NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – While the Navy and Marine Corps have fixed problems they’ve identified in their business practices, the service’s top official said it still needs to correct some weaknesses to improve readiness.
Speaking at the Navy League’s 2021 Sea Air Space conference, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Harker said the top-to-bottom audit of the Pentagon and military departments “highlighted ways in which we can operate more efficiently and effectively.”
Looking at the three issues corrected in the Navy and one in the Marine Corps, he said, “that’s a huge accomplishment” and a mark to maintain in business processes.
Harker said the Navy has tightened controls around $100 billion in property so it knows what weapons it owns, where they are and their condition.
But the numbers of government property the Navy and industry each have don’t match. “The auditors have found significant errors in how we account for that inventory that’s in the hands of contractors,” he said. The former Navy comptroller addressed industry representatives in the audience saying, “we need your help with this.”
He added that a large contractor is working with Navy staff on a pilot program that would have industry auditors also provide a special service report on the government property it has to resolve the number differences.
At the same time, he said the department is reminding commanders of the direct link between clean audits and accountability and readiness, and also offering them “the help they need to correct” any issues.
Harker described the process as a “get real, get better approach” to practices and operations, especially in protecting cybersecurity.
In what will likely be his last major address before leaving office, Harker said “partnership and trust is at the heart of what we do” with industry, allies and partners and shipmates. Referencing the Fiscal Year 2022 budget, he said “we refuse to create a hollow force” while investing in the future.
Harker said “we learned the lessons” from the two at-sea collisions, when guided-missile destroyers USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) and USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) each collided with other vessels, and the loss of nine lives in the sinking of an amphibious assault vehicle last year off the California coast. The Navy has acted on the recommendations to improve safety in operations and those lessons must be sustained over time, Harker added.
Likewise, Harker said the Navy and Marine Corps need to press ahead in their efforts to destigmatize decisions by sailors and Marines to seek mental health counseling and treatment. He noted commanders also have recently received watchlists for their use in dealing with cases of sexual harassment and assault.
Harker has been serving as the acting Navy secretary President Joe Biden entered office in January. The Senate Armed Services Committee has moved the nomination of Carlos Del Toro, Biden’s pick to serve as the Navy’s top civilian, to the floor for confirmation.