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GAO: Even before pandemic, Navy shipyards have used excessive overtime while maintenance delays persist

By KATHERINE HAFNER | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: August 21, 2020

NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) — About three-quarters of the maintenance needed to be completed on aircraft carriers and submarines had been running behind schedule at Navy shipyards before the pandemic was even on anyone’s radar, according to a report this week from the Government Accountability Office. And that has led to excessive overtime.

Fifty-one vessels were scheduled for maintenance periods between 2015-2019 at the Navy’s four public shipyards — including Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, the report said. Thirty-eight were completed late and two were postponed.

Such “availabilities” are scheduled every few years for carriers and up to every six for submarines.

Carrier maintenance wrapped up on average 113 days late, while submarines were 225 days late. The combined total was over 7,400 days of maintenance delay.

The amount of time submarines were waiting to enter a maintenance period, called “idle time,” also grew in that time frame by over 900%. It went from 100 days in 2015 to 1,019 days last year.

“Over the past 5 years the Navy has spent about $2.8 billion in capital investments at its shipyards to improve shipyard performance, among other things,” the authors wrote to congressional committees. “However, the Navy continues to face persistent and substantial maintenance delays that affect the majority of its maintenance efforts and hinder its attempts to restore readiness.”

Maintenance at the shipyards is comprehensive and time-consuming, the report notes. It includes ship overhauls, alterations, nuclear refueling and more.

At Norfolk Naval Shipyard, where the carriers Harry S. Truman and George H.W. Bush are currently, 480 reserve sailors are being sent in to help with the maintenance backlog — which has been exacerbated by the coronavirus. Officials have sent some high-risk personnel home.

But the accountability office found two main causes for the delays pre-pandemic. The shipyards often don’t have enough people to perform the work, and have unplanned work that pops up and gets in the way.

As a result, the report said, the Navy relies on high levels of overtime. All four of the shipyards had exceeded the maximum overtime rates for every year studied, the report said.

Naval Sea Systems Command had set the rate at a maximum of about 18% more hours than the standard 40-house workweek, but actual overtime jumped up to nearly 45% in some cases. Shipyard officials told the GAO that production shop workers specifically work “well beyond their capacity.”

The reliance on overtime to combat a disproportionate workload is not a new issue and has persisted for many years, the report said.

The authors concluded that the Navy should analyze its use of overtime in shipyard production shops and update its workforce requirements to minimize having to use so much overtime. They also advocated the development of action plans for addressing the maintenance delays.

In formal responses to the recommendations, the Navy concurred and agreed to work on the issues.

©2020 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)
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