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Navy secretary sets optimistic tone in visit to BIW

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Navy secretary sets optimistic tone in visit to BIW

BATH — One day shy of his first month on the job, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus spent his first trip outside of Washington, D.C., Monday touring Bath Iron Works and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery.

The visit came on the heels of recent announcements of 125 temporary layoffs at the shipyard due to a workload gap. Still, the tone set by Mabus and the members of Maine's Congressional delegation who accompanied him was one of praise for BIW and optimism that its employees would soon be busy with plenty of work.

Mabus – who was accompanied by U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine – called BIW "an amazing facility." He said he was impressed particularly with the shipyard's Ultra Hall facility and the Wayne E. Meyer (DDG-108) vessel.

He was the second member of President Barack Obama's cabinet to visit BIW in the course of a month, following the May 22 visit by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Snowe said she regretted the recent layoffs at the shipyard and that she has supported a supplemental budget request that includes $190 million in additional work for emergency repairs to three ships. Snowe stated on her Web site last month that the funding would support 100 jobs at BIW, which is facing a workload gap between the DDG-51 program conclusion and upcoming DDG-1000.

Pingree said she has "great concern" for the laid off workers and their families, "but the good news is that there's a lot of work coming ahead, and we know that this yard is on firm footing, and it's really validated by the fact that the secretary of the Navy is with us today."

Mabus is the former governor of Mississippi, home of BIW competitor Ingalls Operations, run by Northrup Grumman. BIW is under contract to build the first DDG-1000 destroyer, but is expected to build all three, with Northrup Grumman supplying components.

Mabus handled questions about loyalty to his home-state industry by noting that BIW was his first trip, and saying it is important to have two competitive shipyards.

"For us to have the ships we need as a Navy and for us to have the ships we need as a nation we've got to have enough shipbuilding capacity, which is represented here in Bath and also in Pascagoula (Miss.)," he said. "As I said in my confirmation hearing, I'm the secretary of the Navy for the United States of America, and I'm going to do the best thing for the United States of America and for the Navy. And this is a very, very impressive shipbuilding facility."

What impressed him the most was the skill and dedication of BIW's workforce, Mabus said.

"America needs these ships. The Navy needs these ships," he said. "And the way we're going to get to build these ships is for the Navy, Bath and (BIW parent company) General Dynamics to work together to make sure that we do these ships affordably, that we do them on time and that we do them to the quality that we've come to expect in Bath."

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.