By JENNIFER McDERMOTT and MICHELLE R. SMITH, The Associated Press
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The head of the U.S. Naval War College was removed from his post Monday, days after The Associated Press reported he was under investigation amid allegations of mismanagement.
The Navy announced the reassignment of Rear Adm. Jeffrey Harley, who has been criticized for allegedly spending excessively, abusing his hiring authority and otherwise behaving inappropriately — including keeping a margarita machine in his office.
Lt. Cmdr. Jacqueline Pau said Monday that Navy leaders felt the change is best for the college because it maintains the integrity of the investigation. Pau, the spokeswoman for Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, said it would ensure that Harley is afforded due process.
Inspector general investigations, across the Defense Department, routinely take months or more than a year. Provost Lewis M. Duncan has temporarily assumed the president’s duties.
Harley later announced his departure to campus by saying he was “stepping down.”
“Team_this will be my last email to you,” Harley wrote. “Due to the distractions caused by the unfounded AP article last week, I am stepping down as President of YOUR college effective immediately.”
Asked to clarify, college spokesman Cmdr. Gary Ross told the AP on Monday that Harley was reassigned to Washington and had not resigned.
Harley had earlier told the AP the college, located on Narragansett Bay in Newport, was under fiscal strain because the Navy hasn’t fully funded new missions.
The college on Monday also postponed a strategy forum that was due to start Tuesday and was expected to draw high-ranking officials including Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, along with hundreds of guests. Spencer was still scheduled to speak Friday at the graduation ceremony for the elite school, which grooms future admirals and generals.
Emails obtained by the AP show the college has struggled to make payroll under Harley’s leadership and spent about $725,000 annually on raises while facing an annual shortfall of $5 million or more.
Harley said in an email this year that the school had to make across-the-board cuts to ensure it met payroll. He recently asked for more cutbacks in travel budgets.
Multiple current and former college employees blamed the budget problems in part on substantial raises granted by Harley to some faculty, as well spending on certain contractors and others, who they said brought little benefit to the college. They spoke about their concerns on condition of anonymity because they feared professional retaliation.
Harley has told staff and faculty in emails this spring that the college was remedying pay gaps between men and women, balancing pay between departments and creating a system to avoid future disparities.
He declined last week to answer a series of questions about additional allegations, including his use of a margarita machine. He downplayed the complaints in a campus-wide email, saying they were from “a few individuals” and all his decisions were subject to legal review and within his authority.
A small group of longtime college employees filed an anonymous complaint in April 2018 with the Navy’s office of the inspector general. Two of them told the AP that they and others were interviewed by investigators in September but nothing happened.
The group contacted the inspector general again in January with additional allegations but said they heard nothing again from investigators until last month, after the AP asked the Navy about Harley’s conduct.
Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report from Washington.