Report recommends Navy give more sub repair work to EB, other private yards

A new report from the Government Accountability Office calls on the Navy to develop a plan to better distribute submarine repair work between public shipyards and private shipyards such as Electric Boat, which can accommodate the work.

Federal lawmakers including U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, requested the report after a series of congressional hearings about attack submarines being sidelined by maintenance delays at a time when top military officials say they need them to carry out their missions.

The GAO on Monday released the public version of the classified report, which was issued last month. The report found that over the past 10 years attack submarines have lost 10,363 operational days due to maintenance delays and idle time, costing the Navy $1.5 billion.

While the Navy has made strides toward reducing workforce shortages and improving facilities at its public yards, "it has not effectively allocated maintenance work between public and private shipyards that may also be available to help minimize attack submarine idle time," the GAO report says.

It states that the Navy's public yards are over capacity and prioritize repair work on ballistic missile submarines and aircraft carriers. That's resulted in delays getting submarines into and out of the shipyards for repairs.

"The Navy may have options to mitigate this idle time and maintenance delays by leveraging private shipyard capacity for repair work," the GAO report says.

EB has said that getting contracts to do repair work helps sustain the company's workforce during the ups and downs in its workload. If given the additional repair contracts, EB would have to train a new workforce to do the overhaul work which differs from submarine construction.

The findings follow a September 2018 report from the Congressional Budget Office that found it's less costly to do submarine maintenance work at the private yards versus the public yards. The Navy has opted to assign this work to the public yards, arguing it's less expensive.

"It's not like the government is saving any money by suspending maintenance work," Courtney said. "You still have to pay the crew. There's overhead fees associated with a ship that's tied up."

There's talk that the Trump administration's next budget, which will be presented in January, will include a proposal to refuel the older, Los Angeles-class attack submarines to extend their lifespan, Courtney said. Refueling happens at public yards, he said, which will only add to the workload.

Courtney, who has pushed the Navy to divert submarine maintenance work to the private shipyards, said the GAO report will be a "launching pad" for discussion within the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, which makes key decisions about Navy programs. He is currently the ranking member of the subcommittee, and is in line to be the chairman when the new Congress convenes in January.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., in a statement released Monday evening also called on the Navy to use private shipyards like EB to do this work, saying the report should be a "wake-up call for the Navy."

"The only way we can make sure we have a submarine force ready to take our national security challenges head on — and save taxpayers money — is to make sure that trained workers like those at Electric Boat can help address the backlog of maintenance work," he said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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