A U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released Tuesday found that the U.S. Navy’s four public shipyards’ facilities and equipment remain in poor condition leading to a continued backlog in maintenance and are inadequate to Navy needs.

The four public shipyards are the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility, and Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility. They focus on conducting repair and refueling work on nuclear powered aircraft carriers and submarines.

The Norfolk Naval Shipyard. Photo: GAO.
The Norfolk Naval Shipyard. Photo: GAO.

The office explained the shipyards are critical to maintaining fleet readiness and supporting ongoing operations involving nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines.

“The condition of these facilities affects the readiness of the aircraft carrier and submarine fleets,” the GAO said.

The Navy contracts private shipyards separately to do the majority of repair work on the its surface and amphibious warfare ships.

The office analyzed Navy shipyard facilities data from fiscal years 2000 to 2016 only to find the cost of backlogs and maintenance fixes has grown by 41 percent over five years. At $4.9 billion, according to a Navy estimate, the GAO said dealing with the backlogged restoration and maintenance projects will take at least 19 years to clear.

These findings come after a 2013 plan developed by the Navy to improve most of its shipyard facilities in response to Congressional directives. At the time, the Navy was aiming for an estimated 17 year timeframe (through 2030) to completely clear the maintenance and infrastructure backlog. The plan intended to improve the condition of critical shipyard facilities and utilities, mitigate drydock risks, and centralize maintenance operations in specific areas of shipyards to reduce transit time.

The GAO said this plan also sought to address failing utilities to prevent depot maintenance operations from being disrupted or degraded.

Despite the planning and efforts, GAO found an Navy analysis showed the average age of shipyard capital equipment currently exceeds expected useful life and the shipyards’ drydocks also require restorations and modernization. These poor conditions are partly resulting in the shipyards not fully meeting the Navy’s operational needs, the office said.

GAO’s estimate that 19 years are needed to eliminate shipyard issue backlogs is in contrast with the 17 years the Navy estimated it needed in 2013 when it published its shipyard improvement plan.

The GAO found that Navy data suggests the shipyards may have a combined 1.2 million square feet of unusable facility space, “including some in prime waterfront locations that shipyard officials said could be used to improve the efficiency of ship repair processes.”

Notably, shipyard officials told the GAO that the yards were not designed for their current mission and the layout, size of facilities, pier space, utilities, and safety systems contribute to reducing the efficiency of the shipyards for repair work.

“In fiscal years 2000 through 2016, inadequate facilities and equipment led to maintenance delays that contributed in part to more than 1,300 lost operational days” for aircraft carriers and 12,500 lost operational days for submarines. These are days when the vessels are not available for operations.

Overall, the GAO evaluated the state of the shipyards’ capital facilities and equipment, the extent to which shipyard capital facilities and equipment support the Navy’s operational needs, and the extent to which the Navy’s capital improvement plans are addressing shipyard challenges.

The GAO said the Navy itself estimates it will be unable to conduct 73 of 218 maintenance periods over the next 23 fiscal years because of insufficient capacity and other deficiencies.

GAO seal

The GAO conducted the study in accordance with Senate Report 114-255 accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017. Congress directed the GAO to examine the capital investment in and performance of the Navy’s shipyards. The office reviewed data on shipyard capital investments and performance, the age and condition of facilities and equipment, and Navy guidance. It also visited the shipyards and interviewed Navy and shipyard officials.

The office said that while the Navy has developed detailed plans for investment in facilities and equipment at the shipyards to prioritize investment strategies, “this approach does not fully address the shipyards’ challenges, in part because the plans are missing key elements.”

GAO also said the Navy’s plans are missing things like analytically-based goals and metrics, a full identification of the shipyards’ resource needs, regular management reviews of progress, and reporting on progress to Congress and key decisionmakers.

The report highlighted how the Navy estimates it will need upwards of $9 billion in capital investment over the new 12 fiscal years, “but this estimate does not account for all expected costs, such as those for planning and modernizing the shipyards’ utility infrastructure.”

GAO warned that without adopting a “comprehensive, results-oriented approach to addressing its capital investment needs,” the Navy may see continual deterioration of the shipyards.

GAO made three recommendations on what the secretary of the Navy, now Richard Spencer, should conduct and develop.

Spencer should develop a comprehensive plan for shipyard capital investment that establishes three elements: the desired goal for shipyard condition and capabilities; an estimate of the full costs to implement the plan including relevant requirements, external risk factors, and associated planning costs; and metrics for assessing progress toward meeting the goal to include measuring the effectiveness of capital investments.

It also recommended Spencer conduct regular management reviews including all stakeholders to oversee implementation of the plan, review metrics, assess progress, and make adjustments when necessary to ensure reaching the goal.

The GAO also recommended Spencer should provide regular reporting to Congress and key decisionmakers on what progress the shipyards are making to meet the comprehensive plan goal. The reports should also include any challenges that hinder progress, like cost.