Defense bill blocks attempt to cut shipyard

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 4, 2016

By Rep. Bradley Byrne

Southwest Alabama has a proud military tradition. Our area is home to a large number of veterans. The Coast Guard has a strong presence here. Important military vessels are constructed up and down the Gulf Coast. These are all things we take great pride in.

That’s why it was so frustrating last December when Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced his plans to cut the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program from 52 total ships to just 40. The LCS is the Navy vessel built at Austal USA in Mobile. More than 4,000 men and women are directly employed by the shipyard.

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Two different versions of the LCS are currently being built by Austal in Mobile and Marinette Marine in Wisconsin. The secretary also proposed eliminating one of the versions entirely in a “downselect” to a single builder. Navy officials testified before Congress that this would result in one of the shipyards closing entirely.

I immediately went to work to make sure his efforts would not be successful. When the president’s budget was released and included the proposed cuts, I doubled down in my efforts. Ultimately, it is the decision of Congress, not a lame-duck president and a lame-duck secretary of defense.

Let me be clear up front: I don’t support the LCS program simply because it is built in our area. I support the program because the Navy has made clear time and time again they like the LCS and they need the ship in order to fulfill their mission. If these ships weren’t critical to the Navy, then I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.

So, I set out to stop these proposed cuts. In Congress, I serve on the House Armed Services Committee, which has jurisdiction over our nation’s entire military. Each year, the committee must pass legislation known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This is the bill that sets policy and authorizes funding for military operations and programs.

As part of his efforts to cut the program, President Barack Obama’s budget only requested funding for two Littoral Combat Ships this year, instead of the required three ships. My goal was to make sure the NDAA included full funding for three ships while also stopping the cuts from moving forward.

I’m pleased to report that our efforts were successful, and the NDAA includes funding for three ships. I also introduced an amendment to prevent the Pentagon from following through with their plans to eliminate one of the two builders. My amendment was adopted without any opposition.

Ultimately, the NDAA passed the full Armed Services Committee early Thursday morning after more than 15 hours of debate. In a sign of the truly bipartisan nature of our committee, the bill passed by a vote of 60-2.

This was a resounding victory for all the men and women who work at the Austal shipyard in Mobile. This means both Republicans and Democrats agree that Obama is wrong for trying to cut the LCS program, which is so important to the Navy.

More challenges may arise, but I promise to keep fighting for the LCS, the Navy and the people who work at that shipyard. Most importantly, I promise to keep fighting for Southwest Alabama and our proud military traditions.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne represents the 1st Congressional District of Alabama, which includes Escambia County.