2017-02-02 / Front Page

Newport’s Bilden to Head U.S. Navy

By Tom Walsh

With a presidential mandate to “expand and modernize” the nation’s fleet of naval warships, Philip M. Bilden, a Newport resident and retired venture capitalist, has been nominated by President Donald J. Trump to be the 76th secretary of the Navy.

“Our number of ships is at the lowest point that it has been in decades,” Trump said in a press release. “As secretary of the Navy, Philip Bilden will apply his terrific judgment and top-notch management skills to the task of rebuilding our unparalleled Navy. Philip Bilden is the right choice to help us expand and modernize our fleet, including surface ships, submarines, and aircraft, and ensure America’s naval supremacy for decades to come.”

Bilden, 52, who lives with his wife, Patricia, at 255 Ocean Ave. in Newport, was said to be out of state and, in any case, had been advised not to speak with reporters this early in the nomination process.

In the White House press release, however, Bilden was quoted as saying, “I am deeply humbled and honored to serve as secretary of the Navy. Maintaining the strength, readiness, and capabilities of our maritime force is critical to our national security. If confirmed, I will ensure that our sailors and marines have the resources they need to defend our interests around the globe and support our allies with commitment and capability.”

Bilden’s nomination is subject to Senate confirmation. No hearing date had been set as of Jan. 31.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse told Newport This Week, “I’ve worked with Philip Bilden on cybersecurity issues and through our support of the Naval War College and the Naval War College Foundation. I believe it will be good for Rhode Island to have a secretary of the Navy who appreciates the Naval War College and Naval Station Newport as well as he does, and who is as dedicated to the Navy and our submarine program as he is.”

Should Bilden be confirmed by the Senate, he would join retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn of Middletown, appointed as the president’s national security adviser, as the second Aquidneck Islander to be named to a high-level position in the Trump administration.

Two other Rhode Islanders have held the post of Navy secretary. The first was the late U.S. Sen. and former Gov. John H. Chafee, from 1969 to 1972, and John Middendorf, from 1974 to 1977.

Bilden has never served in the U.S. Navy. He was in the Army Reserve as a military intelligence officer from 1986-1996. After 25 years, Bilden retired as a co-founding member and senior adviser of HarborVest Partners, LLC, a Bostonbased firm, described as a “leading global private equity investment management firm with institutional assets under management of more than $42 billion.” He relocated to Hong Kong to “establish the firm’s Asian presence as a pioneering investor in the region.”

Bilden’s nomination as Navy secretary apparently caught some observers by surprise.

Foreign Policy magazine called Bilden’s selection “a surprise twist” and described the Newporter as “a relative unknown to the Washington foreign policy community.”

Former Virginia Rep. Randy Forbes was, according to this publication, “viewed by many as the architect of the president’s campaign pledge to invest more [money] in the U.S. Navy. While in office Forbes pushed aggressively for the United States to counter Chinese aggression in the Asia-Pacific theater with a 350-ship Navy and a $20 billion annual ship-building budget.”

The publication speculated that key planks of Trump’s campaign pledge to invest more in the U.S. Navy may have actually stemmed from Forbes’ policy ideas.

At the same time, though, Foreign Policy also acknowledged Bilden’s “close ties” to retired Gen. James Mattis, the president’s pick for secretary of defense, and Flynn.

The Bildens have been praised both locally and nationally for their philanthropic efforts. According to the press release announcing his nomination, Bilden is on “numerous philanthropic boards of nonprofit organizations supporting military veterans, national and regional security, and cybersecurity missions.”

Bilden sits on the board of trustees of the Naval War College Foundation, where he is also the inaugural chairman of the Center for Cyber Conflict Studies.

“Philip is a great person to work with. He was very engaged with the Naval War College Foundation’s work in support of the Naval War College. Both he and his wife, Patricia, are devoted to their family and to their country. They will make us proud,” said Judy Clagett McLennan, a member of the foundation.

The Navy nominee is also a member of the board of visitors of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service; the Asia Pacific Advisory Board and Dean’s Board of Advisors of Harvard Business School; and the board of directors of the United States Naval Academy Foundation.

Academically, Bilden received a B.S., magna cum laude, in foreign service from Georgetown in 1986, with a concentration in international politics and Soviet bloc studies, and was a Distinguished Military Graduate, U.S. Army ROTC, earning the President’s Cup as the top graduate in the corps. In 1991, Bilden earned an MBA from Harvard Business School.

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