The U.S. Navy’s peculiar behavior

Some time ago, I reflected on the degree that shipyards worldwide benefited from the U.S. National Shipbuilding Program, particularly its disclosures of the logic and principles exploited by highly effective Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries (IHI) of Japan. As a consequence, many workers in the West, not all, are now performing smarter and safer. I was especially proud of the degree that U.S. naval shipyard personnel, both civilian and military, applied the disclosures to large overhaul and modernization projects and of the papers they published. Then I was mystified when such contributions to technical literature suddenly ceased in September of 1989, as if an iron door was slammed shut.

I then speculated about what one of our greatest American thinkers would have said about the U.S. Navy’s peculiar behavior:

Executive Mansion
1 January 1990

Why is it, in this twentieth year since the 1970 Amendment to the Merchant Marine Act of 1936 allowed for creation of the U.S. National Shipbuilding Research Program, that there are still managers in public and private shipyards who have as their outstanding characteristic, determination to continue archaic practices? This strong characteristic, if that can be called strong that is the essence of ineffectiveness, would be excusable if they were unaware of proven alternatives. Regrettably that is not the case.

Many, particularly from our federal government, attended Deming seminars or the Crosby Institute in Orlando, Florida to learn the basics of statistical control and total quality management that are prerequisite for implementing the modern methods that the research program disclosed. More than a few would have obtained information they would more likely use, had they just visited Orlando’s Disneyworld. Their hypocrisy would be pure and simple.

Is not a captain responsible for a ship ashore as well as at sea? Who are the captains ashore? Of course those in management positions are leaders, but not exclusively. Those in labor unions who were elected to represent our workers are leaders. Similarly, all in our federal, state, and local governments who make decisions that impact on workers’ welfare are leaders.

When will our nation have viable shipyards that can readily shift from swords to plowshares and back again? When will our shipyard labor be no longer subject to demeaning irregular employment? The interests of the United States and American shipyard workers are identical and will always remain so. The time has come for our shipyard managers, trade-union officials, politicians, civil servants and especially senior naval officers to ask themselves, “What are our true motives?”

A. Lincoln

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