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As Navy embarks on ship buildup, government watchdog says they should learn from past

WASHINGTON, D.C. - As the Navy embarks on an ambitious shipbuilding program to increase the fleet to 355-ships, a government watchdog says they should be mindful of lessons learned from past performance.

The Navy is planning to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in shipbuilding over the next decade. The goal of increasing the fleet to 355-ships marks the largest increase in more than 30 years.

Now, the Government Accountability Office says as they work towards this goal, the Navy "has an opportunity to improve its shipbuilding approach to avoid past difficulties."

Over the past decade, the GAO issued 26 reports with 67 recommendations to improve Navy shipbuilding.

The new report, entitled "Navy Shipbuilding: Past Performance Provides Valuable Lessons for Future Investments," doesn't include any new recommendations. Instead, it summarizes the GAO's body of work on shipbuilding.

Among the findings of the GAO was that Navy ships have routinely cost more and taken longer to build.

Part of the report looks at the Navy's 2007 goal for a fleet of 330 ships and reports that since then, they fell 50 ships short, going $11 billion over budget and falling behind in schedule, while also delivering "ships with less capability and lower quality than expected."

The GAO blames poor outcomes on policy and processes "that enable the Navy to deviate from shipbuilding best practices."

Among the findings in the GAO report:

  • Nearly all of the lead ships went over budget, with three exceeding initial budgets by 80% or more.
  • Schedule delays are common, with Navy ships routinely falling short of program schedule expectations.
  • The Navy has commonly accepted delivery of ships with deficiencies and incomplete work.
    • This includes starred deficiencies, which are the most serious for operational or safety reasons.
    • The GAO found this practice is contrary to policy, which says that ships and submarines have to be mission capable prior to delivery.
    • In 2017, the GAO discovered 90% of acceptance trial starred deficiencies were not corrected prior to delivery for the eight ships reviewed.
  • Navy ships are falling short of performance expectations.
  • The Navy is often the one footing the bill for cost increases and deficiencies.

You can read the entire report from the GAO here.