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Navy brass, lawmakers tour EB facilities in Groton, Rhode Island

Groton — Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Harker on Monday toured Electric Boat’s facilities here and in Quonset Point, R.I., where he viewed the progress of ongoing submarine work and discussed EB’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Rear Adm. David Goggins, the Navy’s program executive officer for submarines; U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; and U.S. Reps. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and Jim Himes, D-4th District, joined the tour, which EB President Kevin Graney led.

No media were invited.

“This trip allowed the secretary to view the construction and maintenance work being conducted, first-hand, as well as discuss current efforts and overarching workforce health,” Lt. Ashley Nekoui, a spokeswoman for Harker, wrote in a response to an email seeking comment.

Harker became acting Navy secretary upon President Joe Biden’s swearing-in on Jan. 20, having served since 2018 as assistant Navy secretary for financial management and comptroller. A 20-year veteran of the Coast Guard, Harker visited the Coast Guard Academy and the Naval Submarine Base in Groton before joining the members of the congressional delegation at EB's Groton shipyard, according to Courtney.

Courtney said Graney provided an update of EB's push to supply the Navy with two Virginia-class, fast-attack submarines a year in partnership with Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia.

The Navy last month awarded the shipyards a contract for a second Virginia-class sub in 2021, work that had been jeopardized by former President Donald Trump's veto of the National Defense Authorization Act, the administration's military spending bill.

“He brought out the chart showing delivery times and the workforce and how we need to keep that two-per-year cadence in place,” Courtney said of Graney’s presentation. 

Courtney said the group moved on to Quonset Point, where work has begun on the first ballistic-missile-firing submarine of the Columbia class. He said 8% of the initial work on the first boat has been completed, putting EB head of schedule.

“They’re off to a great start,” Courtney said.

The tour of the Groton facility encompassed the 200,000-square-foot South Yard Assembly Building, which will house major phases of construction of the Columbia-class subs.

Blumenthal said he was most impressed during the tour by the skills-training program EB has instituted to prepare workers as the yard ramps up production.

“It was very exciting to see how they are building the shipbuilders who will build the ships,” he said. “There’s no question in my mind, having spent time with officials on site today, that construction will continue on pace and on time. The Trump veto was a blip that, fortunately, we reversed.”

EB also is hoping to gain more contracts for submarine repairs and maintenance, work the Navy has in the past awarded to naval shipyards, Courtney noted. The Navy is currently considering such a contract for further work on the USS Hartford (SSN-768), a Los Angeles-class sub EB has been overhauling, he said.

Blumenthal also said it was “reaffirming and inspiring” to see how EB is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the shipbuilder has not been able to vaccinate employees on site, it has regularly promoted testing and vaccinations among its workforce, the company has said. As of Monday, 1,679 cases of COVID-19 had been detected among EB employees since the outbreak of the pandemic, according to an EB website. EB currently employs more than 17,000 people.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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