Rear Adm. Bret Muilenburg, P.E., CEC, USN, became Commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) and Chief of Civil Engineers in November 2015. Before that he served as Commander, NAVFAC Pacific, and prior to that, as Commander, NAVFAC Hawaii. Adm. Muilenburg’s operational tours include assignments with Naval Mobile Construction Battalions 62, 133, and 7; the 30th Naval Construction Regiment; and Task Force Forager, theater engineers for International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, Afghanistan. He made numerous peacetime and contingency deployments, including Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq/Kuwait, and Afghanistan. Adm. Muilenburg is a 1984 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. He holds master’s degrees in Engineering Management from The George Washington University and Environmental Engineering and Science from Stanford University.

TME: What are your top priorities as Chief of Civil Engineers and Commander of Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC)?

MUILENBURG: A major concern right now is maintaining base infrastructure in a condition that, over the long term, will continue to meet the mission needs of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.

We have been operating under reduced top-line budgets, leading us to prioritize resourcing for warfighting readiness and capabilities, which we all agree must come first. Our current and future budgets continue to carefully accept risk in certain shore readiness areas, to include military construction, and facilities sustainment, restoration and modernization.

Our overarching strategy to deal with this is to thoroughly understand our facility inventory, its current condition, and its connection to the mission of our fleets. We then bias our resources to the most mission-critical facilities, including shipyards, piers and runways, communication facilities, and utility systems. We delay maintenance and upgrades to important, but less mission-critical facilities, like administrative buildings. Our strategy also includes improving energy resilience and reducing the cost of energy through usage reductions and alternative energy incorporation at our installations.

I would love to see more resources for facilities maintenance and recapitalization. But I do not foresee it coming anytime in the near future. Therefore, NAVFAC, and our primary shore infrastructure partners at Commander, Navy Installations Command, and Marine Corps Installations Command have to work hard to learn, improve, and be creative in our base infrastructure maintenance to reverse the rate of facility condition decline using the resources we have.

TME: How have the recent force structure reductions affected the Naval Construction Force?

MUILENBURG: Naval Construction Force reductions are always a concern, but they also correspond with the overall decrease in numbers that all our military services experience after every war or conflict. With our current active and reserve force structure, I feel that we have adequate numbers to meet our current operational requirements. We are used to this up-and-down cycling, because we have implemented it time and again throughout the history of the Naval Construction Force.

Today, we must lead in an ever-more complicated landscape with fiscal realities that drive significant change in how we do business.

Even though the wartime demand signal for Seabees has decreased since the spike during Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, the desire by Combatant Commanders to have available the unique skills and forward deployment element that Seabees possess remains strong. During World War II, Gen. Douglas MacArthur said, “The only trouble with your Seabees is that you don’t have enough of them.” This sentiment still holds true today.

When the next conflict comes, when our Seabees are called upon to provide expeditionary construction support, we need to be able to flex and quickly increase the number of highly skilled and technically trained personnel ready to meet the challenge. The Reserve Force is a key component for making this happen. We like it when our reservists are already working in the construction industry and have the technical skills we can lean on. Putting a plan together to continuing attracting and hiring already highly-skilled construction tradesmen is a focus of mine.

TME: Discuss the NAVFAC Strategic Design you released earlier this year?

MUILENBURG: I took command of NAVFAC in November 2015 and we immediately set out to implement a strategic guidance, a five- to seven-year “sight picture” that would set the vision for our enterprise. In March 2016, we released the NAVFAC Strategic Design—deliberately named so to signify a deliberate change in our approach. It acknowledges the inherent uncertainty of the dynamic global environment we operate in, which requires us to anticipate, manage that uncertainty, and continuously assess direction.

Our Strategic Design is aligned with the Secretary of the Navy’s priorities and the Chief of Naval Operations’ Design for Maritime Superiority, which was released in January 2016. Our guidance is organized around two Lines of Effort: one, “Enhancing Naval Shore Readiness” and two, “Strengthening our NAVFAC Team.” They are inter-reliant on one another for success and must be considered as a unit. Together, they focus our command, linking six focus areas to our mission.

