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1/25/2018 7:38:29 AM
Posted: 12/17/2005 10:12:52 AM EST

Navy steering more work to yard a tribute to successful fight

What are we to make of the recent news that the Pentagon is shifting repair work away from private contractors and giving more to public facilities such as Portsmouth Naval Shipyard?
Following the passion and anxiety surrounding the base-closure process earlier this year, we are glad the Navy Department is finally getting it right by rewarding PNS with the work it deserves for being the Navy’s most efficient and cost-conscious shipyards. It always seemed illogical to us that the Navy could give PNS one award after another for its ability to accomplish its contracts on time and under budget, and then recommend it for elimination when it put the shipyard on the base closure list last May.

As much as economic self-preservation, what brought the greater Seacoast region together when PNS was put on the base-closure list was a combination of pride and anger. There was pride in the reality that PNS was one of the top shipyards in the country and its workers were among the best anywhere, and anger that the Navy had downgraded the base’s importance and unique capabilities to justify its elimination in a fit of budget-cutting rationale.

In the case of PNS, the public spoke loudly against the Pentagon’s eagerness to treat PNS as an easily-replaced asset. The Base Realignment and Closure Commission upheld the powerful case made for keeping Portsmouth in business when it removed the shipyard from the closure list this past August.

"It should be the gold standard by which we should measure other shipyards. Their ability to turn around subs quicker than any other shipyard, thereby saving the Navy (money) was significantly noted," said Anthony J. Principi, BRAC chairman. The BRAC vote was a resounding rejection of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s drive to privatize military functions despite dubious financial claims and questionable military-preparedness arguments.

Following the BRAC process, the Navy was left with more shipbuilding and repair capacity than it had planned. Amid a new round of budget cutting, the Pentagon recently told Electric Boat, the Groton, Conn.-based submarine builder, that the Navy would direct future submarine repair work to publicly-owned shipyards.

While there is much joy in the PNS community this holiday season, the same cannot be said for those who work for Electric Boat. The company announced Tuesday that it would lay off as many as 2,400 workers in Connecticut and Rhode Island by the end of 2006. "These reductions are the result of pressure on the Navy’s shipbuilding budget," said John Casey, Electric Boat president.

"It’s been policy that public shipyards are level-loaded first, then the work goes to the private yards," said a Navy Sea Systems spokesman. The irony is that many civilian planners in the Pentagon wanted to eliminate one of its premier public shipyards. That some of the laid-off Electric Boat workers - who might have been trained by PNS employees assigned to private shipyards because of their expertise - might end up working at the shipyard is yet another affirmation of the value of Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

For more than two centuries, the yard has survived numerous closure attempts and has responded by becoming increasingly resilient. In an age of constant budget pressure and changing missions, the workers at the shipyard will have another opportunity to show their expertise and dedication.

It may also have to expand its mission to make itself relevant in time for the next base-closure round when, rest assured, we will hear again about a PNS that doesn’t fit into the Navy’s future needs.

- Herald Sunday

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