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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Pearl shipyard scare issues a wake-up call


There's cause for celebration in the news that the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard won't be pegged for closure anytime soon.

Hawai'i leaders taking the lead in the battle to preserve the shipyard included our congressional delegation, the governor, Honolulu's mayor, several retired admirals who have adopted Hawai'i as their second home, the Chamber of Commerce and many private-sector executives.

All deserve thanks and congratulations for rising to the challenge, reaffirming the crucial role the shipyard plays in naval preparedness and its importance to the community as a whole.


Their effort and their argument was not simply a parochial effort to protect hometown jobs. They were joined by military leaders who asserted the strategic and military importance of this vital facility in the mid-Pacific.

But this "victory," if you will, comes with a warning that Hawai'i must heed: We must not take our role for granted and must be prepared to compete on a global stage.

Comparisons among military installations are made, and Pearl Harbor must do its best to perform to national standards.

Following the impassioned and well-founded defense of the shipyard, based primarily on its strategic mid-Pacific location, the chairman of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission raised the issue of Pearl Harbor's low efficiency rating.


Anthony J. Principi passed along the sobering characterization, presented to the commissioners, that the work at the Hawai'i facility falls below the quality achieved by Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine.

Now, that depends in part on how one measures efficiency and quality. The Hawai'i facility sits in the middle of an active Navy base and must take all comers. Portsmouth is a dedicated shipyard that is able to focus on that one mission alone.

Still, the time is long past when we can assume that our mid-Pacific facility is inevitably secure. Nor should we assume that political leaders can protect the shipyard from forces who would see it closed.

In fact, that is precisely what the BRAC process is supposed to be about: taking the politics out of the process.


In a little more than a month, President Bush must decide whether to accept the commission's recommendations. Of course, Hawai'i residents trust that he will accept it, ensuring the continued existence of a shipyard to serve the Pacific Fleet.

Indeed, the Pentagon has advised that Pearl Harbor's closure would be unwise on a practical level; top military officials have argued compellingly that closing the shipyard, with its nuclear repair operations, could hurt Navy operations overall.

But it's disconcerting to hear some members of the panel cite the record of Portsmouth, where ships are overhauled quicker and cheaper than at Pearl Harbor. Most distressingly of all, this is not the first time the Island shipyard has been chastised for its operational shortcomings.

Even U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, in the forefront among Pearl Harbor's defenders, has recognized the need for improvements, and alerted officials accordingly, in past years.


Global security concerns have heaped new demands on the U.S. military, which, as Inouye has underscored clearly, really would benefit from maintaining as many existing facilities as possible. A more efficient Pearl Harbor operation would be good for the entire network that supports naval capability. It also would help ensure the shipyard's long-term survival.

Government and business leaders, who all have rallied around the shipyard cause, now should press for an evaluation of the operation and a plan for change.

As relieved as we all feel because Pearl Harbor has dodged this bullet, we have to hear the wake-up call still resounding after the cheering dies down.