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The United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C. [Photo: Gage Skidmore]
The United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C. [Photo: Gage Skidmore]

Cramer Discusses Shipyard Infrastructure, Workforce Challenges at Joint Seapower Readiness Hearing

The Dakotan
 May 11, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee, discussed Navy authorities, workforce development, and funding issues related to the Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program at a joint Seapower and Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee hearing.

Senator Cramer began by asking for recommendations on process streamlining and other authorities beneficial to update our Navy’s shipyard infrastructure.

“Do you have any advice for us in terms of policy, streamlining processes, authorizations, [or] funding? What have we learned so we can be helpful in making this process a little more efficient and effective?” asked Senator Cramer.

“[It would be helpful to have] authority which we have to pay for these mega projects to fund them incrementally over time, which you have provided us in the past. I think continuing that for these large projects, and potentially looking at maybe a multiyear type procurement like we do in the shipbuilding world, where we can see if we get the most efficiency by building a set of projects together in a multiyear contract. [These] are two authorities that might be worth looking at to get more flexibility and negotiating space to our team,” said Mr. Frederick Stefany, Principal Civilian Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition.

“The multiyear work relative to repair and maintenance is something we’re looking very closely at. These are complex projects and I sometimes think repair and maintenance could give the impression of less complexity, but really the multiyear relative to, say a drydock that we’re repairing, and the way that relates to a current operational availability is absolutely critical. Our ability to have a flexible approach, multiyear funding certainly is going to help us execute over time,” added Rear Admiral McClelland, Program Executive Officer for Industrial Infrastructure, U.S. Navy.

Senator Cramer also had a discussion on Naval efforts to increase recruitment and retention and what Congress could be doing to support this endeavor.

“There’s another challenge that we’re hearing from everybody. I mean, seasonal farm and hospitality workers to surgeons, very sophisticated technology workers and everything in between. We have a workforce challenge in our country right now, particularly in the private sector. I presume you’re experiencing the same thing. Do you have any thoughts? Let us know what you’re trying to do to recruit and retain employees at the yards. Also, is there anything you think we could be doing?” asked Senator Cramer.

“We’re seeing the same thing in the public yards as well. Our attrition rates are higher than what we had planned, our recruitment rates are lower than what we had planned. We offer some pretty good training as we bring people into the yards through our apprentice programs, so that’s one real positive,” responded Admiral McClelland. “The other thing that we’re looking at right now is wages for our entry level positions, and many times we’re competing at a wage that is less than what some businesses in the local area, for example, whether it be Amazon or even a Starbucks. Typically, the starting wage for some of our mechanics is in that $14 to $15 an hour range – right at the minimum wage level. What we’re finding is in some areas where shipyards are located, Portsmouth and Puget Sound in particular, the going wage is actually higher than that. So, we’re working through Navy leadership and with the human resources organizations across the Department of Defense to look at that wage grade we’re paying our folks.”

Senator Cramer also highlighted the Supplying Help to Infrastructure in Ports, Yards, and America’s Repair Docks (SHIPYARD) Act. The bill provides funding to make investments needed to optimize, improve, and rebuild shipyard facilities, electrical infrastructure, environmental systems, and the equipment of public and private shipyards in the U.S. that support the U.S. Navy fleet.

“There are 18 cosponsors, a lot of them from this Committee, [on] the SHIPYARD Act, speaking of infrastructure and some additional resources. Could you just generally comment on the SHIPYARD Act, what you know about it, and what how helpful it may be?” asked Senator Cramer. “It’s always tough to apply the time value of money in appropriations processes by the government, but we need to get better.”

“The Navy supports that Act,” responded Secretary Stefany. “The idea of having a commitment of all the funding upfront and a period of time to spend the funding most efficiently. The knowledge that the total dollar value was there and could be worked with industry most effectively is a best practice. So we would absolutely support that.”

[Video: submitted]

In addition, Senator Cramer delivered the following opening remarks at the beginning of the hearing:

“Thank you Chairwoman Hirono, as well as Chairman Kaine and Ranking Member Sullivan, for agreeing to hold this hearing jointly to discuss a range of important naval shipyard issues that cross our subcommittee jurisdictions."

“As I think about our naval shipyards, it is striking to me how intertwined they are with our nation’s history – even before our independence. For instance, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, near and dear to Senator Kaine, was first established in 1767 under the British flag as Gosport Shipyard and seized seven years later during the Revolutionary War."

“In the 1790s, the U.S.S. Chesapeake, one of the first six U.S. Navy ships authorized and funded by Congress, was built there. Later, the first dry dock in the western hemisphere opened in 1833. Known as Dry Dock 1 and now a historic national landmark, it is still in use today. Think about that… it’s 189 years old and still used to maintain naval vessels."

“Suffice to say, our four public shipyards all have storied histories and are truly national infrastructure. Each is over 100 years old and showing its age. The poor condition of these shipyards is having a serious negative effect on fleet operations today and the bill has come due. This is not a future problem. It is here now and one we must work together to solve."

“While there is much to discuss, I plan to focus my question on how Congress can help in terms of authorities, workforce development, and funding. On the last point, I am hopeful that the bipartisan group of Senators working on the SHIPYARD Act, many of whom are in this room today, will be able to get it done."

“I look forward to the testimony of our witnesses.”"

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