Shipyard leads the way in savings, efficiency

Once more, a Base Realignment and Closure Commission round is before us. And, the employees of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Seacoast communities, the bipartisan New Hampshire-Maine-Massachusetts congressional delegation and other friends of the yard are again educating decision-makers at the Pentagon on the value our shipyard continues to provide to our military and taxpayers after well over two centuries of service to our nation.

As in past BRAC rounds, military installations will be scrutinized based on a set of criteria set forth by the Department of Defense. Among these are the cost of operating a base, implications on the workforce should a base close and an estimate not only of how much money the department could potentially save by closing a base, but how many years it would take to realize those potential savings.

It comes as no surprise to those of us in the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard family that our shipyard outpaces all other nuclear yards, public or private, when measured against these criteria.

For example:

• Of the Navy’s four shipyards, Portsmouth is the least expensive to operate. Moreover, for seven consecutive years the yard has operated below its Navy-mandated financial goals, during which the yard has made a habit of setting performance records for its work on submarine maintenance. This has allowed Portsmouth to return money to the Navy so it can be used to offset cost overruns at its other shipyards and on other Navy programs.

• The cooperation between shipyard workers and management serves as a model for any business in any industry, and this strong relationship has led to the workforce at the yard developing into an irreplaceable asset to and for the Navy and DoD.

Because of the labor-management partnership at Portsmouth, the yard has implemented lean manufacturing practices to improve efficiency and quality, and now Portsmouth is exporting these process improvements the other Navy yards. While shipyards nationwide are facing the crisis of an aging workforce, Portsmouth has met the challenge of maintaining critical trade skills by replenishing its workforce as older employees retire. The record-setting performance of the shipyard employees is impressive, but to think such success has been achieved while implementing new manufacturing procedures and regenerating the workforce is all the more remarkable.

Closing Portsmouth would have far-reaching, irrevocable workforce implications. Unlike active duty personnel who can be transferred from base to base, the Navy and DoD cannot simply move this civilian workforce. Rather, the workforce — this valuable national security asset — would be lost forever.

• In time, the costs associated with closing any military installation will eventually be eclipsed by the savings realized by the facility no longer operating. However, naval shipyards are facilities where military value is difficult, if not impossible, to accurately measure in terms of dollars.

In the case of Portsmouth, how does one measure the value of returning submarines back to service months ahead of schedule, especially in time of war? What is the value of a strike-free workforce — which does not exist at private yards — ready and willing to immediately respond to any national security situation anywhere in the world, or a younger, innovative, skilled workforce capable of record-setting performance? What is the value of impossible-to-reconstitute assets like a deep water port, dry docks, direct access to the ocean and nuclear licenses and permits? The answer: priceless.

In the coming months, the Navy and DoD will be in the midst of formulating their recommended list for base closures to be considered by the BRAC commission. To aid in their decision-making, it is imperative for all of us to continue to broadcast the good news story of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and its workforce, an invaluable military asset and the leader in cost savings and efficiency.

U.S. Sen. John E. Sununu is a Republican from New Hampshire.

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