KITTERY, Maine — The U.S. Navy is implementing new cost-control measures that will impact Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, including a civilian hiring freeze and termination of temporary workers.
The Navy is looking to reduce “base operating support” by 10 percent in the coming year, Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, chief of naval operations, wrote in a Jan. 25 memo.
The cuts will reduce the Navy’s shipyard workforce by an estimated 3,000 employees, according to a recent report from the Navy Times.
The reductions are part of a package being put in place by the Navy to address an “immediate budget shortfall” in fiscal 2013.
Lawmakers have failed to pass a new defense budget, and the Navy is continuing to receive the same funding as it did last year through a so-called “continuing resolution.”
Greenert is advising top Navy officials to prepare for actions being taken immediately to reduce costs. The Navy’s priority in absorbing the cuts will be to preserve “overseas and forward-deployed readiness,” according to Greenert.
Civilian hiring was frozen in January, and all temporary employees will be released at the conclusion of their existing contracts, the memo states. Base operating support will be cut by 10 percent, and facilities sustainment expenditures will be cut by 50 percent.
This would result in cutting 1,121 temporary workers, according to the memo.
Modernization of all piers, runways, buildings, barracks and other facilities has been halted through September 2013. And beginning Feb. 15, all private-sector surface ship maintenance availabilities scheduled for the third and fourth quarter of the fiscal year will be canceled. Aircraft depot maintenance will also be canceled.
Temporary travel and professional training not deemed “mission essential,” such as conferences and seminars, has also been curtailed.
Even steeper cuts take effect in March unless Congress reaches a compromise to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff,” a series of automatic spending cuts. If the cuts are triggered, the Navy will face an additional $4 billion in spending reductions for fiscal year 2013.
The Navy’s preliminary plan for responding to the cuts includes civilian furloughs of up to 22 days. Some emergency repairs would also be deferred, including the remainder of the $292 million worth of repairs slated for the USS Miami.
The Miami, a nuclear submarine, was ravaged by an arson fire last year while in dry dock at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Restoring the ship is an effort that will cost close to $450 million, according to Navy estimates.
A portion of the funding has already been allocated, but another $300 million in additional restoration work is required.
If sequestration goes into effect, the Navy would also freeze all deployments to the Caribbean and South America, limit European deployments to only those supporting ballistic missile defense missions, reduce the number of ships and aircraft deployed, reduce days at sea and flying hours across the entire force and cease stateside training, flying, steaming and other operations for the majority of ships and aircraft preparing to deploy.
At Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, immediate cost-cutting measures have already been put in place, including a “hard hiring freeze.” It will remain in effect until at least March 2, according to information provided by shipyard public affairs officer Deborah White. All “non-mission essential” travel and professional training has also been halted, and overtime work has been reduced, White said in an email last week.
Temporary personnel at Navy installations across the country will likely be terminated on Feb. 15. In all, 34 temporary employees will be cut at the four naval shipyards in the US, though only one is employed locally.
“The Navy hopes these layoffs are temporary and may be reversed if Congress passes a Fiscal 2013 Defense Appropriations Bill or grants Navy permission to reprogram funds from investment accounts to operations and maintenance accounts,” White wrote in an email.
If sequestration takes effect, civilian furloughs would begin at the direction of the White House. Furlough decisions would be “centrally managed” by the Department of Defense, according to White. The plan under discussion calls for civilians to be furloughed one day per week for 22 weeks, she wrote.
As Congress continues to seek a compromise on the country’s spending and deficits, the livelihoods of hundreds of shipyard workers are being impacted, according to Paul O’Connor, president of the Metal Trades Council.
“There are so many landmines here — the debt ceiling, sequestration and the continuing resolution,” O’Connor said last week. “Any one of those three could devastate our shipyard.”
For New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Greenert’s recent memo on the Navy cuts underscores the fact that sequestration would impact both the country’s national security and the economy.
“We need a comprehensive plan to rein in our debt and deficits, but not in a way that puts our vital national security and economic interests at risk,” Shaheen said in a written statement. “I’m disappointed that we missed an opportunity to work in this manner last year during the fiscal cliff negotiations but am hopeful that moving forward we can take steps to avoid the kinds of actions that the Navy announced last week.”
In a Feb. 1 letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Shaheen was joined by Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, in asking for a “balanced, bipartisan deficit reduction solution.”
They pointed out that it’s been nearly a year and a half since the U.S. Congress passed the Budget Control Act, which was designed to force comprehensive action. Instead, inaction is yielding negative consequences for “critical defense facilities” like Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, the senators wrote.
They encouraged Reid and McConnell to “stop avoiding the choices we have to make” regarding spending, including setting domestic, mandatory, and defense budgets, and tackling comprehensive tax reform.
In response to questions about impacts to the shipyard, Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, of New Hampshire, said she plans to continue pushing for an alternative to sequestration.
“Congress needs to do its job and pass a budget and appropriations bills on time,” she said in a written statement. “As I have done for over a year, I will continue to work to replace sequestration — and protect Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and New Hampshire’s defense suppliers — by finding responsible spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.”
Distributed by MCT Information Services