From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division
This week, SECNAV Mabus passed former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, who served in the position from Feb. 5, 1981 until April 10, 1987 for a total of 2,255 days. Lehman served his six-year, two-month term under Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and President Ronald Reagan.
Mabus, appointed by President Barak Obama to the position on May 19, 2009, surpassed Lehman’s legacy for longevity at day 2,256 this week – and the count continues!
Longest Serving SECNAV in U.S. Navy History?
Although Mabus is the longest serving SECNAV since the DoD was created by President Harry S. Truman, overall he is sixth on the all-time list of Secretaries of Navy, which began Oct. 13, 1775.
Mabus has served under four Secretaries of Defense since he came into office, and two Chiefs of Naval Operations: Adm. Gary Roughead (Sept. 29, 2007-Sept. 23, 2011) and Adm. Jonathan Greenert (Sept. 23, 2011 to present). Prior to Mabus’ appointment on May 19, 2009, B.J. Penn, the first African-American in the position, served as acting Secretary of the Navy.
Should he remain in office at least through the rest of President Obama’s term that ends Jan. 20, 1917, Mabus will have amassed seven years, eight months and three days, taking the No. 4 position and bumping Robert Smith, the second Secretary of the Navy, into fifth place. Smith served seven years, seven months and nine days from July 27, 1801 to March 4, 1809 when the SECNAV was a member of the Executive Department during President Thomas Jefferson’s term.
History of the Job
The need for someone to report to the president about naval activities was established the same date as the Navy’s birthday: Oct. 13, 1775. At that time through 1784, the position was called the Chairman of the Marine Committee, followed by the Continental Navy Board and the Board of Admiralty.
Following the American Revolution, Congress chose not to fund a national navy, so while the position remained, it was vacant until 1798.
But when American merchant ships were getting preyed on by Barbary pirates, Congress finally agreed it was time to create its own navy. President John Adams, always an advocate for a strong naval presence, appointed Benjamin Stoddert as the first official Secretary of the Navy to the Executive Department (president’s cabinet) on June 18, 1798.
For nearly 150 years, the Secretary of the Navy remained part of the president’s cabinet. After World War II, the National Security Act of 1947 reorganized the Executive Department to fold the War Department into departments of the Army and Air Force — each with its own Secretary – and create the Secretary of Defense. The three military secretaries – Army, Air Force and Navy – maintained a sub-cabinet level position to the full cabinet-level position of the SECDEF.
Adm. James Forrestal had the distinction of being the last cabinet-level SECNAV and the first SECDEF on Sept. 17, 1947. Two years later, an amendment to the National Security Act of 1947 placed all three military secretaries under the Secretary of Defense and out of the cabinet.
Mabus’ Historic Career
It hasn’t been the smoothest of seas during Mabus’ tour. The nation has been fighting the war against terrorism throughout his tenure, and stability in many theaters has entered uncertain times.
Among Mabus’ more notable achievements thus far in his six-year tenure is his initiative to decrease of the service’s dependence on fossil fuels by 50 percent by year 2020 with his push for the Great Green Fleet, a carrier strike group utilizing alternative fuel sources. In 2012, President Obama announced in his State of the Union address that the Navy and Marine Corps would purchase or facilitate the production of 1GW of renewable energy for use on Navy and Marine Corps installations by 2020, a goal that will actually be reached four years early.
He has also supported the increase of shipbuilding with multi-year, fixed-price contracts which reversed the decline of the Navy’s fleet and will have it grow to more than 300 ships by the end of the decade despite fiscal constraints. He recently extended paid maternity leave for Sailors from six to 18 weeks, just one of several efforts to accommodate parents in the Navy, including expanding the hours of on-base child care centers by four hours. Other initiatives include the Navy’s Task Force Innovation to encourage “thinkers, experts and warfighters” to sit down with Sailors and Marines to get their input on how to better manage “the incredible talent of our people,” he told 2015 graduating class of Midshipmen from the U.S. Naval Academy. He also outlined plans to revamp the Navy’s fitness program to look more at the health of the service member, rather than the shape. He also urged the Midshipmen to embrace diversity and to do what it takes to end sexual harassment within the sea service.
Obama appointed Mabus to oversee the recovery plan for the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. This report received bi-partisan support and resulted in civil penalties totaling more than $5 billion, of which 80 percent are to be used to fund the recovery.
Before his appointment as SECNAV, Mabus was appointed by President Bill Clinton as the ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from 1994-96. Before that, he served as governor of Mississippi from 1988-92. A native of Ackerman, Mabus earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Mississippi and a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. He served in the Navy as a surface warfare officer onboard the cruiser Little Rock (CL 92) from 1970-72. After his time in the Navy, Mabus attended Harvard Law School, graduating magna cum laude.
For the Game Lovers: More SECNAV Trivia
Since Forrestal, only one other SECNAV also served as SECDEF: Thomas S. Gates Jr. under President Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1959-61. Five others SECDEFs served in the Navy: Robert Lovett, Clark Clifford, Melvin Laird, Donald Rumsfeld (two terms) and Frank Carlucci.
And for the curious, the top two longest-serving SECNAVs, and unlikely to be toppled anytime soon, are Josephus Daniels of North Carolina (March 5, 1913 to March 5, 1921) and Gideon Welles of Connecticut (March 7, 1861 to March 4, 1869). Daniels served exactly eight years under President Woodrow Wilson. Welles retained the position during the turbulent Civil War years, three days shy of an eight year term, under presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson (and yes, we factored in leap year days).
Mabus has four assistant secretaries keeping him abreast of what is going on in the sea service: Installations and Environment; Financial Management; Research, Development and Acquisitions and Manpower and Reserve Affairs.
Other organizations reporting directly to the SECNAV office include: Chief of Naval Operations, Commandant of the Marine Corps, Chief of Naval Information, Judge Advocate General, Naval Inspector General, Director of Program Appraisal, Chief of Legislative Affairs; Chief of Information; Auditor General and the Department of Navy’s General Counsel.