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Long Beach Naval Shipyard Seen Ripe for Closure

Times Staff Writer

The federal commission charged with identifying obsolete military installations has notified critics of the Long Beach Naval Shipyard that it will base its recommendations for closings primarily on facilities’ military importance--a factor on which the opponents consider Long Beach highly vulnerable.

The Long Beach yard, with a work force of 5,013 and a job of reconditioning Navy ships, has been the target of an aggressive campaign by private shipbuilders who contend that it is unnecessary and does work that could be performed better in the private sector.

In legislation passed in the last session of Congress, the commission was formed to evaluate all military installations and to recommend to Congress which ones should be closed--a number that may approach 50. Congress largely insulated itself from the selection process to prevent political considerations from thwarting the cost-saving closings, as they have in the past.

In a Nov. 3 letter to John J. Stocker, president of the Shipbuilder’s Council of America, commission co-chairman Abraham Ribicoff clarified the criteria for judging obsolescence and stressed that his 12-member group will analyze the nation’s eight naval shipyards “in the context of their military utility, rather than the workload split between the public and private sector.”

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Private shipbuilders’ spokesmen said they will stress during the upcoming review process that Long Beach is one of only two Navy yards not qualified to work on the Navy’s nuclear-powered ships, which make up 26% of the U.S. fleet.

While the Navy believes that the Long Beach yard provides critical facilities and special skills in reworking combat systems, Stocker argued that “these same assets and capabilities are . . . readily available in the private sector.”

The General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress, estimated in a March, 1988, study that private firms perform repair work almost 10% cheaper than public yards.

Long Beach civic officials hope to counter the shipbuilders’ arguments by stressing improvements in the operation of the shipyard, which is the city’s second largest employer behind McDonnell Douglas Corp.

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The Long Beach City Council recently approved formation of a Save Our Shipyard Committee to build its case for the yard.

Gil C. Bond, a spokesman for the pro-shipyard effort, said the yard has been reducing its costs in the last year to make the facility more competitive.

“It would appear that the effort to close public shipyards is not directed at saving taxpayers’ dollars but is an effort to enhance the private sector’s profit motives,” Bond added.


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