October 01, 2015

Warner, Kaine Press Navy Secretary Ray Mabus For Plan To Address Impacts Of Workload Fluctuations At Hampton Roads Shipyards

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine urged Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus to develop a plan to stabilize the ship repair industry following a shortfall in workload requirements for the Hampton Roads area that has led to layoffs at BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair and Newport News Shipbuilding. The Senators suggested several options that the Navy could implement to increase stability and predictability of the workload at the private shipyards, including acceleration of cruiser modernization programs and partnerships between the public and private yards in order to stabilize the workforce until the number of scheduled ship availabilities increases in 2018.

“We write regarding the serious challenges facing the Hampton Roads area shipbuilding and ship repair industries, due in part to instability in workload requirements,” Warner and Kaine said in a letter sent to Secretary Mabus today. “Hampton Roads is once again facing a period of change to its workload, only this time, we are in jeopardy of losing our highly skilled workforce because the Navy’s demand is dipping temporarily until 2018.  We are concerned that these uniquely skilled technicians will seek employment in other fields, jeopardizing the Navy’s ability to adhere to its ship repair schedule and incurring significant delays and greater costs.

“To be sure, this has a real impact to the Navy budget and operational schedule, but it also impacts thousands of Virginians. Within the last month, Newport News Shipbuilding and BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair have both been forced to announce layoffs that have the potential to impact as many as 2,500 Virginians.”

Full text of the letter is below:

October 1, 2015

The Honorable Ray Mabus
Secretary of the Navy
The Pentagon
Room 4E686
Washington, D.C. 20350

Dear Secretary Mabus,

We write regarding the serious challenges facing the Hampton Roads area shipbuilding and ship repair industries due in part to instability in workload requirements. 

The recent conference report on the FY2016 NDAA contains many provisions and requests for funding that sustain naval readiness and bolster our shipbuilding and ship repair industries.  Your leadership is paramount to preserving the critical relationship between the Navy and the shipbuilding and ship repair industry. 

At the water’s edge, we need a stable workload to ensure we maintain the highly skilled workforce developed over years of supporting top Navy priorities. When the Navy workload surged and our shipbuilding and ship repair companies had to quickly scale up their workforce to meet the Navy’s demand, we learned a lesson that such unstable work drives up cost and slips schedules on ship maintenance.

Hampton Roads is once again facing a period of change to its workload, only this time, we are in jeopardy of losing our highly skilled workforce because the Navy’s demand is dipping temporarily until 2018.  We are concerned that these uniquely skilled technicians will seek employment in other fields, jeopardizing the Navy’s ability to adhere to its ship repair schedule and incurring significant delays and greater costs. To be sure, this has a real impact to the Navy budget and operational schedule, but it also impacts thousands of Virginians. Within the last month, Newport News Shipbuilding and BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair have both been forced to announce layoffs that have the potential to impact as many as 2,500 Virginians.

Workload stability enables both industry and the Navy to take advantage of predictability that improves strategic and budgetary outcomes. We urge the Navy to develop a plan to stabilize the workload for our private shipyards in Hampton Roads. Some options to consider for such a plan are:

  • Evaluation of scheduled maintenance on Forward Deployed Naval Forces at shipyards in the United States;
  • Acceleration of cruiser phased modernization;
  • Partnerships between our public and private shipyards, including new hiring preferences for private shipyards workers and/or contracting out of non-core maintenance;

For centuries American naval strength and power-projection abroad has rested on the backbones of our shipbuilders and our ship repair workers.  This core defense industry has witnessed our Navy mature from frigates made of timber to a Navy resourced with the most structurally advanced and complex vessels in existence.  This industrial base must be maintained to allow our Navy to protect U.S. interests abroad and preserve freedom of transit across both the high seas, and in critical lanes of global commerce.  Providing a predictable workload will allow our industry to sustain our qualitative edge well into the future amidst uncertain and trying security environment.  

Thank you for working with us on these important issues.

Sincerely,

Mark R. Warner                                          
U.S. Senator                                                   

Tim Kaine
U.S. Senator

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