Accountability looks like this

Many organizations talk about accountability. Many organizations claim to have accountability. The Navy has it, and it looks like this.

Following the latest accident, in which USS John S. McCain, was struck by a merchant vessel, the Commander of the Pacific Fleet relieved the Commander of Seventh Fleet. Without a board of inquiry, without an admission of guilt, without any specific mistake that could be called out. What should VADM Aucoin have done differently? What could he have done differently? Doesn’t matter. It doesn’t. The Seventh Fleet leader was responsible for the safety of every ship in his command, and they were not safe.

Vice Admiral Aucoin was scheduled to retire in a few weeks. His relief, VADM Phil Sawyer, had been selected and the change of command was in planning. ADM Swift didn’t have to relieve him in order to effect a change in leadership. He could have simply waited. But he didn’t. ADM Swift relieved VADM Aucoin to drive home a point that every Naval leader knows.

We are responsible and we will be held to account.

Excuses won’t work. Explanations won’t matter. No one can say — specifically — what actions VADM Aucoin should have taken that he didn’t, or what he shouldn’t have done that he did. Again, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that things are going wrong. It’s his responsibility. And with that responsibility comes accountability.

Anything less would be admitting that he wasn’t responsible.