Washington, D.C. – At a Senate Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, U.S. Senator Susan Collins questioned U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Ricky Williamson about the importance of infrastructure investments at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery. In addition, she asked U.S. Army Lieutenant General Jason Evans about the construction of a new Maine National Guard joint vehicle maintenance facility in Saco.
Last year, with Senator Collins’ support, Congress authorized the multi-mission extension project for Dry Dock #1 and provided the first $160 million of needed incremental funding. Currently, Dry Dock #1 can only accommodate Los Angeles-class submarines, which means it will be rendered obsolete when LA-class submarines are removed from service in the 2030s. The Navy’s budget request for fiscal year 2022 includes $250 million to continue funding of the project. However, in order to complete the project, the Navy recently requested an additional $225 million to account for unexpected cost increases. Without this funding, required maintenance on Navy submarines could be delayed.
“The Navy's budget requests $250 million for the second increment of the multimission dry dock number #1 extension project at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. The Navy has included as its number one MilCon unfunded priority an additional $225 million that's needed to keep this essential project on schedule. It is vitally important,” said Senator Collins. “Beginning in 2024, scheduled Virginia-class maintenance availabilities at the shipyard will exceed its capacity. And failure to complete this project on time will result in 20 deferred availabilities through 2040. In other words, we need this project completed in time, or we risk our submarines and our sailors being unable to accomplish their mission.”
Senator Collins continued, “Could you discuss the importance of the additional funding to the success of the project? And with this additional funding, number one on your unfunded priority list, would the Navy be able to eliminate the 20 deferred availabilities, so that we can return our submarines and our sailors to the fleet on schedule, so they can perform their important mission?”
Admiral Williamson first assured Senator Collins that the Navy’s leadership recognizes the urgency of the projects and is learning lessons from the work on Dry Dock #1.
“Balancing the maintenance of building a new shipyard while you're doing maintenance to a very complex platform, ensuring that those maintenance availabilities are predictable and on time, allows you to maintain that superior workforce that's important. We are committed to learning from that,” responded Admiral Williamson. “Taking on a task of this size requires great expertise, so we are bringing on cost engineers and economist experts to help us. We are also bringing in third-party risk consultants to get better accuracy and reduce the risk as we move forward.”
Senator Collins followed up, “[Do] you stand by the statement that is in the budget materials that the additional money would eliminate the 20 deferred maintenances?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Admiral Williamson clarified.
Changing topics to the Army’s fiscal year 2022 budget proposal, Senator Collins asked Lieutenant General Evans, “The request includes $21 million for a new joint vehicle maintenance shop for the Maine National Guard at its Saco location. The existing undersized facility was constructed more than 80 years ago. It has a host of problems including insufficient lighting, poor ventilation, fire mitigation, and electrical wiring that is not up to code, [and] asbestos in the structure. And there are also force protection issues with the current building. What would be the impact of a delay in replacing this facility on readiness?”
Lieutenant General Evans told Senator Collins that delaying the renovation of the facility would harm readiness. He also noted that since it is a shared facility with the Air National Guard as well as the Army National Guard, delaying construction would “have a tremendous impact on the readiness of…maintenance on combat and tactical vehicles.”
Senator Collins is a senior member of the Appropriations Committee. In April, she joined the Maine Delegation in hosting Acting U.S. Secretary of the Navy Thomas Harker at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and Bath Iron Works.