Posted: January 27, 2017 11:41 AM

Naval Experts Weigh in on SECNAV Nominee Bilden

By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor

ARLNGTON, Va. — President Donald J. Trump’s nominee for secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) has “solid credentials” and experience in the Asia-Pacific region that could serve the Navy well in a region of prime strategic importance, naval analysts at several Washington think tanks said.

Seth Cropsey, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told Seapower that the nominee, Philip Bilden, has a background in the military and the Navy and seems “perfectly qualified for the position.” He noted Bilden’s service as a member of the board of directors of the United States Naval Academy (USNA) Foundation and the board of trustees of Trustees of the Naval War College (NWC) Foundation.

Bilden, a former Army Reserve intelligence officer, serves as the inaugural chairman of the Center for Cyber Conflict Studies at the Naval War College.

Bilden recently retired as a co-founding member and senior adviser of HarbourVest Partners LLC, a global private equity investment management firm, according to a Jan. 25 release from the White House. He became a founding member of the firm following the management buyout of HarbourVest’s predecessor company in 1997. Bilden joined the firm in Boston in 1991 and relocated to Hong Kong in 1996 to establish its presence in the region.

“One of the most important things is, in Hong Kong [he] had a ringside seat to what’s going on in the Pacific, specifically China, and I expect he’ll bring that understanding to the job as Secretary of the Navy,” Cropsey said. “From the Navy’s perspective, it’s the single most important part of the world looking into the future. I think those qualifications are solid.”

Bilden “also has experience with moving large sums of money which is helpful when filling the Navy budget,” Cropsey said.

“Bilden has a wide range of experience that could help in the SECNAV position,” said Bryan Clark, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “He served in the military, was successful in business, and is knowledgeable of and experienced in Asia’s politics and economics. His efforts on the USNA Foundation and NWC Foundation Boards indicate a commitment to the Navy and should have provided him the opportunity to better understand the challenges and opportunities facing today’s naval forces. He has an impressive academic record at Georgetown and Harvard, which should give him a good foundation in international relations and its implications for business and economics.

“I believe he has as much relevant experience as recent SECNAVs when they came into office,” Clark said. “Ray Mabus was a naval officer for one tour, but didn’t have much to do with the Navy and military after that until he became SECNAV. Donald Winter and Gordon England were engineers and defense business executives before entering office. Bilden’s experience and education in international relations, his military service and business experience compares pretty well with other SECNAVs.”

Bryan McGrath, managing director of the FerryBridge Group LLC, said he was “not acquainted with Mr. Bilden, but two men I admire greatly — [retired] Adm. Jim Stavridis [former Supreme Allied Commander Europe] and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis — both seem to think he would do a fine job. Hard to argue with recommendations like that.”

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