s most urgent needs are addressing issues with “people, processes, and capabilities.” “People, as we know, are the most important asset we have. And in many ways I think In the history of the Pentagon, people have not been included as the most important ingredient. We have amazing weapons platforms that cost amazing dollars, but without the people operating them they really don’t work that well,” said Spencer. “We have to focus on what we are doing to keep the best and brightest. That is the urgent mission we have right now.” “I haven’t been in Washington for my [whole] career, but I have been hanging around the hoop for about ten years. During that period, I was on the Defense Business Board doing studies for the actual secretary at the time on various topics. [I] got an insight into how the building worked and some of the taxonomy the building uses. In many ways, shaking the head up and down doesn’t mean yes. But, what we found in there is process is one of our biggest levers that we have.” Another priority that Spencer has is streamlining the “back-office functions” at the Department of the Navy, a project that Under Secretary Thomas Modly has taken the lead on. “Tom is just one of the best members of the team because he has been at this before inside the building,” said Spencer. “He exemplifies how we are getting after process. When you look at a $194 billion organization with 800,000 people in a hierarchical structure, we have to flatten out the organization. We have to increase people’s authorities and responsibilities, and allow them to do what they do best.” Looking to the future, the Navy is considering construction of an additional Gerald R Ford-class aircraft carrier, advancing the service’s journey to a 355-ship fleet. Despite the Ford-class’ issues, Secretary Spencer said that they were necessary growing pains. “I like the quote of my fellow secretary, Dr. Wilson of the Air Force. When she was testifying, she said ‘Gee, can we have one or two whiz‑bang technologies per platform going forward, please?’” Spencer told Government Matters. “The Ford is actually proving out quite well. The EMALS, which is the electronic catapult and the arresting gear on the original sail that we had. We were supposed to do 400 traps, we did 747. We are amending and editing the systems as needed… The bottom line is, it’s the first series of a ship. If in fact, we were to question the cost of a first series of every ship, we would own one hundred first series of ships.”