In today’s newsroom, reporters and editors are doing a lot more with less; number of stories to turn in, little time for multiple interviews, deadline pushed up for some reason, editor gives a quick glance because he or she has 20 more to read. The list is endless.
Even the best writers can miss a point, not ask the key question or just not follow through by connecting the dots.
I get a lot of feeds either through my email, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. about the military from those who have served. Most of these are written by real experts who keep me honest in my own writing.
So, today I get an email from a former Navy Top Gun instructor who runs a great website called Neptunus Lex. Lex has interesting takes on the news and how it affects the military and the Navy in particular.
Lex writes that U.S. Rep. Duncan D. Hunter Jr., the congressman representing the eastern part of San Diego County, is busting Navy Secretary Ray Mabus chops in a July 1 letter. Hunter asks the Secretary if it might be wise to rebid contracts for the Navy’s littoral combat ship program following continuing reports that USS Independence has serious and expensive design and technical problems that threaten the performance of the ship.
Hunter writes in part:
“In a statement by the Navy on June 23, 2011, it was revealed that diver inspections and ultrasonic tests conducted on LCS2, the USS Independence, ‘revealed aggressive galvanic corrosion pitting within all four of the water jet tunnels and water jet cone assemblies.’ This follows a March 18, 2011 report that LCS-1, the USS Freedom, had developed a crack in its hull during sea trials.
“This would come as a surprise if the Government Accountability Office (GAO) had not previously warned Congress in 2007 that the Navy had moved forward on an ambitious schedule despite significant design stabilization problems. Their report warned that ‘construction work has been performed out of sequence and significant rework was required, disrupting the optimal construction sequence and application of lessons learned for follow-on vessels in these programs …’ In pushing a faulty design, blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the Navy.”
“In addition to rushing through design planning and testing, the cost of the vessel has doubled from $220 million per copy to $480 million. And now, in the President’s FY12 Budget, we see an estimated end cost of $537 million for LCS-1 and $653 million for LCS-2. If these are the costs after a few years of design and testing, the history of the Department of Defense procurement program tells us we can expect these costs to continue to climb. Even more frustrating is the fact that we still do not know if these ships will ever be able to fulfill the intended missions when they were presented to Congress.”
This is at least the second time in a month Hunter has taken a swipe at the Navy, and I can take him to task once more; well, along with the San Diego Union-Tribune reporter who wrote the story pulled by Neptunus Lex and the UT editor who cleared it.
The LCS program is in trouble. But the shipbuilder, Austal and General Dynamics, probably are not the only parties at fault with the corrosion problem on the warship, according to Eric Wertheim author of “Combat Fleets of the World.” He told Wired.com the issue was the entire LCS and Navy acquisition process.
OK, so the ship is rusting before our eyes and the Navy jammed this project through without fiscal and engineering safeguards. But what about connecting the dots, especially in Hunter’s letter?
Here’s where the reporter missed the boat.
Hunter points to a 2007 GAO report that gave some early warning signs about the LCS program. Yet, the authorization for continued funding of the ship and its sister USS Freedom were inserted into the budget by none other than Duncan Hunter Sr. when he sat in Congress — that’s right, junior’s dad.
“Gee, Congressman Junior, the funding was pushed by your father despite the GAO’s report. Have you asked him about that? Do you know your stepping all over your daddy’s legacy?”
“Do you have a comment that this was signed into law by President George W. Bush, whom you endorsed?”
As for the cost over run, “Congressman Junior, did you know that your dad is the one that sponsored the bill to increase the acquisition from $220 million each to $480 million. Why yes, Congressman, it’s right here in the DUNCAN HUNTER (daddy’s) NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2009 (page 22).”
But we know that Hunter Jr. is wanting to bring jobs to San Diego, that’s a good thing. He’s asking that the ship-building project be reconsidered — meaning, San Diego’s only ship-building company should get the contract. (Hunter Senior had has own pork he wanted to bring home USS Sea Fighter, a ship the Navy didn’t want.)
Mabus says there’s nothing wrong with the current shipbuilder in Mobile, Ala. Austal is Mobile’s largest industrial employer and has a contract to build up to 10 littoral combat ships at the facility.
For more on the littoral combat ship program, read the Congressional Research Services’ background paper: http://www.pogoarchives.org/m/ns/crs-rl33741-20101129.pdf