James D. Watkins

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James Watkins
Watkins-courtesy DOE.jpg
Watkins as Secretary of Energy
6th United States Secretary of Energy
In office
March 1, 1989 – January 20, 1993
PresidentGeorge H. W. Bush
Preceded byJohn Herrington
Succeeded byHazel O'Leary
2nd Chair of the President's Commission on the HIV Epidemic
In office
October 8, 1987 – June 24, 1988
PresidentRonald Reagan
Preceded byEugene Mayberry
Succeeded byPosition abolished
22nd Chief of Naval Operations
In office
June 30, 1982 – June 30, 1986
PresidentRonald Reagan
Preceded byThomas Hayward
Succeeded byCarlisle Trost
Personal details
James David Watkins

(1927-03-07)March 7, 1927
Alhambra, California, United States
DiedJuly 26, 2012(2012-07-26) (aged 85)
Alexandria, Virginia, United States
Resting placeArlington National Cemetery
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Sheila Jo McKinney (1950–1996)
Janet McDonough
EducationUnited States Naval Academy (BSc)
Naval Postgraduate School (MSc)
Military service
Branch/serviceUnited States Navy
Years of service1949–1986
CommandsChief of Naval Operations
United States Pacific Fleet
United States Sixth Fleet
Battles/warsWorld War II
Korean War
Vietnam War
AwardsDefense Distinguished Service Medal (2)
Navy Distinguished Service Medal (3)
Army Distinguished Service Medal
Air Force Distinguished Service Medal
Legion of Merit (3)
Bronze Star Medal ("V" Device)
Navy Commendation Medal

James David Watkins (March 7, 1927 – July 26, 2012) was a United States Navy admiral and former Chief of Naval Operations who served as the United States Secretary of Energy during the George H. W. Bush administration, also chairing U.S. government commissions on HIV/AIDS and ocean policy. Watkins also served on the boards of various companies and other nongovernmental organizations and as the co-chair of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative.

Early life and career[edit]

Watkins was born March 7, 1927, in Alhambra, California. His grandfather George Clinton Ward was president of Southern California Edison during the 1930s. His father, Edward Francis Watkins, owned the Southern California Winery Co. His mother, Louise Watkins, unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for Senate in 1938; he described his mother as "a woman ahead of her time."[1]

James Watkins, Chief of Naval Operations in March 1982

Watkins attended Webb School of California in Claremont, California; he subsequently graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1949 and received his master's degree in mechanical engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in 1958.

Watkins spent 37 years in the United States Navy, serving on destroyers, cruisers and submarines, and shore assignments in personnel management. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Combat 'V' as a result of combat operations that occurred in May and June 1968, in the Gulf of Tonkin, while serving as executive officer of USS Long Beach. In those operations, the ship participated in events leading to the shoot-down of five North Vietnamese MiG aircraft, two by air intercept with her air controllers (1967), and three by long range surface-to-air missiles (first in US Naval history) (1967 and 1968). The longest kill was at eighty miles.[2]

During his tenure in the Navy, Watkins served as Chief of Naval Operations, Commander of the Sixth Fleet, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, and commander-in-chief of the Pacific Fleet.

Watkins married Sheila Jo McKinney in 1950. They had six children: Katherine Marie Watkins Coopersmith, RNCS; Laura Jo Watkins Kauffmann; Charles Lancaster Watkins; Susan Elizabeth Watkins, Reverend Monsignor James David Watkins, Ph.D., Catholic priest and pastor of Saint Ann Roman Catholic Church in northwest Washington, D.C., and Edward Francis Watkins, Ph.D.

Oceans work[edit]

Watkins's ties to oceans as a graduate of the Naval Academy, a submariner and former Chief of Naval Operations, contributed to his commitment to ocean policy reform. When the Oceans Act of 2000 was passed, President George W. Bush established the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, and appointed Watkins to chair the commission. The 16-member commission presented recommendations for a new and comprehensive national ocean policy. Their final report, "An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century", was released in 2004.

Concurrently, the Pew Charitable Trusts established the Pew Oceans Commission, which was led by President Bill Clinton's former Chief of Staff Leon Panetta. The 18-member group presented its own recommendations on ocean policy to Congress and the Administration. Their final report, "America's Living Oceans: Charting a Course for Sea Change", was released in 2003.

The two reports listed strikingly similar recommendations. As a result, Congress and the Administration began to recognize the importance of ocean policy reform. To further these recommendations, and to act as one unified force, the two commissions came together in 2004 to establish the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative. Watkins co-chaired the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative with Leon Panetta, and was called on as an expert to advise and testify before Congress on ocean governance reform. He was also cited in the media as an expert on ocean issues and penned a number of opinion pieces calling for ocean reform that were published in national outlets.[3][4][5]

Reagan Administration[edit]

President Ronald Reagan appointed Watkins as chairman of his President’s Commission on the HIV Epidemic. Watkins surprised many AIDS-awareness advocates when his conservative panel unexpectedly recommended supporting antibias laws to protect HIV-positive people,[6] on-demand treatment for drug addicts, and the speeding of AIDS-related research.[7]

George H. W. Bush Administration[edit]

Watkins is sworn in as Energy Secretary. From left to right: James Watkins, Sheila Watkins, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, President George H. W. Bush.

On March 9, 1989, Watkins was sworn in as Secretary of Energy by President George H. W. Bush. He remained as Energy Secretary until 1993.

