Following a generally cordial confirmation hearing Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) approved the nomination of Richard Spencer to be secretary of the Navy on Thursday.

The committee approved the nomination by voice vote and then immediately reported it to the Senate floor, which must vote for final confirmation.

Richard Spencer, President Trump's nominee as the 76th secretary of the Navy. Photo: Center for a New American Security.
Richard Spencer, President Trump’s nominee as the 76th secretary of the Navy. Photo: Center for a New American Security.

Spencer is a financial industry executive who served in the Marine Corps from the late 1970s until 1981 and served on the Defense Business Board from 2009 to 2015 where he finished as vice chairman. He was appointed to the Chief of Naval Operations’ Executive Panel on Feb. 24, 2016 and transitioned to his current role as an Executive Advisor on Dec. 9, 2016 (Defense Daily, June 5).

At the confirmation hearing, Spencer stressed how detrimental the Budget Control Act (BCA) is for the military, promised to focus on increased accountability and transparency, and said he did not yet have firm opinions on the future Navy size.

Spencer said the service will need to examine if they can increase naval capabilities beyond pure ship numbers through use of new technologies like unmanned vehicles. This might allow the capability of a 355 ship Navy with closer to 300 ships, he said Tuesday.

The nominee also responded to questioning by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) that the military services are not a petri dish for social experiments but that policy should be discussed, developed, and socialized at the Defense Department level then deployed and obeyed. He supports social change policy if it does not reduce readiness and maintains lethality in the force.

Cotton and other Republican members of the committee used this opportunity to reiterate their critical opinion of the previous secretary of the Navy under former President Barack Obama, Ray Mabus. They brought up controversies including ship naming issues, gender neutral uniform changes, and enlisted ratings titles changes.

However, Spencer agreed when Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) defended Mabus’s actions on climate change. When asked if under his leadership the Navy would prepare for climate change in terms of preparing bases and installations as well as the crises and insecurity it exacerbates, Spencer said “yes.”

He noted the Navy is aware of rising water and storm issues so it will protect infrastructure and work to maintain readiness when dealing with climate change issues.

On several issues Spencer said he did not feel comfortable responding before coming to a complete decision both in the hearing and in written answers to committee questions. This included issues like the future Frigate, DDG Flight III multi-year procurement, the best way to reach the 355 ship fleet goal, the appropriate end strength levels for the Navy and Marine Corps by 2022, his assessment of the F-35 development program, and whether there are alternatives to purchasing F-35C aircraft.

Spencer is the second nominee for the Navy secretary position after the first nominee, investment manager Philip Bilden, withdrew from consideration in February. Bilden said his withdrawal was due to privacy concerns and challenges in separating himself from his business interests (Defense Daily, Feb. 27).