Updates to two previous columns on regulations and ships

at 01:38 PM ET, 09/27/2011

Sometimes Fact Checker columns generate debate and discussion that reverberate in other quarters, yet we don’t always have an opportunity to update readers who may be interested in these issues. So here is an attempt to alert readers to some of this new information, on two unrelated columns—though we admit some of it may seem a bit in the weeds.

How many pending regulations?

 Earlier this month, we awarded Three Pinocchios to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for the statement that the Obama administration “has 219 new rules in the works that will cost our economy at least $100 million.” We dug into some of the regulations and concluded the number of potential regulations was inflated, as well as the potential impact.

 That conclusion was later attacked on the National Review Web site by a former Bush administration official for having “missed the forest as well as the trees.”

 Now, Susan Dudley, the director of the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center—who produced the original 219 figure— has conducted a much deeper analysis of the White House budget database that was the source of the figure.

 As we wrote, the number is smaller when the data is closely studied. Dudley identifies just 158 pending actions at the $100 million threshold. But she also makes the interesting point that the database has its limitations, especially regulations completed on a expedited basis or those issued by independent regulatory commissions. Her full analysis can be found on the Web site RegBlog or at the GW Regulatory Studies Center.

 

How many people building ships?

Meanwhile, this month we also awarded two Pinocchios to former Massachusetts governor. Mitt Romney for repeating a tall tale about “enormous waste” in the military. We checked into the story, which came from former Navy secretary John Lehman, that during World War II, the Bureau of Ships had 1,000 people to build 1,000 ships and now the Navy has 25,000 people just to build nine ships. We found that the actual number today is closer to 500 people, not 25,000.

 Lehman forwarded our e-mail exchanges to current Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who in turn sent us a copy of his reply. Here’s a copy of his letter, which includes updated numbers on the personnel at Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), the entity that now includes the functions of the former Bureau of Ships.

Letter from Mabus to Lehman, Sept. 15, 2011

John,

 Thanks for forwarding your exchange with the Washington Post.  As you would expect, with the focus on reducing our cost of doing business - particularly in the current and foreseeable fiscal environment - we have placed a great deal of attention into reducing unnecessary overhead in all of our headquarters. Your observation that NAVSEA headquarters has grown five-fold runs counter to this effort, so I made it a point to run the real numbers to ground.  

 As you've pointed out, on average, 16-17 ships per year were authorized/appropriated over the period of 1981 - 1987.  For this workload, which comprised a relatively low number of new start programs, NAVSEA headquarters averaged 4,854 employees (including personnel now resident in our PEO* structure).  At the same time, the total NAVSEA workforce including field activities, warfare centers, Supervisors of Shipbuilding, and shipyards totaled, on average, over 107,000 employees.

 Today we procure about 10 ships per year, with all but the DDG 51** program either currently building or recently delivering its first of class (within the past 5-6 years).  For this workload, NAVSEA headquarters currently employs 3,127 (including personnel in the affiliated PEOs).  Moreover, this sized headquarters has absorbed a number of functions through various consolidations as the total NAVSEA workforce has decreased by about half, from 107,000 in the 1980s to today's total of just under 55,000.  These numbers have varied somewhat with workload.  For example, in 2007, NAVSEA Headquarters was at its lowest point in the last 20 years (2,275 employees), consistent with the fact that 2006 was our low-point for ship authorizations/appropriations (6 total that year). 

 The truth of the matter is that the workforce associated with NAVSEA headquarters and NAVSEA overall has been reduced considerably since the 1980s. This reduction was not all good. In fact, a series of critical independent reviews has pointed to the downsizing of NAVSEA headquarters through the mid-1990s as a key causal factor to the history of cost growth experienced by new ship programs launched during that period. 

 I took the opportunity to also scrutinize the Department's contractor support. Here, too, we have been steadily drawing down our reliance on outsourcing certain technical and programmatic expertise and authority that belongs within the government.  Since 2009, contractor support to NAVSEA headquarters (as well as other systems commands) has been reduced by about 12%, from 5800 to 5100 contractors, and I'm pushing to make continued concerted reductions that are in line with our overall efforts to reduce our cost of doing business.  While anecdotal information suggests today's level of contractor support at headquarters is on par or even below that of the 1980s, I can't draw that conclusion simply because we don't have adequate records on support contractors from that time (not for an apples to apples comparison, at least).

 We have a long way to go to balance our cost of doing business with fiscal reality, but we've made meaningful progress and are pointed in the right direction.  Along the way, we also need to tighten our grip on the expertise we need in-house to tackle the significant technical, contractual, financial, and programmatic challenges that come with being the greatest Navy in an ever-dangerous world.

 We share this same cause and I always welcome your insights to such end.

 Ray

Notes:

*PEO stands for Program Executive Offices

**DDG 51 is a class of destroyer

 
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    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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