This is written by Captain Mark Light in the Summer 2012 Naval War College Review: The Navy's Moral Compass Commanding Officer's and Personal Misconduct (PDF).
The U.S. Navy has an integrity problem in the ranks of its commanding officers (COs). Consider these headlines: “Cruiser CO Relieved for ‘Cruelty.’” “CO Fired, Charged with Solicitation.” “CO of Attack Sub Fired for ‘Drunkenness.’” These are just a few cases in a recent deluge of early reliefs of “skippers.” In 2010, twenty-three Navy COs were relieved of command and “detached for cause,” an enormous increase over previous years. The trend continues: twentyone commanding officers were fired in 2011 as of the end of October. Even more worrisome is the fact that a large and increasing percentage of those dismissals are due to personal misconduct, such as sexual harassment, drunkenness, and fraternization. Although (as far as we can tell) over 97 percent of the Navy’s commanding officers conduct themselves honorably, the increasing number of those who do not raises concerns that the Navy must address. Alarms should be sounding at the highest levels of Navy leadership, but a review of recent literature reveals only a trickle of discussion on the subject of personal misconduct by military commanders. Instead of calling the service to action, a Navy spokesman said in January 2011 that there was “no indication that the reliefs are the result of any systemic problem.”This was one of many paragraphs that asks good questions.
Fundamental problems with today’s fitness report system in identifying behavioral shortcomings are its lack of explicit evaluation with respect to ethical standards, the tendency of senior officers to reward mission accomplishment and performance regardless of personal failures, and the fact that all officers from ensign to captain are evaluated on the same criteria. The fitness report grades seven quantitative performance traits: “Professional Expertise,” “Command or Organizational Climate/Equal Opportunity,” “Military Bearing/Character,” “Teamwork,” “Mission Accomplishment and Initiative,” “Leadership,” and “Tactical Performance.” Military bearing is the trait widely considered to be the category for documenting issues concerning physical fitness and body composition (i.e., body-mass index), although by regulation (and as indicated on the form itself) it also includes character, appearance, demeanor, conduct, physical standards, and adherence to Navy core values. The core values include honor, and honor (as the admiral quoted above noted) implies integrity. But should we have to dig three levels to evaluate integrity, and should it be masked in the block regarded as concerning physical fitness? Not if we think it is important. In comparison, the Army’s Officer Evaluation Report requires input on all seven of the service’s core values as part of the character evaluation of the officer, including integrity and selfless service. Such specific evaluation of character is required to emphasize the priorities we desire in commanding officers.When 97% of the Navy's commanding officers are conducting themselves honorably, does the Navy really need a new conduct cop measurement system that applies an ethical and moral standard towards character evaluation that isn't already present today? Obviously everything can be improved, but the question I have is whether anything is actually broken at all? When a Commanding Officer gets fired for personal misconduct, isn't that representative of the Navy having the right policy in place, a policy that appears to function properly?
In my opinion the evidence of a high standard for Command in the Navy is evident with each new examples by which a Commanding Officer is fired - a process that tends to demonstrate a remarkably high level of transparency btw. I can't remember the last time someone was fired and the cause was questionable. Captain Owen Honors tried to play the role of the martyr, but it was blatantly obvious to everyone except apparently Captain Honors that he did not demonstrate a professional standard that would be acceptable by professionals in private industry, much less a public service profession that demands higher standards like the US Navy.
So 3% of Commanding Officers fail to maintain the very high personal conduct standard of the US Navy. Am I the only one who looks at that number and thinks "wow, that's all?" I know one thing, the percentage of personal misconduct problems commonplace at the higher management levels of American business in society is higher than 3%, particularly in jobs where lots of travel and time away from family is involved.
Sorry, but the statistics in the article suggest to me the Navy's current system of evaluating personal misconduct is pretty good, and is pretty effective. It also suggests to me the Navy's evaluation of people is really good, because in any other industry that number would normally be much higher.
I thought this was a very interesting paper to read. Well done to Captain Mark Light for taking on a tough topic and asking good questions.
Update: Latest incident related to this topic is being discussed at Bubblehead's shop.