NEWPORT NEWS -- Pentagon leaders and lawmakers continue to spar over the future of USS George Washington, an issue that could have a big impact on Hampton Roads' largest private employer.
Newport News Shipbuilding is scheduled to conduct a mid-life refueling and complex overhaul on the GW; a job that generally takes three and half years and comes with a $4 to $7 billion contract. But Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has warned that the Navy may have to scrap the overhaul and retire the 22-year-old GW early if sequestration cuts return in 2016.
On Wednesday, the House Armed Services committee began mark-ups on the Defense Authorization Act of 2015. That bill could restore funding for the GW, and require the Navy to maintain an 11-carrier fleet.
Hampton Roads lawmakers, including Senator Tim Kaine, have vowed to protect the George Washington.
"It wouldn't jus mean that we retire this asset with half of its useful life," Kaine said in a phone interview with 13News Now. "It would mean there's now a national policy to back away from a statutory 11-carrier Navy requirement. And we're not going to do that."
If the GW job were retired, Tidewater Community College Business Management and Administration Professor Peter Shaw says the impact on the region's economy would be severe.
"Clearly a three and a half year, multi-billion refueling project that would go away would have an effect on Newport News revenues, which would then spill over to the highly skilled labor force," Shaw said. "All the supplies for the refueling, all the restaurant people that get employed and so forth, everybody in the chain would be affected, rippling effect. Clearly not good news."
Shaw questions the wisdom of making such a move. "If you decide to mothball it now you have canceled the second half of the life-span of the asset," he said. "That's a very expensive decision."
Additionally, the House Armed Services Committee's mark-up on the Defense Authorization Act rejects Hagel's call for another round of base closings in 2016, and it gives troops a 1.8 percent pay raise.
The mark-up process is expected to continue overnight into Thursday morning. The full house is set to vote on the bill the week of May 19th. That measure would then have to be reconciled with a Senate version.