Austin acknowledges ‘problem’ in comments on USS George Washington

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at a congressional hearing on Wednesday acknowledged that there’s a “problem” in terms of how Navy sailors are housed aboard ships in need of repair, such as the USS George Washington.

Austin’s remarks were his first about living conditions on the USS George Washington, where seven sailors have died in the past year.

The Pentagon chief was pressed about the living conditions during questioning from Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) at a hearing of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the Defense Department.

Kaptur said she was worried worried that the time being taken to repair ships is creating a “dispirited situation” for sailors assigned to them.

“For hundreds of sailors, they have no access to housing or a car, and they’re stuck on the ship,” Kaptur said. “This is really demoralizing.”

In response, Austin acknowledged that some sailors had been assigned to stay on ships going through repairs and that while there were reasons for those decisions, “there’s a problem there.”

“We’ve got to understand what that problem was a bit more, and then we have to figure out what to do so we don’t have these kinds of problems in the future,” he added.

Three of the deaths on the USS George Washington were suicides within a week of each other in April. Sailors assigned to the ship have spoken out about the harsh conditions they have to work in.

The service has allowed sailors currently living on the ship to temporarily relocate, and the service is conducting two investigations into the deaths. Austin said he looked forward to seeing the results of the probe and added that Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro is scheduled to visit the command of the ship on May 17.

The USS George Washington is currently undergoing a midlife overhaul near the city of Newport News, Va., which has been ongoing since 2017. The typical four-year project is still undergoing repairs.

Austin noted that the repair of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier like the George Washington is “very, very sophisticated,” adding that the pandemic has placed “significant” pressure on the work being done. 

“It certainly was not anticipated that the ship would be in the repair cycle this long,” he said. “But nevertheless, I expect the leadership to make the right decisions.”

Updated at 2:01 p.m.

Tags George Washington Lloyd Austin Lloyd Austin Marcy Kaptur Marcy Kaptur

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