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Navy Could Need More Funding Waivers if CR Period Stretches

An undated artist’s rendering of the planned Columbia-class submarine. Naval Sea Systems Command Image

While the Navy is focused on how a potential continuing resolution could affect the new Columbia-class submarine program, the service’s acquisition chief on Tuesday warned it would likely need additional spending waivers if a stopgap measure stretches longer than expected.

“By far the largest and most impactful one is Columbia and so that is the one that’s got our primary focus. The current CR, as I understand it, is a relatively short CR period – again, it’s a moving target. And so if that CR period starts to extend, we’ll have more impact and more things we’d want considered,” James Geurts told reporters today.

Lawmakers have not achieved a spending deal for the impending new fiscal year and are expected to use a continuing resolution to keep the government funded once Fiscal Year 2021 begins on Oct 1. CRs prevent the services from spending funds on new programs and freeze spending to the prior fiscal year’s levels.

House Democrats recently unveiled a stopgap measure that would keep the government funded through Dec. 11. The bill includes language that would enable the Navy to put two Columbia-class submarines on contract as soon as FY 2021 starts and permit the Navy to “use incremental funding” for the contract.

“Right now, for the shorter-term CR as I understand it, the Columbia is really the one that’s of most critical importance, given that we don’t have much schedule margin to that program,” Geurts said. “And so we are poised to start full construction on that, pending getting the CR with that anomaly and then we’ll be ready to go.”

Columbia is the Navy’s top acquisition priority and the replacement for the sea-based leg of the nuclear triad. The service is planning to issue the procurement award for Columbia early in the new fiscal year, but would need a waiver to award the contract if the government is operating under a CR.

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday criticized the bill from House Democrats that includes the Columbia provision, arguing the legislation does not provide adequate relief for farmers. Lawmakers must pass a stopgap appropriations measure by Sept. 30 or the government will shut down.

“House Democrats’ rough draft of a government funding bill shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need,” McConnell wrote on Twitter Monday. “This is no time to add insult to injury and defund help for farmers and rural America.”

Speaking at the virtual Modern Day Marine conference on Tuesday, Geurts said he has expressed how a continuing resolution would affect the Columbia program and that CRs have a significant impact on sustainment efforts for Navy ships.

“CRs by their own nature are certainly disruptive. Uncertainty in CRs make disruption even more disruptive. And so I’ve certainly been vocal that that’s a challenge looming in front of us. Conversely, our teams are adaptive and you know – hope for the best, plan for the worst,” he said.

“And so we’re challenging our acquisition teams to be thinking our way through that. Part of it is to have the work lined up and not wait for the money to come before we have the contracts ready to roll and all that kind of stuff,” Geurts continued. “So there’s still things even in a CR we can do to minimize the impact. But it certainly has an impact on what we do.”