GAO: Overdue US Navy maintenance periods impede mission readiness

Illustration. Photo: US Navy
Illustration. Photo: US Navy

The majority of maintenance availabilities, or scheduled periods of ship maintenance and modernization, that were completed from fiscal years 2011 to 2014 took more time than scheduled, thereby reducing the time during which ships were available for training and operations, GAO said in a recently published report.

The congressional watchdog, as the U.S. Government Accountability Office is often called, additionally noted that the Navy continues to experience delays on maintenance begun under the Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP).

The reason GAO did this study is because the Navy has been increasing ship deployment lengths and reducing or deferring ship maintenance to meet heavy operational demands over the past decade. According to GAO, these decisions have reduced the predictability of ship deployments for sailors and for the industrial base that supports ship repair and maintenance.

They have also resulted in declining ship conditions across the fleet, and have increased the amount of time that ships require to complete maintenance in the shipyards. Increased maintenance periods, in turn, compress the time during which ships are available for training and operations, referred to as employability. To address these issues and provide a more sustainable schedule for Navy ships, the Navy began implementing the Optimized Fleet Response Plan in November 2014.

The goal of the OFRP is to maximize ship employability while ensuring adequate time for maintenance and training with continuity in ship leadership and carrier strike group assignments, and restoring operational tempo and personnel tempo rates to acceptable levels.

GAO found that with only a portion of the fleet having entered an optimized cycle, it is too early to assess the OFRP’s effectiveness.

The report further said that public and private shipyards involved in Navy ship maintenance face a number of challenges in completing maintenance on time, including unanticipated work requirements, workforce inexperience, and workload fluctuations.

GAO found that the Navy has been struggling to accurately define ship maintenance requirements, a step that is crucial to completing maintenance on time. Some private shipyard officials say that they may also face challenges as the Navy implements a new contracting strategy.

The agency said it has separate work underway to assess the new contracting strategy.