Maintenance work performed on aircraft carriers and submarines at four Navy shipyards is years behind schedule due to unplanned work and performance issues leading to negative impacts on military readiness, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says in a new report.
The shipyards completed 75 percent of the maintenance periods late for carriers and submarines between fiscal years 2015 and 2019, amounting to 7,424 days of delay, says the report, Actions Needed to Address the Main Factors Causing Maintenance Delays for Aircraft Carriers and Submarines (GAO-20-588). The seven thousand-plus days of delay amounts to more than 20 years.
The average delay for maintenance completed carriers that were late was 113 days and for submarines 225 days, GAO says. During the five-year period reviewed, the report says 10 of 18 carrier and 28 of submarine maintenance periods suffered delays.
There were two main causes for the delays for both carriers and submarines, unplanned work and workforce issues, GAO says.
“We found that unplanned work—any changes made to the detailed work package after it has been finalized prior to the start of a maintenance period—contributed to the most delays in aircraft carrier and submarine maintenance periods,” the report says.
More than a third of the time the Navy underestimated how long it would take to complete maintenance periods on both types of vessels, GAO says.
As for workforce issues, GAO says this “contributed to more than 4,000 days of maintenance delay on aircraft carriers and submarines” due to “shipyard workforce performance, capacity (that is having enough people to perform the work), and ship’s crew (e.g., testing, training, qualifications, and performance), among other things.”
GAO said in a 2018 report on maintenance issues that development of the workforces at the four shipyards is hindered by recruiting, training, and retention issues for skilled jobs.
“Although the overall shipyard workforce has grown by 3,867 people, officials from all four shipyards told us the shipyards are working beyond their capacity and do not have enough fully trained production personnel to perform work in a timely manner,” the report says.
GAO also says that “idle time” contributed to delays in the case of submarines. Idle time is when submarines are waiting to have maintenance work done because the shipyards don’t have the capacity to begin work.
The four Navy shipyards are in Norfolk, Va., Pear Harbor, Hawaii, Portsmouth, Maine, and Puget Sound, Wash.
The Navy has made efforts to improve the performance of its shipyards but has not fully addressed problems in the areas of unplanned work and the workforce, GAO says.
The Naval Sea Systems Command “has begun its Shipyard Performance to Plan initiative to help address both the unplanned work and workforce factors” but “the initiative does not include key elements of a results-oriented management approach such as fully-developed quantitative metrics, goals, and milestones,” the report says.
The Navy concurred with all three of GAO’s recommendations, which call for the service to complete its metrics for the Shipyard Performance to Plan, ensure the service has goals and action plans to monitor the plan, and avoid over use of overtime at the shipyards.