The Secretary of the United States Navy serves the Department of Defense as the senior Navy leader reporting to the Secretary of Defense. The Secretary of the Navy, also known as SECNAV, is the chief executive officer of the Navy and serves as a non-cabinet-level civilian responsible for the functions and readiness of the Navy.
The origins of this position are nearly as old as the origin story of the nation itself. The U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps were created in 1775 as the colonists prepared for the American Revolution.
The earliest version of the Department of Defense was created in 1789. Back then it was known simply as the War Department. Over the years it became clear that each branch of military service needed to be brought under the auspices of a single department of the federal government.
This was achieved in 1947 with the “National Military Establishment”. This would ultimately lead to the creation of what we know today as the Department of the Navy and the other service departments. All branches of military service were placed under the control of the newly-established position of Secretary of Defense.
In 1949, the National Military Establishment was re-branded as the Department of Defense. The Secretary of the Navy and other service secretaries would be non-cabinet level, a change from previous iterations of the office.
The Secretary Of The Navy oversees two branches of military service. The Navy and the United States Marine Corps. The United States Coast Guard may also serve under the U.S. Navy depending on circumstances (the Coast Guard functions primarily under the Department of Homeland Security).
The earliest government positions associated with the long history of the Navy include John Adams serving in the role of Chairman of the Marine Committee in the Continental Congress from 1775 – 1779. The very first official Secretary of the Navy is Benjamin Stoddert, who served from 1798 to 1801.
Stoddert was the first SECNAV in the newly created Department of the Navy. He had his work cut out for him thanks to something called the “Quasi-War” with France. Stoddert helped shape an early Navy war doctrine. The American fleet was not powerful enough to act as a protective convoy for American merchant vessels.
Instead, Stoddert chose to attack the French navy fleet outside the shipping lanes, where French naval power was concentrated. It was the start of an American quest for military superiority at sea. Stoddert’s legacy in the Navy includes two ships named after him; the USS Stoddert (DD-302), operational from 1920–1935, and the USS Benjamin Stoddert (DDG-22), operational from 1964–1991.
The Office Of The Secretary Of The Navy
The Office of the Secretary of the Navy includes:
- The Undersecretary of the Navy
- Assistant Secretaries of the Navy
- General Counsel of the Department of the Navy
- Navy Judge Advocate General
- Navy Inspector General
- Chief of Legislative Affairs
- Chief of Naval Research
The Commandant of the Marine Corps and the Chief of Naval Operations both maintain separate offices.
Title 10, USC states, “There are four Assistant Secretaries of the Navy” which must be, “appointed from civilian life by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate”. The four Assistant Secretaries of the Navy are:
- Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs
- Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Financial Management
- Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition
- Assistant Secretary for Energy, Installations, and Environment
Selection Of The Secretary Of The Navy
Title 10, U.S.C. contains the following instructions for selecting a Secretary of the Navy:
“The Secretary shall, to the greatest extent practicable, be appointed from among persons most highly qualified for the position by reason of background and experience, including persons with appropriate management or leadership experience.”
No candidate for this position may be appointed, “within five years after relief from active duty as a commissioned officer of a regular component of an armed force”.
Responsibilities Of The Secretary Of The Navy
Title 10 of the United States Code authorizes SECNAV to “conduct all the affairs of the Department of the Navy” which include but are not limited to:
- Mobilizing / Demobilizing
- Construction, outfitting, and repair of naval ships
- Construction, outfitting, and repair of equipment and facilities
SECNAV is a member of the Defense Acquisition Board and the Secretary of the Navy has “statutory responsibility” for administering the Navy and Marine Corps justice systems under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
The Secretary of the Navy is responsible to the Secretary of Defense for the following duties:
- The “functioning and efficiency” of the Department of the Navy
- Formulation of policies and programs by the Department of the Navy
- Effective and timely implementation of policy, program, and budget decisions and instructions of the President or the Secretary of Defense
- Carrying out the functions of the Department of the Navy so as to fulfill the current and future operational requirements of the unified and specified combatant commands
- Effective cooperation and coordination between the Department of the Navy and the other military departments and agencies of the Department of Defense
- Presentation and justification of the positions of the Department of the Navy
- Effective supervision and control of the intelligence activities of the Department of the Navy
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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