Navy’s $128 billion nuclear submarine project faces audit

April 17, 2019 GMT

The Pentagon’s inspector general plans to audit how well the Navy is overseeing development of the propulsion and steering system for its new 128 billion estimate includes research and development with $115 billion for procurement. 

The Government Accountability Office said in a report released last week that the Navy’s procurement estimate is “not realistic because it is based on several overly optimistic assumptions, such as the amount of labor needed for construction.”

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said in a phone interview with The Day last week that he “respectfully disagrees” with some of GAO’s conclusions in the report.

Courtney said his office is in regular contact with EB, the prime contractor for the Columbia program, and “they disagree.”

“There’s risk there, I would concede that, but I think their conclusion is too premature,” Courtney said.

EB did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

While it’s good to “have another set of eyes watching this,” the GAO report “underplayed” the Navy’s acknowledgement that the program requires special attention, Courtney said. The Navy recently assigned an admiral to exclusively focus on the Columbia program.

As chair of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, Courtney will be in a good position to advocate for the program as funding requests continue to grow.

“Everybody knows this is a really big program, an expensive program. It’s doing some new things in terms of propulsion,” Courtney said.

He also argued that the GAO report “discounts” the savings that could be achieved through the National Sea Based Deterrence Fund, which he championed as a way to pay for the costly program outside of the Navy’s shipbuilding budget. An October 2015 report from the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the fund has the potential to save the Navy several hundred million dollars per submarine by authorizing the service to purchase components and materials for the submarines “in batches.”