Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti answers questions from members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during her confirmation hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., Sep. 14, 2023.

Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti answers questions from members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during her confirmation hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., Sep. 14, 2023. U.S. Navy / Chief Mass Communication Specialist Amanda R. Gray

It may take years for US military to recover from senator's hold, acting Navy chief says

Adm. Lisa Franchetti also urged lawmakers to avoid a shutdown or lengthy continuing resolution.

It may take the Navy “years” to recover from the promotion delays caused by a military nomination hold, the nominee to lead the service said during her Senate confirmation hearing Thursday.

“Senator, I think just at the three-star level, it would take about three to four months to move all of the people around, but it will take years to recover from the promotion—if confirmed—for the promotion delays that we would see forward,” Adm. Lisa Franchetti, the vice chief of naval operations, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Because of the holds placed by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., Franchetti is both the vice chief of naval operations and the acting chief of naval operations. But balancing multiple jobs and responsibilities with no relief in sight is no simple task, as demonstrated by her answer to a question about a recent submarine industrial base study by the Navy and the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office. 

Because of her “own bandwidth capacity right now,” Franchetti hasn’t been briefed on the findings, she said. 

“As you know, I'm performing the role of the vice chief of naval operations and the acting CNO right now,” she said. “As soon as I get back, I'll make sure I get that brief on my calendar.”

The confirmation hearing was the second this week that senators used as an opportunity to criticize or support Tuberville’s blanket hold on military nominees, which has now delayed the promotion of more than 300 officers, and is expected to affect 650 by the end of the year if not lifted.

In August, the Congressional Research Service estimated it would take about 30 days and 17 hours to individually confirm the 273 military nominees in the hopper as of Aug. 22, and that’s if the Senate worked 24 hours a day without stopping. It would take 89 days if the Senate worked eight hours a day, CRS said.  

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said the military will still be “trying to repair the damage inflicted by these holds” in 2027, when some have predicted that China may invade Taiwan.

“The Republicans’ failure to end this blockade makes it clear: They don't care about our leaders. They don't care about the families who have served their country honorably for decades,” Warren said. “It is hard to imagine a bigger propaganda win for our enemies. We need this hold to stop, and we needed it to stop now.”

Franchetti, who would be the first woman to serve as CNO and on the Joint Chiefs of Staff if confirmed, also discussed ship-maintenance backlogs, and the potential effect on shipbuilding if the 2024 appropriations bill does not pass on time.

If confirmed, she said, she would use data analytics of shipyard workflows to address ship maintenance delays, to understand “how we can expedite that and be most effective in getting the maintenance done.”

“[W]hat we see in some of our shipyards, they need to do some process mapping to get a better understanding of—if a worker shows up in the morning, how do they get their work assignment, where do they go to get their tools, where do they go to get their parts,” Franchetti said. “So having an efficient mapping will help us better understand how to design the shipyard.”

While this type of data analysis is already being used, she said it needs to be implemented in all public shipyards, and “will inform our area development plans as we lay out the future designs for each one of our public shipyards” as part of the Navy’s Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program, or SIOP.

Asked whether she is considering increasing the capacity of the shipyards to help with backlogs and in light of China’s massive capacity, Franchetti said she wants to first improve how the shipyards operate before trying to expand.

“As I've had a chance to look at it, I really think that we've not fully maximized the throughput capacity of the shipyards that we have right now. And I'd really like to see them being able to put a second or third shift on before we continue to develop additional capacity that would potentially have the same manpower challenges,” she said.

And as the threat of a continuing resolution or government shutdown looms, Franchetti said it’s not clear how long a CR would delay the completion of the four ships that are slated to start construction in 2024, including the second Columbia-class submarine. It depends on when the Navy gets the funding and can actually start building, she said.

“So it would really delay—incredibly long time—if it was a year, if it was six months,” she said. “You know, you really have to multiply probably two times whatever the delay was to get everything back in order.”