WASHINGTON — In a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and acting Navy secretary Thomas Modly, the congressional delegation from Maine has requested quicker payments and relief from contractual obligations for the defense industrial base, including local shipyards, impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
In the letter sent Thursday, the delegation — Republican Sen. Susan Collin and Independent Sen. Angus King, as well as democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden — warn that “the Department of Defense and the Navy must immediately act to protect our nation’s defense industrial base, including our nation’s shipyards.”
Maine is home to Bath Iron Works, owned by General Dynamics, which produces both the Zumwalt and Arleigh Burke class destroyers.
The delegation has three key demands. The first is for the department to “work to mitigate cash flow and other financial burdens” on contractors and subcontractors as a result of the outbreak, “to include relief from contracting requirements that are uniquely impacted by COVID-19.”
The contract relief being sought involves waiving schedule and price requirements in case delivery times are impacted by loss of workforce due to coronavirus-inflicted travel bans, closures, quarantines or travel restrictions. It could also potentially give cover should a subcontractor be unable to deliver a part on time.
Second, to take “any actions possible to accelerate or advance payments or new contract obligations in order to provide immediate stability to the industrial base.” The lawmakers offer to “immediately assist” the department if additional funding or “new legal authorities” are needed to make such sped-up payments possible.
And third, the delegation calls for the department to clarify “planning and public guidance to ensure a stable industrial base while also ensuring the health and safety of the defense industrial base workforce” — that is, to make clear what workers must stay at work, and which could potentially work from home.
A spokesman for General Dynamics told Defense News earlier this week that they are allowing anyone who can work from home to do so, while curtailing travel and pausing participation in trade shows.
“An outbreak of COVID-19 at one of our nation’s shipyards or other large defense contractors could truly be devastating to our national defense,” the delegation writes. “We ask you to work with and support industry to take all the necessary protective actions.”
King is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, while Collins sits on the appropriations defense subcommittee. Pingree is a member of the House Appropriations Committee while Golden is on the House Armed Services Committee. It is expected that Collins, at least, will be speaking directly to Modly about the issue in the near future.
David B. Larter in Washington contributed to this story.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.