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Ship-Building Program Means Pittsfield Jobs

Staff Reports

Update: Despite a rousing offense by Sen. John McCain, Republicans helped pass a controversial authorization for a $5 billion Navy contract that is expected to bring 500 jobs to Pittsfield.

Al.com, covering Alabama, reported late Tuesday that both houses of Congress had passed the bill, which was signed by President Obama on Wednesday morning.

McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee had opposed a plan crafted in part by Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and the Navy to double the purchase of coastal defense ship from 10 to 20. That would allow for contracts to two teams, one of which included General Dynamics. The company said the contract would mean 500 positions in Pittsfield for work on the ship's computerized systems. McCain decried the contracts as wasteful.

The tipping point appears to have been General Dynamics' team leader Austal USA, which would reportedly bring 1,800 jobs its Mobile shipyard building facility.

The funding was part of a $1.1 trillion omnibus bill that ran into trouble last week. On Tuesday, a budget extension measure passed, towing along the Navy appropriation. Al.com reports the Senate approved it 79-16 and the House 193-165, with Rep. Jo Bonner of Mobile the only Republican voting in favor.

Original post: 12-14-2010 06:05PM

Pittsfield is holding its breath in hopes Congress will OK expenditures for 10 more Navy coastal ships — a move that could mean 500 jobs for the city.

"We're anxiously waiting for it," Mayor James Ruberto told the Boston Globe on Monday. "It would be just an incredible Christmas present for Pittsfield and the Berkshires."

The Navy is seeking $1 billion to double the number of close-shore combat ships it wants but critics say the first four ships built for the Littoral Combat Ship program haven't justified the need for more.

The House has approved a $1.1 trillion spending bill that includes the ship authorization but Senate has balked; Sen. John Kerry is pushing for approval before an extended deadline expires — along with this Congress — at the end of the month.

General Dynamics is partnered with Austal Ltd. on one of two teams that would be selected to each build 10 ships, a plan backed by both Kerry and the Navy. General Dynamics said that guarantee means 500 jobs for work on the computer systems at its Advanced Information Systems plant in Pittsfield. Lockheed Martin, working with Marinette Marine Corp., are the second team.

Bids were to be acted on Tuesday both teams agreed to extend the prices in their bids until Dec. 30. Hearings on the ships were held on Tuesday afternoon before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, leading Republican on the committee, took Navy officials to task for letting program costs run rampant. McCain has been a vocal critic of the program, using a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office to make his point. Navy officials said the design to buy double the number of ships would help contain costs, saving nearly $3 billion and getting 20 ships for the cost of 19.

Update, Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010, 10:34 p.m.: The Democratic leadership has pulled the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill that includes funding for the LCS program from the Senate floor. It is  unclear if the bill will passed before its Saturday deadline.

Tags: Navy, computers      
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