Naval Postgraduate School: A Sacred Cow?

By Captain Jeanne McDonnell, U.S. Navy (Retired)

Some believe, as does longtime NPS supporter retired Admiral Hank Mauz, that “NPS provides degrees of incomparable value to the services and DOD” and “no other institution has the academic agility to build new curricula to meet national-security needs in a matter of weeks, and no other school can combine research, which directly involves students, with academic programs as effectively.” 5 Unfortunately, there is no anecdotal evidence that this is the case, and many believe that several U.S. academic institutions could give them a run for their money. In his February 2013 Proceedings article on the aftermath of the IG investigation, Admiral Mauz suggests that the school’s $101 million budget to educate an average on-board student population of 1,800 is a good value. 6 It is certainly a good value for the students, but is it a good value for the Navy and the American taxpayer? Admiral Mauz predicts through implementation of the IG’s recommendations and other cost-saving measures, the NPS will increase even further in value. 7 Some trends, however, may make that impossible for the NPS.

Outsourcing and Privatization

The military is required to look at each of its activities and identify non-inherently governmental functions. An inherently governmental function is one that “is so intimately related to the public interest as to require performance by Government employees.” 8 In other words, only a person in the military or working in the government could possibly do it. The Navy’s six Maritime Strategy Core Capabilities include forward deterrence, strategic deterrence, sea control, power projection, maritime security, and irregular warfare. 9 Those are defined as capabilities that are enduring and essential to the primary functions of naval forces and thus would be considered inherently governmental. 10 Graduate education for officers, no matter how valuable, is not a core capability or an inherently governmental function. Although privatization can be considered a trend or good idea, it is more than that. It is the law. The Office of Management and Budget’s Circular A-76 directive states that unless functions are inherently governmental, they should not compete with the commercial sector and should be outsourced or privatized.

In her July 2000 Proceedings article, retired Lieutenant Commander Janice Graham suggested several options regarding this law and the NPS, including provision of vouchers to officers to use at the school of their choice, substituting certificate programs for degrees in certain technical areas, partial or wholesale outsourcing, or privatization of the NPS. 11 In a counter article the following month, Admiral Mauz and NPS Professor William Gates shot down her suggestions, noting “If the school were better understood by some of the budget-cutters in Washington, there would be greater recognition that it produces the essential corn seed of tomorrow’s educated officer corps and is cost-effective in the process.” 12

Many of the 68 majors that the NPS offers are administrative in nature, including international studies, business, and public policy. Instead of focusing on key areas that may be considered inherently governmental, the school has developed several new curricula requiring even more resources and faculty. Again, despite the claims that no other higher-education institution can provide the same value, there is no evidence to prove these claims. The NPS has dodged the A-76 bullet so far, but it is unlikely that it will be able to stand up to scrutiny in the future.

Increased Costs

Another trend that higher-education institutions have to battle is increasing operating costs—especially faculty and growing benefit costs. 13 Significantly impacting this is the fact that as new programs are added, it appears that the NPS has not stopped providing older programs that could be provided elsewhere. One of the major findings in the IG investigation is that the school was not following standard hiring practices to provide higher salaries for certain positions. Although Admiral Mauz noted in his Proceedings article that NPS faculty could get higher salaries elsewhere, in reality, the NPS faculty salaries are competitive or better than most institutions. 14

There are currently 718 civilian faculty members at NPS. Salaries for full professors ($162,000 average annually) were in the high-end range of educational facilities that were considered “peers” by the NPS. However, the salaries for associate professor ($157,000 average annually) and assistant professor ($137,000 average annually) were the highest of all 17 “peer” universities, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, Carnegie-Mellon, and Rice. The NPS Strategic Plan 2008 reported there were approximately 450 civilian faculty members on board at the time. This would mean more than 200 civilian faculty members have been added in less than five years, an over 40 percent growth. 15 These high salaries combined with the rapid rate of the growth of the faculty have significantly increased the cost of an education at the NPS.

Decreasing Research Dollars

Another issue highlighted by the IG was the research conducted by the NPS, a total of $96M in 2011. 16 Without looking at this closely, it appears to be good value. The research dollars do not come out of the NPS funding but are funded by other government organizations. In addition, there is evidence that research conducted by the NPS has been successful in improving national defense in areas such as identification friend-or-foe systems, applications of nanotechnology, cyber security, and modeling and simulation of sea ice. 17

Research is big business for the military. In 2011, the Pentagon provided $81.4 billion for research, which was 55 percent of all federal research dollars. However, given today’s fiscal forecast, it is a given that research funding for the military will be significantly cut as well as federal funding for university research. 18 It is unlikely the infrastructure the NPS has built to support research will be sustainable without the dollars flowing in from elsewhere. There are also numerous other Department of Defense organizations that exist solely to conduct research, such as the Naval Research Laboratory. As important as research is, is the NPS the right place to do it?

Manpower Drawdown and Budget Cuts

In a disproportionate fashion, the NPS has expanded considerably while the Navy has drawn down its manpower, from a force of 560,000 in the mid-1990s to 317,600 as of December 2012. 19 Today, only 40 percent of the students at the NPS are in the Navy. The remaining students are from the other services, other countries, or are civilian government workers. Although the international students are covered either by their country or specially designated money, and other agencies pay the Navy for tuition, this cannot make up the burden of infrastructure costs associated with the large campus. In addition, the international student numbers are predicted to drop because of budget issues in their own countries. Though the Navy is providing a first-class education for the 60 percent of students who are not in the Navy, is this the Navy’s mission? This question is especially pertinent as the U.S. military heads into another round of downsizing.

