Navy dodges furlough bullet, secures waiver for shipbuilders

Service shipbuilders were part of the thousands of Department of Defense employees granted furlough waivers by Pentagon leaders on Tuesday. 

Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelWhite House aide moves to lobbying firm Overnight Defense: US, Russia tensions grow over nuclear arms | Highlights from Esper's Asia trip | Trump strikes neutral tone on Hong Kong protests | General orders ethics review of special forces Five takeaways from Pentagon chief's first major trip MORE announced the waivers, along with a plan to reduce the number of furlough days from 14 to 11, during a Pentagon town hall meeting in Northern Virginia. 

“We got to a point where we couldn’t responsibly go any deeper into cutting without jeopardizing core missions,” Hagel said regarding the furlough decision. 

“I can’t run this institution into the ditch," he added. 

The department's decision to fence off the Navy's civilian shipbuilding corps drew praise from lawmakers on Capitol Hill. 

"This announcement gives our shipyard employees the financial certainty they deserve and allows the shipyards to avoid furloughs that would have resulted in costly delays in ship and submarine maintenance," Sens. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteGOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs Trump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE (R-N.H.) and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenOvernight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine Defense spending bill advances over Democratic wall objections Democrats ramp up calls to investigate NOAA MORE (D-N.H.) said in a joint statement. 

New Hampshire is home to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, the service's main maintenance dock for it's fleet of nuclear-powered attack submarines, including the Los Angeles-class and next-generation Virginia-class boats. 

However, Rep. Rob WittmanRobert (Rob) Joseph WittmanVirginia Port: Gateway to the economic growth Republican lawmakers ask Trump not to delay Pentagon cloud-computing contract Overnight Defense: Latest on House defense bill markup | Air Force One, low-yield nukes spark debate | House Dems introduce resolutions blocking Saudi arms sales | Trump to send 1,000 troops to Poland MORE (R-Va.), whose district includes the Navy's shipyards in Newport News, slammed the White House for setting the stage for cuts to the defense workforce. 

"I am extremely disappointed the [Obama] administration found no other option over furloughs when they had the flexibility to make other choices," Wittman said Tuesday. 

Even with the Navy exemptions, "furloughs are just one of the effects of compounding budget cuts on our nation’s defense and military readiness," he added. 

For their part, keeping the sea service's shipbuilding base intact was a decision designed to maintain military readiness, according to a senior defense official. 

“We made a decision that it was too serious of an adverse effect” to furlough shipbuilders,  the official told reporters at the Pentagon. 

"We’re talking about [ship] overhauls last months, sometime more than a year," the official added. "They are planned well in advance [and] had we delayed them we would have had very little ability to make it up." 

That possible delay was the crux of the Navy's argument to the Senate defense committee to stave off furloughs to the service's shipbuilders and maintainers. 

The Navy is in the early stages of an ambitious shipbuilding program that will see the service field a 300-ship fleet within the next decade. 

However, those plans could change for the worse if the Navy does not have enough engineers, welders and other positions critical to building that new fleet in place, service acquisition chief Sean Stackley told lawmakers last Wednesday. 

If the Navy cannot deliver on that 300-ship goal, due to a lack of manpower at the service's shipyards, it will not be able to carry out the Pentagon's maritime-heavy national security strategy, Stackley told members of the Senate Armed Services seapower subcommittee at the time.