The Senate confirmed Kenneth Braithwaite to serve as the next secretary of the Navy, following the November departure of the last confirmed secretary of the sea services.
Braithwaite is a retired Navy rear admiral and the current U.S. ambassador to Norway. The 1984 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy went to flight school and flew anti-submarine warfare missions in the Pacific and Indian oceans before moving to the public affairs community. He rose through the ranks on active duty and then as a reservist, ultimately becoming the top reserve public affairs officer. In his civilian career, he worked for former Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) between 1997 and 2000 and was a lobbyist for the hospital and healthcare industry.
His name was first floated for the job the same day that former Secretary Richard V. Spencer was fired, with President Donald Trump announcing Braithwaite’s name in the same tweet he thanked Spencer for his service. Though Defense Secretary Mark Esper reiterated the intention to nominate Braithwaite to serve as the civilian head of the Navy and Marine Corps the very next day, the White House didn’t formally send a nomination to the Senate until Feb. 28, and the Senate Armed Services Committee didn’t pursue a confirmation hearing until May 7 – after another acting secretary of the Navy was unceremoniously removed from the job.
Confirmed by voice vote: Executive Calendar #654 Kenneth J. Braithwaite to be Secretary of the Navy.
— Senate Cloakroom (@SenateCloakroom) May 21, 2020
During his confirmation hearing in front of the SASC, Braithwaite said that the Navy was in “troubled waters” due to a lack of leadership in recent years and that he hoped to address cultural issues while in the job.
“It saddens me to say: the Department of the Navy is in troubled waters due to many factors, primarily the failings of leadership. Whether [Glenn Defense Marine Asia], ship collisions, judicial missteps or the crisis on USS [Theodore] Roosevelt, they are all indicative of a breakdown in the trust of those leading the service,” he told the committee during his opening statement.
“I have witnessed crisis in the Navy before. In 1989, I was aboard the aircraft carrier USS America, sailing with the battleship Iowa, when an explosion killed 47 sailors. That was followed by the Tailhook scandal. These were some dark days for the department.”
Later in the hearing, he added that “culture eats strategy for breakfast. Culture is the one thing that creates for an organization a sense of belonging, a sense of good order and discipline. It is my number-one priority, if I’m confirmed, to restore the appropriate culture in the United States Navy,” he said in response to questions from Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.).
“I won’t say it’s broken. I think it’s been tarnished. I think the events over the last several years have helped see that to occur. And if I’m confirmed, I will make sure that I get at that — again, predicated on good order and discipline, empowering people to understand their responsibilities along that chain of command.”