White House Urges Congress to Fund New Submarines

USS Florida (SSGN 728), an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine, arrives off the island of Crete in 2010. The new Columbia class of subs would replace the Ohio class. (US Navy photo)
USS Florida (SSGN 728), an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine, arrives off the island of Crete in 2010. The new Columbia class of subs would replace the Ohio class. (US Navy photo)

The Navy's new ballistic missile submarine is on a White House wish list to receive funding under a temporary measure to finance the government through early 2017.

The White House is asking Congress to allot $773.1 million in advanced procurement funding for the Columbia-class program, to design and produce a new fleet of ballistic missile submarines to replace the current fleet of 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines built in the 1980s and '90s.

An exception, called an "anomaly," is needed so that new funding for the Columbia-class program could be appropriated under a continuing resolution. "Without this anomaly, design work could not begin in January 2017 as scheduled, and the production line, delivery schedules, and potentially the cost of the program would be affected," the document says.

Republican congressional leaders are intent on giving President-elect Donald Trump's administration a say in how to spend the remainder of the fiscal 2017 budget, and are pushing for a measure to fund the government through March, once current government funding runs out Dec. 9.

Congress will return next week to finish work on the 2017 budget and other pressing items, closing out the lame-duck session.

Under the measure, known as a continuing resolution, new projects cannot be funded and funding levels remain the same as last year's. The 2017 fiscal year is the first year that procurement funds are being allotted for the Columbia program and, as such, it's considered a new project.

That's a problem for Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and 30-plus other House lawmakers who urged the chairmen and ranking members of the House Appropriations Committee and the defense subcommittee in a letter last week to not disrupt funding to the Columbia program. A similar letter was sent to the chair and ranking members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense from a group of Senate lawmakers led by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

Both groups of lawmakers pointed to delays in the program and cuts to staffing that would occur if the $773.1 million is not appropriated.

Courtney acknowledged that getting new funding appropriated under a continuing resolution is a hard sell, but said the inclusion of the $773.1 million on the White House's list is a "really positive development," given the measure requires President Barack Obama's signature.

"The competition is incredibly intense when you're talking about a continuing resolution that's going to run through March," Courtney said. "We're halfway into the fiscal year (by that point) so getting the funding now is a priority for everyone who has a new expenditure."

Electric Boat, which is in Courtney's district, will do the bulk of the work on the Columbia program, as prime contractor. Already, more than 2,900 full-time employees at EB are working on the estimated $97 billion program.

Newport News in Virginia will be doing 20 to 30 percent of the construction work and more than 300 of its full-time employees are working on the program, a top priority for the Navy and the Department of Defense, which have pointed to its significance as a nuclear deterrent. The submarines will carry 70 percent of the U.S.'s active nuclear arsenal.

(c)2016 The Day (New London, Conn.)

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