Wednesday December 04, 2013 | 01:30 PM

WASHINGTON – Shipbuilders are turning to the public to pressure Congress to avert the next round of federal budget cuts that Navy officials warned will impact ship construction and maintenance nationwide, potentially including projects in Maine.

The Shipbuilders Council of America launched a national campaign – dubbed SOS: Save Our Ships – to call attention to the “sequestration” budget cuts. The trade group represents 45 companies that operate 85 shipyards, including the Maine’s Bath Iron Works shipyard operated by General Dynamics.

In addition to an online petition, the organization said the campaign will feature “a combination of digital advertising, earned media programming and grassroots mobilization.”

The petition reads:

“Mandatory, indiscriminant sequestration cuts and continued budget uncertainty threaten to undermine our national and economic security. We support those members of Congress and military leaders who have been on the front line to end the harmful effects of sequestration and budget uncertainty. Congress and the Administration must act now to equip, ready and maintain the vital Navy and Coast Guard assets we currently have and build the vital naval assets we will need in our future. I join with my fellow Americans in requesting Congress and the Adminstration act now in support of our naval fleets."

Sequestration is the (unfortunately named) method by which Washington is currently slated to trim $1.2 trillion in federal spending over 10 years.

Congress and the White House designed the mandatory, across-the-board spending cuts to be so distasteful – at least when compared to strategic cuts – in order to force lawmakers to find a better way to reduce the deficit.

But that didn’t happen. And unless Congress comes up with a better plan soon (something that may, in fact, happen as part of House-Senate budget negotiations) the next round of cuts will kick in early next year.

The Shipbuilders Council seized on comments last month by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert. Speaking to congresional committees, Greenert warned the cuts will seriously impair the Navy’s readiness and have a "debilitating effect" on worker retention/recruitment at public shipyards such as the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery.

I wrote about Greenert’s comments and potential impacts on Maine here.

Greenert said the Navy would have to cancel or defer 34 of the 55 surface ship maintenance periods next fiscal year. Over the long term, he projected the Navy could find itself 50 ships short of its current goal by 2020 if the cuts are allowed to stay in place.

The impacts on Maine's Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and Bath Iron Works are still unclear. The two facilities employ more than 10,000 workers directly as well as thousands more in the state indirectly.

BIW currently has contracts to build about a half-dozen Navy warships. Greenert did not name any of the types of ships under contract at BIW as being affected by next year’s sequestration cuts. However, the Navy has yet to finalize a contract on one additional ship -- valued at roughly $700 million -- because of this year's cuts.

Portsmouth Naval Shipyard specializes in maintaining nuclear-powered submarines, not surface ships. But the U.S.S. Miami nuclear-powered submarine is being scrapped instead of repaired at the Kittery shipyard in part because of this year’s budget cuts.

On a less tangible level, Greenert said the cuts are undermining the Navy’s ability to maintain and recruit highly skilled workers at its four public shipyards, including Portsmouth.



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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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