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Navy to Hire Thousands of Shipyard Workers as Freeze Ends

The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS West Virginia departs Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Va., following an engineering refueling overhaul. (U.S. Navy photo/Mass Communication 2nd Class Ernest R. Scott)
The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS West Virginia departs Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Va., following an engineering refueling overhaul. (U.S. Navy photo/Mass Communication 2nd Class Ernest R. Scott)

The Navy's top officer visited the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia Thursday with good news: the service plans to hire up to 2,000 more workers in the near future.

In a town hall with Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Giordano, Adm. John Richardson fielded questions from sailors and civilian personnel employed at the Navy's oldest and largest shipyard. When an attendee asked a question about the federal hiring freeze ordered by President Donald Trump in January, he was ready.

"It ended yesterday," Richardson said, drawing prolonged applause from the crowd.

Richardson congratulated the service on continuing to make key shipyard hires despite the freeze

"And I think you would be proud of the Navy in that we were expediting all of those exceptions very, very fast," he said. "And so I hope you didn't feel like everything came to a grinding halt."

Upcoming, Richardson said, was a hiring ramp-up across the Navy's four shipyards in Norfolk;

Kittery, Maine; Bremerton, Wash.; and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

"I am committed also to making sure in the long term we're hiring, whether there's a freeze or not, to just increase your capacity here, not only in Norfolk Naval but in all the shipyards across the Navy," he said. "So we're thinking about, I think it's 1,500-2,000 people across the enterprise, all four shipyards. To make sure that people who are working real hard, like you and your team, have the right number of people."

The right number for the Navy may be headed upward in part because of a stated need to build out the current fleet of 275 deployable ships to 355 in coming decades. In January, the Navy's then-head of acquisition, Sean Stackley, said that move would likely require working to ramp up shipyard worker hiring and fighting to retain the existing workforce by avoiding layoffs and more budget cuts. Stackley is now acting secretary of the Navy.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters Tuesday that the three-month federal hiring freeze would be lifted, effective Wednesday morning.

In the town hall Thursday, Richardson said he was also committed to getting training for new shipyard workers streamlined, so they could begin doing useful work sooner. About 50 percent of the Navy's shipyard workforce has five years of experience or fewer, he said.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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