With sequestration, the military is now facing billions of dollars in cuts. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said the cuts “will cause pain” and will be felt across all the services. 20 In his recent opening remarks to the House Armed Services Committee for Defense, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert reported, “The $8.6 billion shortfall that confronts us in the operations and maintenance account has compelled us to cancel ship and aircraft maintenance, reduce operations, curtail training for forces that will soon deploy, and notify 186,000 of our civilians of a possible furlough.” 21 As a matter of fact, all government civilians, including those at the NPS, recently endured a 20 percent pay reduction due to the mandated furloughs. Projected cuts also include the Navy standing down four air wings, the Air Force cutting training flight hours, and the Army curtailing training for 80 percent of its operational units. 22 These cuts will impact not only our personnel, but the economy and, even worse, defense readiness.

Everyone Has a Sacred Cow, it Seems

Many in the nation today are shaking their heads at the gridlock between our political parties and their inability to get things done. We don’t understand why neither party can compromise or work together. It seems everyone has their rice bowls or sacred cows. And so it goes for the Naval Postgraduate School. Over the years, the NPS has barely survived past rounds of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) and has been challenged more than once by the Government Accountability Office and the Navy Inspector General. A command inspection conducted in 2009 made money-saving recommendations that have still not been implemented. Even an offer by the city of Monterey to take over base operations support, potentially saving millions, was disregarded. 23 Issues identified by Lieutenant Commander Graham in 2000 were not taken seriously, and her recommendations were summarily dismissed. Perhaps if they had been given proper consideration, the 2012 NPS scandal could have been avoided.

It is hard to question an institution many in the Navy feel is a national treasure and even harder to contemplate shutting it down. However, the future cannot be ignored. The trends discussed here are not going away anytime in the near future. Despite its long history, significant contributions to national defense, and distinguished graduates, it is time to scrutinize the value of the NPS and do the right thing based on the required mission. After all, didn’t someone once say that sacred cows make the best hamburgers?

1. Department of the Navy, (2011). NPS value book: A strategic valued investment , 2011, .

2. Ibid.

3. Sam Fellman, “Navy fires grad school president and provost,” Navy Times , 27 November 2012, 11.

4. Ibid.

5. ADM Henry H. Mauz Jr. USN (Ret.), “Clearing the Smoke,” U.S. Naval Institute. Proceedings , February 2013, 44–49.

6. Ibid., 45.

7. Ibid.

8. Office of Management and Budget, Federal activities inventory reform act of 1998 (Public Law 105-270). Washington, DC: The White House, 1998.

9. A. Baribeau, “Future USS California successfully passes sea trials,” Association of the United States Navy, August 2011, 19.

10. J. Burke, Assessment of Naval core capabilities , (Alexandria, VA: Secretary of the Navy, Program and Process Assessment Office, Institute of Defense Analysis, 2009).

11. LCDR Janice Graham, “Rethinking the Naval Postgraduate School,” U.S. Naval Institute. Proceedings, July 2000, 3.

12. ADM Henry H. Mauz Jr. and William R. Gates, “The Naval Postgraduate School; It’s About Value,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings , August 2000, .

13. John R. Dew, “Future of American higher education,” World Future Review , Winter 2012,

14. Mauz, “Clearing the Smoke,” 46.

15. U.S. Navy, (2012). NPS value book: A strategic valued investment , (Monterey, CA: Naval Postgraduate School website, 2012): .

16. Mauz, “Clearing the Smoke,” 46–7.

17. Ibid., 47.

18. Binyamin Appelbaum, “A shrinking military budget may take neighbors with it,” The New York Times , 6 January 2012..

19. Mark D. Faram, “Van Buskirk: Manning cuts were too deep,” Navy Times , 12 December 2012, .

20. Jim Miklaszewski, “Chuck Hagel on defense budget cuts under sequestration: ‘we’re adjusting to the realities,’” NBC News , 1 March 2013,

21. ADM Jonathan Greenert, USN, (2013). HAC-D hearing opening statement , 2013, .

22. Miklaszewski, “Chuck Hagel on defense budget cuts.”

23. Ryan. Masters, “About face: BRAC chair suggests merging Monterey’s military schools,” Monterey County Weekly , 14 July 2005, .

Captain McDonnell served on active duty for 25 years. Her assignments included command of Naval Support Activity Norfolk and Transient Personnel Unit Norfolk and service on the Joint Staff, Navy Staff, Commander Naval Surface Forces Atlantic, and Joint Forces Staff College.


Conferences and Events

View All

From the Press

23 February - Seminar

Sat, 2019-02-23

David F. Winkler

3 March - Lecture

Sun, 2019-03-03

Stephen A. Bourque

Why Become a Member of the U.S. Naval Institute?

As an independent forum for over 140 years, the Naval Institute has been nurturing creative thinkers who responsibly raise their voices on matters relating to national defense.

Become a Member Renew Membership