- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2000

The Pentagon said yesterday it has killed a proposal from its acquisition office that would have allowed the Navy to buy support ships from foreign builders.
Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman, said the idea is "emphatically not" endorsed by Defense Secretary William S. Cohen or other senior leaders.
"People in the building in various levels come up with ideas all the time," Adm. Quigley said. "But in this case, there is no intention to move that forward from here."
Members of Congress vehemently objected to the idea, first disclosed yesterday in The Washington Times.
The Times reported that Pentagon acquisition officials drafted a legislative proposal to change current law and allow the defense secretary to authorize the purchase of auxiliary ships abroad. A ban on foreign-built combat ships would remain in place.
The unsigned draft memo defends the change as a way to increase competition and foster new relationships with U.S. allies. A Pentagon official briefed ship contractors on the proposal Sept. 6.
"[The Defense Department] is 'vetting' proposed statutory changes to domestic source restrictions that it intends to include in its legislative package," the memo says. "The proposed changes would expand the authority of the secretary of defense to grant domestic source limitation waivers on an increased number of different items that would include certain classes of ships."
Lawmakers from ship-producing states moved quickly to kill the idea before it ever reached Congress. Any change would require congressional approval.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, sent letters to the Senate and House Armed Services chairmen. Mr. Hunter urged Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, and Rep. Floyd D. Spence, South Carolina Republican, to add language to the pending defense authorization bill that would state Congress' strong opposition.
"I believe this proposal would have a devastating impact on our shipbuilding industrial base," Mr. Hunter of San Diego wrote. "With the Pentagon building on average only six ships per year for the past eight years, our six remaining shipyards are operating well below their production capability. Allowing naval support vessels to be built overseas would likely result in additional shipyard closures. I believe a further erosion of our shipbuilding industrial base is a clear threat to our national security."
San Diego is home to National Steel and Shipbuilding Co. National, along with Avondale Industries in New Orleans, are the country's two principal builders of Navy auxiliary ships.
Sen. Charles S. Robb, Virginia Democrat and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote to Mr. Cohen yesterday urging him to kill the idea. Virginia is home to Newport News Shipbuilding Inc.
"Several of my Senate colleagues and I are eager to help the Navy find the resources to adequately fund its near and long-term ship construction requirements, but I cannot accept the idea that we must do so at the peril of America's high quality, competitive and affordable shipbuilding industry," Mr. Robb wrote. "I urge you to reject any proposal to send Navy ship construction to foreign shipyards it is operationally unnecessary and the risk to our industrial base is apparent."
The Navy is said to have been unaware of the proposal and is expected to oppose it. Jacques Gansler, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, is said to deny any knowledge of the proposal.
The American Shipbuilding Association, which represents the country's six defense shipyards, wrote Mr. Cohen on Sept. 20, asking him to kill the proposal first circulated in the Pentagon in August. The association said the number of defense shipyards already has shrunk from 21 to six as the Navy's average annual buy of ships dipped from 19 in the 1980s to six.
"The bill would be absolutely devastating to our business," said James C. Scott, vice president for marketing at National Steel.
He said the 3,000-employee company is now building roll-on, roll-off transport ships and plans to bid this Friday on the TADC(X), the next-generation resupply ship.
Rep. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, also wrote to Mr. Cohen yesterday.
"With just six shipbuilders left for the armed forces, this is just crazy," Mr. Vitter, whose district includes Avondale workers, said in an interview.
"We would probably go down to four shipyards, and that makes our ability to build up forces in a moment of crisis virtually impossible. We would be at the whim of other governments and other economies to build up forces in a time of crisis. That would absolutely put us at a severe disadvantage."

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