On June 27, 1989, Watkins announced the Ten-Point Plan to strengthen environmental protection and waste management activities at the United States Department of Energy's production, research, and testing facilities. In September 1989, he established the Modernization Review Committee to review the assumptions and recommendations of the 2010 Report. On November 9, 1989, Watkins established the Office of Environmental Restoration and Waste Management within the Department of Energy. On August 15, 1990, Secretary Watkins announced plans to increase oil production and decrease consumption to counter Iraqi-Kuwaiti oil losses caused by the Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait. On March 4, 1991, he transmitted the Administration's energy bill to the House and Senate. On May 10, 1992, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee he reported that, for the first time since 1945, the United States was not building any nuclear weapons.

George W. Bush Administration[edit]

Watkins was appointed to what would be the second Presidential commission to be known as the "Watkins Commission" when named Chairman of the United States Commission on Ocean Policy in 2001.


Watkins died of congestive heart failure on July 26, 2012, at the age of 85.[1][8] He was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.[9]

Awards and decorations[edit]

U.S. military awards and decorations[edit]

Submarine Officer badge.jpg Officer Submarine Warfare insignia
Joint Chiefs of Staff seal.svg Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Identification Badge
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Defense Distinguished Service Medal with one bronze oak leaf cluster[10]
Gold star
Gold star
Navy Distinguished Service Medal with two gold award stars[10]
Army Distinguished Service Medal[10]
Air Force Distinguished Service Medal[10]
Gold star
Gold star
Legion of Merit with two award stars[10]
Bronze Star Medal with Valor device[10]
Navy Commendation Medal
Bronze star
Navy Unit Commendation with one bronze service star
Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation
Navy Expeditionary Medal
China Service Medal
World War II Victory Medal
Navy Occupation Service Medal
Bronze star
National Defense Service Medal with one bronze service star
Korean Service Medal
Bronze-service-star-3d-vector.svgBronze-service-star-3d-vector.svgBronze-service-star-3d-vector.svgBronze-service-star-3d-vector.svg Vietnam Service Medal with four bronze service stars

U.S. civilian awards[edit]

Presidential Citizens Medal
US Navy Distinguished Public Service Award Ribbon-vector.svg Navy Distinguished Public Service Award

Foreign awards[edit]

Order of National Security Merit, Tong-Il Medal (Republic of Korea)
JPN Kyokujitsu-sho blank BAR.svg Order of the Rising Sun (Japan)
Order of Naval Merit, Grand Officer (Brazil)
Korean Presidential Unit Citation (Republic of Korea)
United Nations Korea Medal
Vietnam Campaign Medal (Republic of Vietnam)

Watkins also received decorations from Italy, France, Spain, Pakistan and Sweden.

In March 2001, Watkins was given the title of President Emeritus of the Consortium for Ocean Research and Education (CORE), and was awarded the Navy's Distinguished Public Award by the Secretary of the Navy. On April 21, 2005, the Naval Postgraduate Mechanical Engineering Building was renamed Watkins Hall, after Watkins. He was also a member of the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) Hall of Fame.[11]

In June 1983, Watkins was inducted as a Knight of Malta. In 1991 he was awarded the AAES Chairs' Award from the American Association of Engineering Societies.[12]

Political positions[edit]

Watkins' positions within the United States Government include:

He has also served several non-Governmental roles:

  • Co-chair of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative (JOCI) (2004–)
  • A Director of the Joint Oceanographic Institutions, Inc. (1993–2000)
  • A Director of GTS Duratek since April 1997
  • A Director of Southern California Edison Co.
  • A Director of International Technology Corp.
  • A Director of Philadelphia Electric Co.
  • A Director of VESTAR Inc.
  • Trustee, Carnegie Corporation of New York (1993–1998)
  • President of the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education (1994 – March 2001)
  • Member, Naval Academy Endowment Trust Board of Directors
  • Life Member, USNA Alumni Association
  • Member of the Board of Directors of the U.S. Naval Academy Foundation


  1. ^ a b Valerie J. Nelson (July 29, 2012). "James D. Watkins dies at 85; retired admiral led AIDS, ocean panels". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 30, 2012.
  2. ^ "James David Watkins". Naval History and Heritage Command. United States Navy. February 20, 2015. Archived from the original on October 3, 2015. Retrieved December 11, 2015.
  3. ^ Watkins, James; Panetta, Leon (August 25, 2008). "Why doesn't U.S. join Law of the Sea treaty?". SFGate.
  4. ^ "U.S. Gets a 'C-' on Protecting Oceans". Washington Post. January 30, 2007.
  5. ^ "America and the Sea Treaty (1 Letter)". August 19, 2007.
  6. ^ "Aids Panel Urges Antibias Laws". Chicago Tribune. June 3, 1988. Retrieved September 5, 2018.
  7. ^ Boodman, SandraG. (April 17, 1988). "But Toughest Tasks Lie Ahead : AIDS Commission's New Chairman Earns High Marks for Leadership". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved September 5, 2018.
  8. ^ "Former CNO Admiral James Watkins Passes Away". U.S. Navy. July 27, 2012. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved July 28, 2012.
  9. ^ "JAMES D. WATKINS". Legacy.com. August 2, 2012. Retrieved January 16, 2019.
  10. ^ a b c d e f "James David Watkins". Hall of Valor. Military Times. Retrieved August 22, 2018.
  11. ^ "NPS Alumni Hall of Fame". Naval Postgraduate School.[dead link]
  12. ^ "American Association of Engineering Societies". Archived from the original on November 21, 2008. Retrieved March 1, 2009.

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by Chief of Naval Operations
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by United States Secretary of Energy
Succeeded by