WASHINGTON — Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., on Thursday continued to express concern about the impact of sequestration on Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
During a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on which both senators serve, Shaheen cited a letter from Paul O’Connor, president of the Metal Trades Council at the shipyard, in asking Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of Naval Operations, to elaborate on the long-term impact of sequestration, the automatic, across-the-board cuts in federal discretionary spending that kicked in last March.
Barring an agreement by Congress, another round of sequestration is slated to take place in January under a 2011 legislative deal that paved the way for an increase in the federal debt ceiling.
Questioning Greenert, Shaheen read verbatim from the O’Connor letter, in which he asked: “With nine and a half more years of sequestration hanging over our heads, nine and a half more years of furloughs and layoffs, how will we attract the best and brightest men and women to our technologically sophisticated, complex, precision-based industry?'”
O’Connor’s letter continued: “The security, instability and volatility of sequestration on our shipyard and national work force cannot be understated. The personal impact, mission impact and national security impact are real, and contrary to the best interest of America.'”
Replied Greenert: “I’m glad we get to see that letter, because it very clearly states the debilitating effect of doing this year after year. … We think we are saving costs, (but) we’re just avoiding costs.”
Greenert, who appeared at the Armed Services Committee hearing along with the top uniformed officers for the U.S. Army, Air Force and Marine Corps, went on to express his concern for the state of nuclear shipyards such as the Kittery, Maine, yard, whose mission focuses on repair and modernization of nuclear-powered submarines.
“I’m concerned about the shore infrastructure,” Greenert told Shaheen. “We’re deferring work that’s going to come to roost.”
Ayotte’s inquiry on the overall size of the Navy’s fleet led to a discussion of Portsmouth Naval Shipyard’s loss of the USS Miami project this past summer. The Navy announced in August it had decided not to repair the submarine, which was damaged in a fire set by civilian worker Casey Fury, citing the impact of sequestration and cost of the repairs.
“Unfortunately, due to sequestration, we lost the USS Miami, which was a project Portsmouth had,” Greenert said. “But the overruns, the furloughs, and the need to have to go to a commercial work force instead of using a federal work force … it was just too much, and we couldn’t afford that submarine and continue to do the others.”
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, also a member of the Armed Services Committee, echoed Shaheen and Ayotte’s contention that sequestration has compromised the capabilities of the U.S. military.
“It seems to be that we’re telling you that you have to cut a finger off and you get to decide which one,” he said. “That’s an unattractive form of having to make decisions.”