Amid the chaos of the presidential transition and speculation about yet to be announced presidential appointees at the Department of Defense, important transitions of career government executives can get lost in the fray. For instance, longtime senior executive service member and former Executive Director for Ship Maintenance and Modernization (SEA21B), Giao L. Phan, assumed a top civilian role in the largest systems command of the Navy: the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA). She is the new executive director, replacing Jim Smerchansky, who retired from federal service after over 35 years at the Navy, now transitioning to the private sector.
NAVSEA, one of five major materiel commands that support the naval operating force, is responsible for the construction, acquisition and maintenance of the Navy’s ships and combat vehicles. The command will therefore be integral to executing the Pentagon’s vision to expand and modernize its fleet structure. The navy intends to move to a more distributed infrastructure by increasing its reliance on smaller, lighter weight vehicles and developing unmanned combat systems. With an eye toward resilience and agility, this strategy is part of the military’s overarching strategy in adapting to a changed military environment to address peer adversaries, such as China and Russia. NAVSEA Commander Vice Admiral William Galinis highlighted digital modernization efforts as a top priority for the command in the Campaign 3.0 preview, focusing on three key sub-points: cybersecurity, digital engineering, and enhancing business through advanced technology. NAVSEA leaders will likely be watching to see how President Joe Biden’s budget submission for shipbuilding differs from the massive and expensive proposal the Donald Trump administration outlined for FY22.
In her new role as executive director, Phan will work alongside Galinis to lead a team of more than 85,000 people to ensure ships and combat vehicles are provided to the fleet on time. Phan comes to the role with years of senior government leadership experience, mostly in the acquisition realm, overseeing portfolios as large as $40 billion. Highlights include serving as Deputy Director of Acquisitions of the Coast Guard and Executive Director of the Program Executive Office for Aircraft Carriers. She also holds a bachelor’s in civil engineering from Virginia Tech and a master’s in engineering management from the Florida Institute of Technology.
Phan’s continued leadership at the Navy is also notable, culturally, considering calls for increased diversity at the Pentagon. Phan, an Asian-American woman, represents advancement for Asian Americans in senior roles in the military. She’s the recipient of awards such as Women of Color STEM Career Achievement in Government Award (2010) and the Federal Asian Pacific American Council Outstanding Individual Leadership Award (2013). This advancement also coincides with another groundbreaking transition at NAVSEA — the first female commander of Norfolk Shipyard, Captain Dianna Wolfson.