Coast Guard ship programs facing delays amid national worker shortage
ARLINGTON, Va. — U.S. Navy programs have made recent headlines for falling behind schedule. Now, Coast Guard officials say
ARLINGTON, Va. — U.S. Navy programs have made recent headlines for falling behind schedule. Now, Coast Guard officials say their service, too, fears several of its acquisition programs are at risk of delays, as four separate shipbuilders vie for limited workers along the Gulf Coast.
Rear Adm. Chad Jacoby, the assistant commandant of the Coast Guard for acquisition, said this month workforce challenges — specifically, needing more highly trained welders and design engineers — are contributing to delays on the Polar Security Cutter program at Bollinger Mississippi, formerly VT Halter Marine.
“If you look across all of our construction programs, every shipyard says they’re going to hire 1,000 or 2,000 more people prior to executing the contracts that we have in place. They all happen to be on the Gulf Coast, so if you add up all those numbers, it’s probably physically impossible for every one of those individual shipyards to hire 2,000 more people” to support on-time ship deliveries, Jacoby said on a Jan. 11 panel at the Surface Navy Association annual conference.
He told Defense News after the panel he is specifically concerned about Bollinger Mississippi in Pascagoula and its Polar Security Cutter; Eastern Shipbuilding Group in Panama City, Florida, which is building the first four Offshore Patrol Cutters; Austal USA in Mobile, Alabama, which will build the next 11 OPCs; and Birdon America, a Denver-based company that will build the Waterways Commerce Cutters with a number of Louisiana- and Alabama-based companies.
“It is one workforce across many states,” the admiral said of the Gulf Coast region. “As each shipyard says they’re going to hire people, they’re definitely competing against each other.”
The Navy has spent billions of dollars in recent years on workforce development, looking to attract and train new workers in the submarine and surface ship industrial bases. Jacoby said the Coast Guard does not have authority to make its own industrial base investments, but has relayed to the Navy its shipbuilding needs.
Despite spending in recent years to shore up shipyards and their suppliers, the Navy says a national worker shortage is putting its acquisition programs at risk, including the new Constellation-class frigate program.
Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro announced Jan. 11 the Navy would conduct an analysis of its shipbuilding portfolio, with an eye towards identifying “national and local causes of shipbuilding challenges, as well as recommended actions for achieving a healthier U.S. shipbuilding industrial base” that can deliver quality ships on time.
At Eastern Shipbuilding, which has about 1,500 workers today but needs to hire about 100 more, the yard has gotten creative to keep labor shortages from affecting ship construction schedules, chief executive Joey D’Isernia told Defense News.
“Where we see a pinch in labor and anything that could affect schedule, we’re quick to mitigate it. We have a lot of partners that we utilize in times of surge needs: folks that come in to our yard and we subcontract certain portions of the ship to, or folks that build portions of systems off site,” he said, noting the shortages have been across all trades.
Bollinger Mississippi declined to comment. Austal USA and Birdon America did not respond to requests for comment.
Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.