Listen to Mark Braza discuss his work:
The Navy is preparing the USS John C. Stennis, a Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carrier that is pivotal to America’s national security, for a $5 billion overhaul of its technology, weapons systems and two power plants.
At the center of this enormous undertaking is Mark Braza, a 32-year-old assistant program manager for the Department of the Navy, who is responsible for leading nearly 30 government organizations and contractors to plan and execute key elements of the overhaul. His efforts so far have saved tens of millions of dollars and ensured that the aircraft carrier will remain a state-of-the-art warship for the next quarter century.
“Mark has brought together the government and the private sector contractors and aligned them to the same goals, no easy task,” said Brian Szczygiel, a supervisor in the Navy’s Program Executive Office Aircraft Carriers. “He led the development and award of the shipbuilder’s approximately $750 million advance planning contract that incorporates the latest necessary technical and programmatic requirements.”
The overhaul will provide the aircraft carrier with the newest military warfighting capabilities, including the MQ-25 Stingray, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar to ensure the Navy’s continued superiority. There also will be a refueling of the ship’s two nuclear power plants, which is outside Braza’s purview.
Szczygiel said the contract developed under Braza’s direction, which is contains nearly 5,000-line items, “invokes an innovative structure that rewards improved performance and holds the shipbuilder accountable to accomplish more critical planning efforts with 160,000 fewer man-hours than the previous overhaul efforts.”
“Mark really dove into the data on how the contracting company works, specifically, what motivates it for better performance,” said Navy Capt. Charles Ehnes, an aircraft carrier program manager. “He then structured contract proposals in a sophisticated way, combining the company’s interests and motivations so that our proposal is aligned to get the best performance out of the ship.”
To further improve the cost and schedule of the overhaul, Braza took several actions to increase competition and the use of small businesses as subcontractors.
“To date, the project’s use of small businesses is over three times the goal set by the Navy’s Office of Small Business Programs,” Szczygiel said. “Increased use of small business provides the benefits of lowered cost and the use of specialized expertise, often from minority or veteran-owned businesses.”
“The savings in costs and working hours is nothing short of remarkable, especially for someone Braza’s age,” said Steve Benante, a Navy deputy program manager.
“Mark is pretty young, younger than those who have worked on this type of project before. However, he is very smart and capable,” Benante said. “There was a ‘who’s this new kid on the block?’ type of mentality and reaction from some people. He needed to win them over and prove he was capable, which he did.”
Braza has worked for the Navy for 10 years, joining right out of college. He said he has long been attracted to the military, once considered going to the Naval Academy and later took steps to enlist to become a pilot but changed course after failing the eye examination.
“During my job search as an undergraduate, I saw a position listed on a job board with the Navy,” Braza said. “It piqued my interest. I applied, got an interview and the rest is history.”
Benante said Braza’s decade with the Navy has given him “a critical perspective and knowledge of the technical pieces,” and the “ability to take information in and spot problems.” Ehnes added that Braza’s personality and diplomatic approach have been key to fulfilling the mission.
“He’s very persuasive, using dispassionate logic to convince skeptical stakeholders, including explaining how we were changing processes from before and getting everyone on board,” Ehnes said.
Ehnes said the overhaul of the USS John C. Stennis marks the seventh time a nuclear carrier has undergone an overhaul process, pointing out that Braza brought an innovative approach to the work.
“The next time a ship needs to be overhauled, we will be in an even better place and set up for success,” he said. “That’s crucial because the nation’s fleet of nuclear aircraft carriers are of the highest national importance.”
Braza, who will soon lead the early planning for an overhaul on yet another carrier, said that while he employs organizational and negotiation skills to make smart business decisions, he tries not to lose sight of the human element.
“The biggest thing is understanding the size of these ships and the impact they have on lives,” he said. “Almost 5,000 sailors call this ship home, so the work and improvements we do make a huge different for them. They want the best equipment and a good quality of life while on board.”