The search for the next Chief of Naval Operations has not drawn much interest from the media, but there’s good reason it should. By nominating Admiral John Richardson, the current head of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, President Obama is jeopardizing a tradition of excellence stretching back since America first developed nuclear submarines. John Lehman, who served as President Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy for six years, does an excellent job explaining this in his Wall Street Journal editorial that ran this past Sunday. First, he explains the historical reasons behind our nuclear Navy’s excellence:
First, a little history is in order. Adm. Hyman Rickover, the father of the U.S.Navy’s nuclear fleet and one of the fathers of commercial nuclear power, was a great man. Including his time at the Naval Academy, he served for 55 years on active duty and ran the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program for three decades until his retirement in 1982. He created and oversaw a culture of personnel and engineering excellence that is unique in the world.
While Adm. Rickover reported to the chief of naval operations and the secretary of the Navy, he had virtually absolute authority and accountability for the Navy’s nuclear submarine and surface-ship programs. Largely due to the culture of engineering excellence and quality control he created, nearly 300 U.S. Navy nuclear warships have operated flawlessly for 64 years without a single nuclear incident. They played a major role in giving the U.S. Navy command of the seas and victory in the Cold War. During the same period their Soviet counterparts had many nuclear accidents and incidents.
As Lehman goes on to point out, while many other Pentagon programs are prone to bloat and going over budget, this program has historically been both on time and on budget. The perfectionist standards and total dedication to engineering excellence enforced by the admirals in charge are doubtless one of the biggest reasons for this.
The head of the program serves an eight year term, which all five of Richardson’s predecessors in the 34 years since Rickover have served out in its entirety. Meanwhile, Richardson has been there for less than two years. Lehman explains why this places our nuclear Navy’s excellence at risk:
President Obama’s nomination of a current director of the Navy’s nuclear program to be the next chief of Naval Operations puts this unique record at risk. If Adm. Richardson leaves the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, which he has headed for less than two years, all that was accomplished by the executive order will be swept aside. The job will become one more rung up the career ladder, a perch for ambitious admirals to use to interact with and please the politicians who have the power to elevate them to more glamorous positions.
Worst of all, if the job is seen as a steppingstone, a fraying of the zero-defects culture may begin and the possibility of a nuclear accident within the U.S. Navy may increase. The consequences of a nuclear incident would be devastating and would threaten the Navy’s ability to continue to operate its current reactor designs.
President Obama has a history of weakening our military. If you need summary of just how he has done this, Congressman [mc_name name=’Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’L000564′ ]’s Stars and Stripes editorial from earlier this year is an excellent place to start, although it does not mention that Obama in the past has also jettisoned numerous officers involved in the Air Force’s nuclear missile program.* Whether it is intentional with this move or not, nominating Admiral Richardson places the safety and strength of our nuclear Navy at risk by disregarding the tradition established by the admiral’s predecessors that the position is not one for self-serving careerists. Richardson is a talented and intelligent man, and I have no ill will towards him. Nevertheless, this nomination could open the door to instability and corruption in an area of the military where those things could do the most damage. For this reason, the Senate should reject his nomination.
*=The article in the link blames low morale for the cheating scandal. One has to wonder just how morale dipped so low. It seems to be a problem in Obama’s armed forces.