Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the top Naval officer, and Adm. John Richardson, the head of the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program, revealed details of the incident at a hastily organized press conference Tuesday afternoon, after having just learned of the reported transgressions less than 24 hours prior. News of the cheating at the Nuclear Power Training Unit in Charleston, S.C., originated from an instructor who reportedly was offered answers by fellow instructors and refused, Richardson said, opting instead to report it.
Richardson declined to quantify how widespread the certification cheating could extend, citing the ongoing Navy Criminal Investigative Service review of the incident. He estimated less than 1 percent of the Navy’s 16,000 current sailors who have passed through the program could be involved.
This is the worst incidence of cheating or other malfeasance since the commander of the fast attack submarine Memphis was fired in 2010 following reports 10 members of his crew cheated on their qualification exams, Greenert and Richardson said.
“The foundation of our conduct is integrity. We expect more from our sailors, especially our senior sailors,” said Greenert.
“We have a steady drumbeat in the Navy, and particularly in the Navy nuclear propulsion program, that stresses the nature of integrity,” said Richardson. “On rare occasions, an integrity incident occurs that includes an element of collusion between more senior people.”
It does not appear that any students were involved in this cheating case.
The instructors who have been implicated have all been removed from the program pending the investigation. There are five sets of 11-person teams that operate a training reactor there around the clock, Richardson said. All of the instructors had previously passed through the school as students, which includes theoretical testing and practical testing on the training reactor. They must then pass an oral board, and pass evaluations on an actual watch.
“They were giving [answers] staff to staff, so the staff could qualify the position to operate the training reactor,” Richardson said. The training reactors will not be operated until all instructors have been recertified.
A nuclear-qualified admiral will oversee the NCIS investigation. Five people from Richardson’s headquarters are traveling to Charleston to ensure the investigation starts properly.
This latest news follows a troubling string of cheating within nuclear communities elsewhere in the armed forces. A recent investigation into prospective drug use at an Air Force facility that manages the U.S. nuclear arsenal uncovered rampant cheating among at least 34 officers there.
Greenert said Thursday he did not believe this latest incident is related to the Air Force case, which Pentagon officials have said likely stemmed in part from low morale there. Nuclear officers in the Navy do not suffer from similar pressure to get perfect scores to ensure continued promotion through the ranks, Greenert said.