Trump could stop Ingalls-built ship in its tracks

By HUGH LESSIG | Daily Press (Newport News, Va. / Tribune News Service) | Published: March 10, 2017

President Trump wants to cancel a Coast Guard cutter now entering production at Huntington Ingalls Industries' shipyard in Mississippi, part of a larger effort to slash spending on coastal security.

The proposal, which is listed in draft budget documents, has already sparked opposition among Congress and other groups.

HII received a $486 million contract in December to build the National Security Cutter at its Ingalls Shipbuilding division in Pascagoula, Miss. It would be the ninth NSC to roll off the production line.

"The ship is well underway," Ingalls spokesman Bill Glenn said in an email.

Most material has been ordered and significant planning and engineering work has been done. The yard was scheduled to begin cutting steel this week, he said.

The financial fallout to the company of a contract cancellation could not be determined. An estimate released by a Mississippi lawmaker pegged the cost of terminating the contract at $250 million, which would ultimately be borne by taxpayers.

The Associated Press reported the news last week, one day before Trump made a grandiose entrance at HII's Newport News Shipbuilding to lead cheers for his vision of a larger Navy. That would include an additional nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, built exclusively in Newport News.

Ingalls Shipbuilding would also stand to benefit from the president's push for a 350-ship fleet. Besides Coast Guard cutters, the Gulf Coast shipyard builds guided-missile destroyers, "big-deck" amphibious assault ships and smaller, versatile amphibs that are prized by the Marine Corps.

Ingalls-built cutters are considered the flagships of the Coast Guard fleet. The NSC ships are designed to replace Hamilton-class cutters that have been in service for 40 years. The ships carry enough supplies to stay at sea for 60 days without being resupplied. They can launch helicopters and smaller watercraft, sweep the area with 3-D radar and come equipped with six 50-caliber machine guns and one 57-millimeter turret-mounted gun.

The president's move to cancel production is part of a plan to slash 14 percent from the Coast Guard's $9.1 billion budget, The Washington Post has reported. Cuts are also proposed for the Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Cuts to the Coast Guard and other agencies would free up funds to build Trump's wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, provide immigration detention beds, hire more border patrol agents and other moves related to a crackdown on illegal immigration, the Post said.

Opposition mounting

Last week, Ingalls christened NSC Kimball, its seventh cutter, in front of 1,000 guests. Rep. Steven Palazzo stood nearby as ship's sponsor Kay Webber Cochran smashed a bottle of sparkling wine against the bow.

Palazzo, a Republican, later expressed his concern about Trump's stance on the Coast Guard in an email to the Daily Press.

"Despite waste, fraud and abuse occurring at every level of federal government, I don't believe cutting our Coast Guard is the first and best option for our administration," he said.

He said the Coast Guard does more to stem the flow of illegal immigrants than any government agency except for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

"To cut the Coast Guard to pay for border fencing would be inefficient and conflicting to the president's homeland security mission," he said.

Palazzo's office also released the $250 million estimated cost to taxpayers that could be tied to a cancellation, including cost of material and other obligations.

Sen. Thad Cochran, the Mississippi Republican who chairs the Appropriations Committee, helped insert funding for a ninth cutter into a 2015 spending bill. He also attended last week's christening.

At the time, a Coast Guard spokesman said it had not identified the need for a ninth ship. Cochran countered that a requirement of only eight NSCs was based on an outdated assessment.

Asked this week about Trump's proposal, Cochran spokesman Chris Gallegos said in an email: "Chairman Cochran appreciates the Coast Guard's important role in protecting U.S. national security interests. Any proposals to reduce support for the Coast Guard will receive careful scrutiny in Congress."

Along those same lines, Palazzo noted that Trump's proposal is "a recommendation at this point," and the power of the purse belongs to Congress.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican, was more direct. He penned a news column saying the "proposed Coast Guard budget is an insult. It undercuts the service to nearly the point of paralysis. It cancels a National Security Cutter, despite the need for as many as five to six more."

Hunter chairs a subcommittee on the Coast Guard and maritime transportation.

The Military Officers Association of America has also weighed in against cuts to the Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Finally, 23 senators blasted the Coast Guard proposed cuts in a letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. Twenty of the signers were Democrats, three were Republican.


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