BATH, Maine — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Thursday she believes President Barack Obama’s choice to become the country’s next Defense secretary will be an ally in her effort to increase the Navy’s shipbuilding rate.
Collins questioned Leon Panetta, the CIA chief who is in line to replace retiring Secretary of Defense Robert Gates next month, during his nomination hearing Thursday.
“Based on Mr. Panetta’s response to my questions, I believe that he fully appreciates the number of ships we need in order for the Navy to accomplish its mission and to support our shipbuilding industrial base,” Collins said in a statement issued Thursday night to The Times Record. “During our private meeting in my office last month, we discussed the need for consistent shipbuilding funding in order for the Pentagon to achieve its plan for a stronger Navy.”
Collins has long lobbied on Capitol Hill for an increased rate of procurement for Navy ships, arguing that turning up the speed on the warship conveyor belt will not only help maintain a defensive posture worldwide, but also keep workers employed at shipyards like Bath Iron Works.
A week ago today, BIW announced it plans to lay off 250 designers as of June 24.
On Thursday, Collins used Panetta’s nomination hearing as her latest chance to impress upon a key decision maker the importance of building more Navy ships.
Collins, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, told Panetta she’s “worried” about the fact that the Navy and BIW have yet to finalize contracts for the multi-billion-dollar DDG-1001 and DDG-1002 several months after many analysts believed the pacts would be complete.
The shipyard is already working on the flagship DDG-1000 in the futuristic three-ship destroyer program, and has received advanced funding to purchase materials for the second and third ships. But construction contracts for those ships have stalled, despite assurances from both the Navy and BIW that negotiations are ongoing in good faith.
Collins also expressed concerns Thursday about the standing gap between the Navy’s current count of 285 ships and service’s stated goal of keeping 313 ships.
“I strongly believe the Navy has to project our force throughout the world and that the Navy is obviously crucial to that mission,” Panetta replied to Collins. “I agree with the ship numbers that have to be developed for the Navy in order to be able to do that.”
The Defense Secretary nominee went on to laud BIW for its well-publicized increases in efficiencies over the past decade.
“(BIW) is a great example of having developed those kind of efficiencies that help us on the cost control side and at the same time allows us to continue our shipbuilding capability,” Panetta testified at the hearing. “I do think that greater competition and greater presence of an industrial base that deals with these issues will provide the kind of cost savings that we will need in order to fulfill that mission.”
Collins told The Times Record Thursday night she appreciated Panetta’s comments referencing BIW.
“I am delighted that during his confirmation hearing Thursday, he praised the efficiency of BIW and specifically referred to the critical role that the skilled men and women at BIW play in delivering high quality ships to the Navy at a good value,” she stated.
Read more of the Times Record at timesrecord.com.