At first blush, last week’s decision by the U.S. Navy to award a detail design and construction contract to Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) for the DDG-113 Arleigh Burke destroyer without releasing the contract amount would appear ripe for sarcastic commentary.
Just picture a new game show, patterned after The Price Is Right and featuring some Bob Barker-clone, where contractors, analysts and politicos try to guess the cost of the next destroyer, sub or other warship.
If they lose, they get what’s behind door number two – a bid protest, perhaps, or a Nunn-McCurdy breach.
But this is too important a subject to be sarcastically flippant.
The Navy’s stated reason for denying the cost figure – “because there is a forthcoming competitive solicitation for additional DDG 51 class ships” and “the contract award amount of DDG-113 is considered source selection information” – is twisted and contorted language at its worst.
Using that kind of rationalization, just about any future contract price for the Defense Department – or any other government agency – could be withheld. They're all supposed to be subject to “competitive solicitation.” That’s how the acquisition process works.
This case is particularly insulting. The field of shipbuilders for this work is a pretty tight one, and by keeping the cost private between the Navy and Huntington Ingalls Industries, the company gets a leg up in any “competitive solicitations” going forward.
Further, there’s more than a little debate among defense analysts over just how expensive these DDGs are going to be.
Fess up, folks, and tell us how much of the U.S. Treasury you’re obligating.