Management Matters Management MattersManagement Matters
Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.

Bye-Bye, Captain

USS San Francisco Cmdr. Kevin Mooney lost his job earlier this year after his nuclear submarine slammed into an undersea mountain in the Pacific Ocean, killing one sailor, injuring 98 crewmen and nearly sinking the vessel. His firing was one of the highest-profile dismissals of a skipper in recent years, partly because of the strong backing he received from the submariner community to keep his job.

Several retired submariners offered spirited defenses of Mooney, arguing the Navy was blaming him for its own outdated maps. Even the father of the sailor killed in the collision initially backed the commander. But these testimonials had little impact on the Navy's investigation of the crash, which found Mooney should have looked more closely at navigational charts, checked water depth more frequently and traveled at a slower speed.

Adm. John Nathman, head of the Navy's Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., criticizes those who rallied around a skipper they liked without knowing the facts about the accident. "If we believe that as a commander you are responsible for the command, then what goes along with that is if you don't deliver, you are probably going to go away," Nathman says.

The Navy has long had a reputation for giving broad authority to its commanding officers-who number nearly 1,300 today-but holding them to exacting standards in which a single mistake can end a career. Lately, however, the service has gained more attention for ousting commanders for personal misconduct, ranging from extramarital affairs to alcohol abuse.

A recent report by the Navy inspector general's office found that commanding officers were more likely to be fired for improper behavior than for poor job performance. In 2003 and 2004, more than half of the 38 commanders fired were removed be-cause of misbehavior. In 2001 and 2002, such issues accounted for less than a third of all firings.

Navy leaders asked the IG to investigate the reasons behind officers' dismissals after more than 30 captains, commanders and lieutenant commanders were removed between February 2003 and June 2004. Historically, the Navy ousts about 12 commanding officers annually.

The IG found no single cause for the increase in top officers losing their jobs, but noted that a "CO's failure to follow established regulations, laws, moral or ethical principles, occasionally after being counseled, was the primary cause of most" of the actions. The report also found that most dismissals for misbehavior involved adultery or alcohol abuse.

The IG did not find evidence of systemic problems and did not make sweeping recommendations for change. But the report did call for better risk-management training for commanding officers, refresher courses on creating the proper command climate, self-assessment training, and the use of "360-degree" reviews, in which subordinates anonymously rate their bosses' job performance.

Nathman, who was the vice chief of naval operations when the report was released in late 2004, says the service will implement its recommendations. He says the report largely put to rest concerns among some admirals that the pace of war and an increase in the rate of deployments of Navy ships and personnel played a role in the dismissals. He adds the spate of firings probably was no more than a statistical anomaly that will correct itself during the next few years. Still, he says, the officers in charge of the service's various commands, such as aviation and surface warfare, should use the report to reinforce the need for ethical behavior among the Navy's commanding officers.

Successful COs will always welcome the Navy's demands on them, Nathman says. "When you leave command for a noncommand [job], it feels like this pack fell off your back. You feel like you are free," he says. "It's a nice feeling-and it lasts about a week until you want to command again."

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.