Washington/United States (21/5). The Senate has confirmed Kenneth Braithwaite to be secretary of the Navy, giving the service its first Senate-confirmed leader in months at a time when it is grappling with fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
Braithwaite was confirmed in a voice vote Thursday, two days after he was advanced to the floor by the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Braithwaite, who has served as U.S. ambassador to Norway since 2018, becomes the Navy’s top civilian official after the service came under sharp criticism for its handling of the coronavirus outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier that infected more than 1,000 sailors.
In his confirmation hearing earlier this month, Braithwaite pledged to restore a culture of good order and discipline in a service he described as being in “rough waters” after a “failure of leadership.”
“It saddens me to say that the Department of the Navy is in rough waters due to many factors, but primarily the failure of leadership,” Braithwaite told the committee.
The Roosevelt outbreak sidelined the powerful ship for two months before it set sail again this week.
The previous commander of the ship, Capt. Brett Crozier, was fired after a letter he wrote warning about the outbreak leaked in the media. The acting Navy secretary who fired him, Thomas Modly, subsequently resigned after flying to Guam to give a speech aboard the ship’s loudspeakers berating Crozier.
The Navy conducted a preliminary investigation into the situation on the Roosevelt, resulting in a recommendation to reinstate Crozier. But current acting Secretary James McPherson ordered a more in-depth probe, effectively delaying a decision on Crozier’s fate.
At his hearing, Braithwaite said he supported the decision to open a broader inquiry.
The Roosevelt scandal came months after the Navy was rocked by President Trump’s decision to intervene in Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher’s disciplinary punishment for being convicted in the military justice system of posing with the corpse of an ISIS fighter, an episode that ended with Spencer’s ouster.
In addition to the Roosevelt and Gallagher firestorms, the Navy has weathered ship collisions in 2017 that killed 17 sailors as well as the ongoing Fat Leonard corruption scandal in which several top officers were accused of accepting bribes from contractor Glenn Defense Marine Asia head Leonard Glenn Francis.
“Whether Glenn Marine Defense, the ship collisions in 2017, judicial missteps or the crisis recently aboard USS Roosevelt, they are all indicative of a breakdown in the trust of those leading the service,” Braithwaite said.