A seven-year-long cheating scandal at a US Navy nuclear power training site is again rocking the boat. At least 34 sailors are being kicked out of the military branch for their roles in the long-running scam, the Navy announced Wednesday.
Adm. John M. Richardson, the officer in charge of the Navy’s nuclear reactors program, told the Associated Press that another 10 sailors are accused of being “at the center” of the fraud involving qualifications testing, and remain under investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) for their parts. The ring went undetected for at least seven years, starting in 2007, until it came to light in February. Now it appears that more people were involved than previously suspected.
The 34 sailors ‒ approximately one-fifth of all the 150 qualified operators in Charleston, South Carolina ‒ removed from the nuclear power program are all enlisted personnel. They are all being administratively discharged from the Navy, the AP reported. Initially the group was only decertified. Another two who were implicated as “minimal” participants had their non-criminal punishment suspended due to their "strong potential for rehabilitation."
Additionally, 32 sailors were implicated by investigators but later exonerated by Richardson, and he gave one officer a verbal warning. The officer, whom Richardson declined to identify by name or rank, was not accused of participating in the cheating. He was faulted for "deficiencies" in his oversight of the exam program, but Richardson said this was not severe enough to merit punishment. In total, NCIS has looked into at least 78 sailors over the course of its examination of the case.
Along with the punishments meted out thus far, the Navy also released its report of the investigation, which is dated March 15.
“Enlisted staff assigned to Moored Training Ship (MTS) 626 cheated on the Engineering Watch Supervisor (EWS) qualification examination for seven or more years until reported in February 2014,” the report said. “Cheating was enabled by the unauthorized transfer and removal from NPTU [Naval Nuclear Power Training Unit] of an electronic file of classified EWS examinations and answer keys sometime before 2007.”
“This breach of examination integrity and security was followed by seven or more years of staff personnel exchanging this file, known as the ‘Pencil File’, via personal unclassified email and other electronic media before taking the examination,” the report continued.
“The cheating also involved passing a ‘Pencil Number’ that informed prospective EWS examinees which of the ‘Pencil File’ examinations matched the actual EWS examination they were scheduled to take.The result was a deliberate scheme to cheat” on the qualification test.
Although the cheating ring involved nuclear engineering, those taking the EWS qualification exam would only be working with nuclear power, not nuclear weapons.
"There was never any question" that the reactors were being operated safely, Richardson said in an AP interview, yet the cheating was a stunning violation of Navy ethics.
The admiral initially was unconvinced the cheating was confined to a single training unit. But he now believes that it had not spread, and that this was one reason that the ring managed to operate so long without being discovered, he said.
Going forward, the Navy is focusing on root causes for and possible remedies against cheating rings, now that the scope of the cheating has been revealed.