  • Product & Service Delivery – Safely deliver quality, timely, and cost-effective products and services through collaborative partnerships.
  • Infrastructure Readiness – Advance our knowledge of inventory, condition, criticality, and cyber security of assets and systems in order to inform investment decisions and improve facilities and utilities readiness.
  • Energy Security – Enhance shore power resilience and efficiency through demand reduction, renewable integration, and grid management systems.
  • People – Fill our team with highly qualified, motivated people and invest in them to strengthen capability and enthusiasm for our mission.
  • Financial Trust – Operate transparent, auditable, and authoritative business systems that align expenditures with resourcing intent and provide timely reporting to stakeholders.
  • Analytical Decision-Making – Develop robust business analytics capability to facilitate rapid learning, delineate the relationships between resource and product/service delivery, and improve processes and output.

Today, we must lead in an ever-more complicated landscape with fiscal realities that drive significant change in how we do business. Creativity and innovation will take center stage and must permeate our culture—concepts, technologies and business practices—to achieve enduring improvements to our nation’s defense. NAVFAC Strategic Design is the guiding principle that will ensure we remain ready to support Navy, Marine Corps, and Combatant Commanders in support of their missions.

TME: As the global environment evolves, and U.S. strategy adjusts, in particular, the Rebalance to the Pacific, how will this affect the Navy’s engineering components?

MUILENBURG: We have been focused on a strategic shift to the Pacific since the president announced it almost five years ago. The Navy, Marine Corps, and U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) continue to place ships, submarines, aircraft, and Marines at the optimal locations to support this shift.

These locations are important as we expand and strengthen our network of international partnerships through interoperability and combined operations. The Navy plans to have 60 percent of its operational assets in the Pacific by 2020.

Infrastructure is necessary to support this force laydown at existing and new locations. This manifests principally as an uptick in construction activity. Most prominent is the Marine Corps relocation to Guam, which will entail approximately $8.7 billion of construction over the next decade, with more than 100 projects executed. Much of this additional work is occurring in Guam and the Commonwealth of Northern Marianas Islands, but also in Japan, Hawaii, Australia, Singapore, and the Philippines.

To help manage such a large construction program in Guam, we established a new command in August, the Officer in Charge of Construction Marine Corps Marianas. This special purpose command will oversee the approximately 10-year effort.

Besides new construction, we are experiencing an increase in facilities operations and maintenance funding to support installations and personnel around the Pacific. Installations at Fleet Activities Yokosuka and others throughout the Pacific area of responsibility have seen a substantial increase this year in facilities maintenance and repair that NAVFAC is executing on behalf of Navy missions. In addition, we have also expanded our humanitarian assistance, exercise-related construction, and disaster response work for PACOM.

TME: What emphasis do you place on professional development, including licensure and certification, for Civil Engineer Corps officers and Seabees?

MUILENBURG: Professional development for our workforce is crucial as we face an ever-changing landscape of new technologies. We must learn quickly and continuously adapt our tactics, techniques and procedures to meet the important and stringent requirements of our supported commanders. As such, we seek the most qualified, talented and enthusiastic civilian and military candidates to fill our ranks.

For the officer community, we stress and expect each officer to complete several professional development requirements throughout their careers—many of these requirements are necessary for successful promotion. We groom each officer to be well rounded and competent as an expeditionary warrior, and as a business and technical professional. To remain competitive, as they move up the chain of command, each officer must complete requirements to achieve professional registration as either an engineer or architect.

When the next conflict comes, when our Seabees are called upon to provide expeditionary construction support, we need to be able to flex and quickly increase the number of highly skilled and technically trained personnel ready to meet the challenge.

As well, business training through the Defense Acquisition University provides officers with vital training in areas such as acquisition, contracting, finance, and contract law. The Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act requires the Department of Defense to establish a process through which civilian and military persons in the acquisition workforce would be recognized as having achieved professional status. Defined levels of training and experience are required in order to be eligible for a warrant, which is the legal authority to financially obligate the U.S. government. Other, yet equally important, requirements I keep my eye on include public works, energy resilience, and cyber security training, as well as joint professional military education.

Professional development, licensing, and certification are all important for our Seabee enlisted personnel as well. As an expeditionary construction force, we must be prepared to deploy anywhere in the world to support the warfighter with our unique skills and abilities. Therefore, constant refining of technical skills, project management skills, and leadership development are essential elements to our maintaining the edge.

TME: How can organizations such as SAME support the mission and objectives of the uniformed services?

MUILENBURG: Professional organizations provide a collaborative and educational forum for our technical and business focused workforce to engage like-minded personnel, not only from other military departments but civilian and industry partner organizations as well.

Organizations such as SAME afford the services with opportunities to learn and stay abreast of the changes, both technical and professional, that are taking place in our chosen fields.

[Interview originally appeared in the Nov-Dec 2016 issue of The Military Engineer.]