USS Abraham Lincoln overhaul delay worries shipyard workers

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by 13News

WVEC.com

Posted on February 9, 2013 at 12:27 AM

Updated Thursday, Feb 21 at 1:08 PM

NORFOLK -- The overhaul of USS Abraham Lincoln at Newport News Shipyard has been delayed as Congress battles over the budget.

"This reduction would significantly impact thousands of skilled shipyard workers, who have labored to develop their skills and will represent a blow to the future capabilities of Newport News to deliver timely and cost effective ships to the fleet," said Rep. Randy Forbes (R-4th District).

The carrier was due at the Peninsula shipyard on February 14.

"Was supposed to do two weeks of training, then jump right into the Lincoln," Matthew Delk told 13News.

Delk who has been out of work since September was hired by Hungtington Ingalls to work on the carrier's overhaul.

"Supposed to be the best thing that ever happened to me. Waiting on the phone call to get my start date," the father of 4 said.

Delk and his family have been living with his parents.

"It scares me, because I'm trying to get my nursing degree so that we can finally be on our feet and not have to worry about it, and now I'm thinking maybe I need to stop doing my classes, and, you know, go out and get a job," said Delk's wife, Laura, who has relatives and friend who work at Huntington Ingalls. "There's a lot of really good people who this could potentially affect, and it doesn't just affect the shipyard. It trickles down to all the other -- Jefferson Labs -- and, you know, 'cause everybody starts getting budgets cut, 'cause they can't get the money they need coming in."

Rep. Forbes also said, "Not only will the Lincoln be delayed in returning to the fleet, but this decision will also affect the USS ENTERPRISE (CVN 65) defueling, the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (CVN 73) RCOH, and future carrier readiness."

All carrier work is done at Newport News, the nation's sole carrier designer and builder.

In a statement Friday afternoon, Huntington Ingalls stressed this is not a cancellation of the Lincoln’s RCOH.

"At Huntington Ingalls Industries, we continue to actively negotiate the Lincoln RCOH contract with the Navy, and we intend to continue our efforts on the ship at the Navy base in Norfolk and will work to make as much progress as possible, as efficiently as possible, prior to its arrival," said spokeswoman Christie Miller.

"We are disappointed with this turn of events," she added. "We've also communicated the potentially adverse impact that the current continuing resolution – as well as the threat of an extension of a CR for the balance of the year -- has on the Navy’s ability to execute new work and the already fragile industrial base."

Each RCOH costs over $2 billion and is performed only once during a carrier’s 50-year life. It's required to refuel the ship and to perform widespread upgrades throughout the ship. The work represents 35% of all maintenance and modernization performed on the ship over its life, according to information from an earlier release by Huntington Ingalls.  

The potential for the cuts to kick in is the result of Congress' failure to trim the deficit by $1.2 trillion over a decade. The Pentagon faces a $42.7 billion budget cut in the seven months starting in March and ending in September. The automatic cuts would be in addition to a $487 billion reduction in defense spending over the next 10 years mandated by the Budget Control Act passed in 2011, the Associated Press reported.  

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-3rd District) told WVEC.com, "Even weeks before it is to take effect, we are already seeing the harm sequestration will have on the Hampton Roads economy and the readiness of our Navy with the delay of the overhaul of the USS Abraham Lincoln. It is beyond absurd that we were able to find $3.9 trillion to permanently extend most of the Bush-era tax cuts in the fiscal cliff deal without also finding $1 trillion to turn off the sequester. The men and women who serve our nation in uniform deserve better than this. The men and women at Newport News Shipbuilding who build, repair, and maintain the most advanced naval fleet in the world deserve better than this."

Frank Kendall, deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, called the across-the-board defense spending cuts set to kick in March 1 and the possibility of the government operating under a continuing resolution instead of a budget for the rest of the year a "nightmare scenario" for the Defense Department.

"It's people not flying. It's ships not steaming. It's maintenance not being done. ... It's units not being trained to go to war," Kendall said.

"I think it's utterly unconscionable to put our people who are so dedicated out there into that kind of position," he said during a speech Friday in the Cowen Aerospace and Defense Conference in Washington, DC.

"I mean, it's hurting us here locally, and it hurts defense overall as a whole," Delk said. "It's hurting everybody. They're worried about all their own political gain; meanwhile, there's a bunch of real people out here hurting."

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