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Senators say hiring freeze impairs public shipyards, Navy operations

Shipyard workers at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard successfully undock the Los Angeles-class submarine USS San Juan (SSN 751) in this 2011 file photo. The shipyard is a field activity of Naval Sea Systems Command and is committed to maximizing the material readiness of the Fleet by ensuring every ship is ready to respond to the Navy's mission.

JIM CLEVELAND / U.S. NAVY

By JEFF MCMENEMY | The Portsmouth Herald (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 27, 2017

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan joined a group of U.S. senators who wrote a letter to the secretary of defense calling for Department of Navy shipyard civilian employees to be exempt from the recent executive order signed by President Donald Trump that freezes federal hiring.

A press release issued by Shaheen's office said that while President Trump's executive order does not apply to military personnel or positions considered essential to meet national security responsibilities, "the uncertainty has caused shipyards across the country, including Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, to suspend all hiring."

"Sen. Shaheen's office has learned that several new hires have received letters indefinitely postponing their start date," according to the press release from her office.

Shaheen and Hassan were joined in the letter by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and and Angus King, I-Maine, Patty Murray, D-Washington, Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii.

"We believe a hiring freeze may have a severe and adverse impact on the ability of the Navy and public shipyards to meet critical national security requirements and we urge you to immediately exempt all Department of Navy shipyard civilian employees," the senators stated in the letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis.

The senators also contend "the civilian men and women who support the Navy provide mission critical maintenance to ensure the Navy can meet security requirements around the world, and should thus be granted an exception."

Portsmouth Naval Shipyard's "primary mission is the overhaul, repair and modernization of Los Angeles-class submarines," according to its website.

The shipyard maintains a regular schedule of work on U.S. submarines. The most recent nuclear-powered attack submarine, USS Springfield, arrived at the yard in December for a scheduled engineered overhaul.

The senators also point out there has been discussions about how a larger Navy may be needed "to meet current and emerging threats."

"The Navy has recommended increasing the size of the fleet to 355 ships, up from fewer than 280 ships today. In order to maintain the current fleet and meet future maintenance requirements, we will need more civilians to maintain, repair and overhaul submarines, aircraft carriers and the entire naval fleet," the senators state. "These civilians frequently complete maintenance availabilities ahead of schedule and under budget saving taxpayer dollars and ensuring fleet readiness."

The senators also said new hires at the nation's shipyards must complete "years of training before they are able to maintain and repair naval vessels."

"A civilian hiring freeze at the nation's shipyards will severely impact this training pipeline resulting in maintenance delays and higher costs," the senators stated.

Trump's hiring freeze is "not intended to impact national security," the senators acknowledge.

"However, freezing the hiring of civilian employees who will support critical fleet maintenance will directly undermine national security," they contend.

The senators in the letter asked Mattis to "issue clear guidance to immediately exempt all Navy shipyard civilians from the hiring freeze."

A media spokesman for the Department of Defense could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

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©2017 Portsmouth Herald, N.H.
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