Nearly two years after the start of the federal investigation into Leonard Glenn “Fat Leonard” Francis, chief executive of the Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd., several implicated officials await a decision on their fate. In February, three U.S. Navy admirals learned theirs when Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus censured them for unethical behavior. The misconduct of these and other officials has left a stain on the Navy. The scandal may also point to a deeper, widespread problem in the U.S. military as a whole, which is that we are outsourcing too much. Long after the Fat Leonard investigation concludes and the punishments are meted out, this incident will remain a serious blemish on the trustworthiness and professionalism of the Navy at large, but as long as we continue on our current course, we can expect more of the same.
This scandal is the most damning of all the recent incidents in which leaders have fallen short of professional expectations. Unlike the 1991 Tailhook disgrace, which resulted from a single event, Fat Leonard’s company supplied the Navy for 25 years, involving civilian and military officials throughout the Pacific region. Moreover, in this fiasco classified information (shipping schedules) was intentionally disclosed to foreign nationals, and it has cost taxpayers millions of wasted dollars. Navy leaders must surely be asking where we go from here.
The response to Tailhook was simply crisis management: punishing people who had not been in attendance, enduring anti-drinking campaigns, mandatory sensitivity training for the innocent majority, and community service by junior sailors as a public-relations effort to win back the support of citizens. Our response to Fat Leonard must be different. This requires deliberate leadership: severe punishment for the guilty, a renewed focus on personal character, and an unwavering commitment to ethics. The process began with the public censure of three admirals, though enlisted sailors accused of similar misdeeds would have been treated much more harshly. But punishment for misconduct is one of those areas where rank has its privileges.
Along with delivering the reprimands, Secretary Mabus made an unconditional statement regarding his expectations of senior officers: “All Navy officers, particularly our senior leadership in positions of unique trust and responsibility, must uphold and be held to the highest standards of personal and professional behavior.” Further, Mabus highlighted that some officers had not only exhibited “poor judgment” but also “a failure of leadership.” Every member of the Department of the Navy needs to heed those words. When one of us fails, we must demand defense of the institution based on adherence to the highest standards and honest assessments. This is not new, but a necessary reaffirmation by the senior leader of the service. The first step in rebuilding trust is to give the public and junior Navy personnel reason to believe that this standard will be upheld.
The business model that pervades the Navy must also be questioned. We should not be relying so heavily on for-profit businesses, which sometimes come with unethical leadership of their own. The potential is too great to create situations in which Navy leaders might be tempted, as we have seen. Changing that model might have helped in the Fat Leonard calamity, but it remains the case that a serious breach of leadership is also at issue.
Secretary Mabus’ words should be a warning to reinforce the integrity of officials who might face temptations similar to those involved in the current debacle. Should this happen again, the results will be devastating. This scandal has diminished trust in the Navy among the public, the Congress, and our sailors. Secretary Mabus’ censures are the first vital steps in earning it back. As a second step, we should take a hard look at our outsourcing practices.