Congresswoman Elaine Luria Challenges Top Navy Leadership Over Lack of Female Representation

May 16, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON – This afternoon at a House Committee on Armed Services hearing, Congresswoman Elaine Luria (VA-02) challenged a top Navy official on the fact that he could not adequately answer questions about the lack of diversity in the Navy officer corps and why the Navy has the lowest rate of female officer retention.

Questioning VADM Robert P. Burke, the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Naval Personnel, Congresswoman Luria asked if he was aware of the low selection rate for women to Commander Command in the Fiscal Year 2020 Navy Active Duty Aviation Commander Command Screening Board.

Among the statistics: Just 3.8 percent – or seven out of 146 selected – were women.

More stark was the selection rate for Major Aviation Command. Only 1.8 percent picked were women, including zero women of color.

Asking VADM Burke to comment on such low officer retention rates among women, he said “our officer population in general, in our aviation community in particular, is less diverse” than the enlisted population, and “what you are seeing right now, especially at the Command … Selection Boards, are the result of what we were recruiting 20 or 25 years ago.”

Congresswoman Luria said to VADM Burke: “This was year group ’05, so 14 years ago. And the Combat Exclusion Act was lifted in 1994. … If [in 2005] we are 10 years past lifting the Combat Exclusion Act and then those women have had the same opportunities across the course of their careers, how are we [today] at the point that only 3.8 percent of those selected for Aviation Commander Command and 1.8 percent for Major Command were women?”

VADM Burke responded that “we have to improve in this area” because “diversity obviously makes us stronger.”

According to a study, Navy female officers retention at the Minimum Service Requirement (MSR) was 15 percent less than male retention, the largest difference among all services.

A 20-year Navy veteran herself, Congresswoman Luria later referred to the Military Leadership Diversity Commission’s conclusion that military leadership does not represent the public it serves.

“As a former Commander, the lack of diversity in the Navy was apparent,” Congresswoman Luria said after the hearing. “But I am truly disappointed at the lack of focus in trying to understand this problem and to think outside the box to find creative solutions to improve retention among female servicemembers.”

Video of the exchange can be found here.

Congresswoman Elaine Luria represents Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District. She serves on the House Armed Services Committee, where she is the Vice Chair of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, and the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, where she serves as Chair of the Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee.