The Navy’s inspector general is investigating its top enlisted sailor, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (SG/IW) Steven Giordano, amid allegations that he has fostered a hostile work environment inside his small Pentagon staff, Navy Times has learned.
Sailors who have worked with Giordano say that he has a ferocious temper, a bullying leadership style and can be verbally abusive toward his own staff members in front of other office personnel, according to numerous senior sailors interviewed by Navy Times.
“This is a man defined by a passive-aggressive leadership style, laced with a horrific and unpredictable temper,” said one former staff member who spoke to Navy Times on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
“Behind closed doors, MCPON Giordano takes on an alter ego that is condescending and defaming to the senior leaders and junior staff alike on a regular basis, totally contradicting his own publicly preached values and beliefs of being a ‘quietly humble leader,’” the former staff member said.
Sailors who have the apparent displeasure of working with Giordano also say he is fixated on the perks and benefits of his office, which traditional Navy protocol puts on par with a three-star admiral.
Giordano has sought to expand the privileges of his office, for example, by pushing his staff to ask the Navy to issue him his own fine china for hosting formal dinners at his home. He’s also repeatedly asked for additional staffers to take care of his basic personal needs.
“He is simply obsessed with the idea of being a three-star admiral and believes that he should have a chief petty officer assigned primarily to carry his cover and personal bag and take notes for him,” the senior enlisted sailor said.
“It was like working for a pop star or Hollywood diva.”
When asked about the IG investigation, Giordano’s office declined a request for an interview and deferred questions to the Navy’s top officer, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson.
“The Navy is conducting an investigation into this matter,” Capt. Darryn James, spokesman for Richardson, said Thursday in response to queries about the allegations.
“As in all investigations, we will safeguard the rights of any complainant and protect the procedural rights of all parties,” James said.
Navy Times has not spoken to the sailor who filed the complaint. Yet several sailors familiar with the investigation told Navy Times that a complaint was filed on May 26 alleging a hostile work environment.
During the past several months, Navy Times has interviewed more than a dozen sailors who have worked with Giordano, including current and former members of his Pentagon staff and other senior enlisted sailors who have worked with him during his nearly two-year tenure in office.
All the individuals have asked to remain anonymous in this report for fear of reprisals against them.
What emerged from these accounts were nearly identical recollections of events painting a troubling picture of the Navy’s most senior enlisted sailor and his bombastic — and at times abusive — leadership style.
The result has been a mass exodus of personnel from the MCPON’s office since he took on the role in September 2016. In some cases, Giordano “fired” those sailors, while others have left voluntarily, requesting new assignments and anxiously leaving a workplace they describe as toxic.
“For the longest time, we felt we were protecting the integrity of the MCPON’s office,” said a second former staff member. “What we eventually realized was we were only protecting him.”
“MCPON will have you believe that all the staff members who departed prior to their regular rotation dates simply left for personal reasons,” said a third former staff member who said he was “fired” by Giordano for asking too many questions and trying to push the reluctant leader into action on multiple occasions.
“That may be part of the reason for some, but I can guarantee you the real reason they all left before their actual rotation dates was because of the difficult and oppressive work environment.”
As a result of the turnover, MCPON’s office is now void of any real “corporate knowledge” of how to operate in the rarified world of the Pentagon’s senior leadership, which is fraught with protocols and ethics requirements and the unwritten rules of tradition. Typically, senior military leaders work hard to maintain continuity on their staffs for the reason of preserving this knowledge.
His former staff said that this has resulted in Giordano consistently alienating himself and his office from the Navy’s actual three-star admirals who conduct much of the Navy’s day-to-day business.
“The MCPON has access unlike any other enlisted sailor, but instead of using his status to work with admirals and his enlisted leadership mess to provide sound advice and a coordinated view of the fleet and issues to the CNO, he has become well known for providing incomplete and often incorrect perspectives instead,” one senior enlisted sailor said.
That’s because, his former staff members say, the real issues facing the Navy’s sailors don’t interest Giordano. This disinterest has resulted in a fundamental lack of understanding by Giordano of the Navy’s current personnel and family initiatives designed to make life better on the deckplates.
“This has left many audiences who showed up to see him with incorrect or incomplete assumptions, and caused confused leadership teams to reach out to other senior leaders for answers,” the senior enlisted sailor said.
“Senior admirals are often left to pick up the pieces, spending countless hours scrambling to provide clarity and correct information to the fleet and top Pentagon leadership, causing growing dismay at the fact that he cannot work more closely with the very three- and four-star admirals — and their staffs — that he has access to and considers his ‘peers.’”
According to the Navy’s instruction that governs his office, MCPON’s term of service is officially “two years, with an option held by the CNO to extend the tour of duty two more years.”
Giordano will hit his two-year mark as MCPON this fall.
Giordano’s mandate isn’t only to advise the CNO, but also to work closely with the chief of naval personnel, something, sources say, he often forgets, or ignores, as well.
When asked about allegations that he is obsessed with the perks and protocols of his job, Giordano’s office said he views them as just one part of the job.
“MCPON feels blessed and humbled to have an opportunity to be the top advocate for Enlisted Sailors and in a position to generate meaningful actions, whether on local command issues or Navy-wide policies,” Senior Chief Mass Communications Specialist (SW/AW) Hendrick Simoes, a spokesman for Giordano, said in a written statement to Navy Times Thursday.
“While he believes the protocol aspect that comes with being the MCPON is a privilege — that comes with holding the office — it’s a mechanism that helps him achieve his commitment in improving the lives of sailors in impactful ways.
A TOXIC WORKPLACE
Giordano is known for treating his staff poorly and blaming them when things go wrong, several sailors said.
“He once was so irritated that when he kicked one staff member out of the office to berate another, he almost shut the departing staff members hand in the door as he left,” the first staff member said. “This behavior had become the norm — and he made it clear to us all that his failures were because of the staff, not his own doing.”
Staff members describe Giordano as a bad communicator who struggles to make his own decisions.
“We functioned in an environment where we did not know what the expectations were and when we thought we had met them, they changed, sometimes multiple times a day,” the first staff member said. “Planning for a single event could require major changes up to the event.
“He thought staff members asking questions and seeking clarity about his expectations in assigned tasks or direction were attempts to challenge his authority, and those questions were usually answered by his temper.”
The first staff member described Giordano’s usual reaction to any suggestions and requests for direction from others as “either a long awkward moment of silence and a red wash of anger over his face, or he would immediately raise his voice or bang a desk.”
His angry tirades extend to others outside his staff as well, including high-ranking senior enlisted sailors who attempted to have frank discussions with him in private.
“He doesn’t like to be told no, that he can’t do something because it’s against the rules or conventional wisdom,” said one senior enlisted sailor.
“He’ll raise his voice and yell at you — he’ll yell over your attempts to calmly repeat your position on a matter or issue and he’ll try to bully or belittle you into agreeing with him.”
Giordano wants to be the smartest person in the room and wants everyone else to know that, the senior enlisted sailor said.
“Often, when presented with an idea, he’ll pooh-pooh it and call it dumb, and even make fun of the idea and the person making the suggestion, though he rarely comes up with an original idea himself.”
His staff members said they were frustrated by Giodano’s failure to develop a clear agenda or to act on key issues or engage the Navy’s chiefs mess, inaction that has further eroded morale in the office.
“I can take it being tough, but there just was no purpose, no mission in the office,” said a second former staff member. “I came here expecting to be working on issues and programs to make sailors’ lives and careers better — that really doesn’t exist here.”
Several sailors who have worked with Giordano in prior assignments recalled the same kind of behavior and anger issues.
“It’s like he can’t help himself when he’s questioned or challenged,” said another senior enlisted member who has experienced Giordano’s temper first hand. “He possesses some significant insecurities that have defined his leadership style throughout his career, but for some reason no one has ever called him on his behavior, at least openly.
“I once witnessed him get so irate that a command we visited still had a picture of [Giordano’s predecessor] MCPON Stevens up that it changed his entire mood for the duration of the visit,” the first former staff member said.
“The sad thing was the command was having a number of issues, including manning problems they needed help with from MCPON, but his focus was on the fact that his picture wasn’t up at the command.
“How can he be so totally not humble behind closed doors or to his staff, but profess quiet humility at every all hands and chief petty officer call?”
The divide between his words and actions took an even greater twist when it came to the existing perks associated with the office he holds — and his desire for even more.
“When we weren’t navigating through his passive aggressive demeanor and temper, we were dodging ethical violations,” said the third staff member. “His priorities seem to be set on understanding why he could not fly [on his own in private military jets] as he said in his own words, ‘like the other flag officers.’”
Under military protocol rules, each service’s senior enlisted leader is considered “equivalent” to having a three-star rank. This means that at official functions, MCPON is seated in the spot normally reserved for the senior three-star admiral.
The former staffers who spoke to Navy Times said Giordano gets irate whenever he feels others are not granting him that sort of deference and respect he desperately craves.
“He expended energy and frustration about connecting flights with layovers, and window seats in the back and not aisle seats in the front, where he wants to be,” the first former staff member said. “Any simple or minor variation in travel plans would cause a scene.”
He has also sought to expand the perks beyond those traditionally granted the MCPON.
At one point, all three former staff members recall Giordano wanting to aggressively petition the Navy’s leadership to change the rules to allow the MCPON’s residence to be issued Navy official fine dinner china and assign him his own cook — what the Navy calls a “private quarters culinary specialist” — just as three-star flag officers routinely get in certain jobs.
The Navy has roughly 50 culinary specialists E-5 and above who have been trained to be enlisted aides. In recent years, these jobs have come under great scrutiny by Congress and the Government Accountability Office, with strict rules that dictate what these individuals can do for the general or flag officers they work for, as being assigned to flag officers might take away from their official duties.
The aides are allowed to help manage quarters that are used for official entertainment and functions, and they can also assist these senior officers by maintaining their uniforms. But the list of prohibited functions is long, and they generally aren’t allowed to do personal tasks for the officers and families.
As of April, the Navy had 216 flag officers on the rolls, and 48 of them with three or four stars. It’s clear, therefore, that not even every admiral gets their own enlisted aide. And under pressure from Congress, the services have been further reducing the numbers in recent years.
But with his faux three-star equivalency, Giordano expended immense energy trying to convince leadership that he, too, deserved his own enlisted squire.
“He simply couldn’t understand why this was not going to happen,” one of the senior enlisted sailors said. “It was something that he pushed for quite often and felt he and his family deserved, but was fixated on the faux three-star status to the point of actually considering himself an admiral, too.”
When that didn’t materialize, he pushed the ethical limits on what he asked of his personal staff, even requesting extra positions to be added so he could enjoy additional perks.
Giordano has often tried to get a driver to pick him up and take him to and from official functions. He also wanted a personal driver to take him to the airport when he left on travel.
MCPON has also been heard by former staff members and senior enlisted alike ordering a staff member to collect his luggage from his hotel rooms, load up his car and “bring it around.”
Such requests have prompted a talking to by his top aides to inform him that such requests are against the rules — but that didn’t stop Giordano from trying, yet another example of what staffers say is a constant pursuit of stretching the legal and ethical limits of his position.
Giordano’s staff shouldered the load when it came to finding compromises to stay within Navy rules while keeping MCPON calm. But in the end, the first former staff member said that Giordano’s incessant focus on the privileges and protocol of the office took away from any focus on actual sailor issues.
“The staff’s frustration was that these privileges became the focus,” said the second staff member. “We could not figure out where was the humility in the Navy’s top chief petty officer. We truly thought he had forgotten where he came from, and, in his own mind, had become a flag officer.”
Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.