U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command (Navsea) is taking significant steps to make sure the maintenance work on its ships is being done as it should be.

“Navsea is increasing quality assurance oversight at its Regional Maintenance Centers (RMCs),” the Navy unit says. “The RMCs are required to oversee all work conducted by contractors in their geographic regions, and they work closely with the industry partners to ensure work is correctly conducted and documented.”

Further, Navsea says, “The Navy is examining ship repair contractual vehicles to increase focus on quality performance and contractor accountability.”

Navsea spokeswoman Pat Dolan says the “Navy will be looking at what contract structure/contractual clauses we can change or strengthen to increase focus on quality performance and contractor accountability. I don’t have specifics yet as those items are still being discussed.”

The Navy has been aware of RMC issues for some time. Centers like RMCs, which provide “historic source of support for shipboard maintenance . . . have undergone dramatic cuts in the past seven years, from nearly 8,000 billets to just over 2,500 billets today,” says the Fleet Review Panel of Surface Force Readines study, spearheaded by Vice Adm. (ret.) Phillip Balisle and released in February 2010.

“Historically, the RMCs have provided ‘quick response’ repairs to our ships and have served as an excellent sea-shore rotation for sailors in maintenance ratings,” says the study, more commonly known as the Balisle Report. “Those sailors returning to sea not only had enhanced technical expertise, but were imbued with a maintenance ‘culture’ that could be imparted to younger sailors.”

But, the report says, “Numerous separate actions since 1993 have eroded both manning and organizational response of the RMCs.”

The report called on the Navy to establish core capabilities for each RMC and a “common focus” among RMCs to reinforce material readiness goals and training, “creating a culture of proactive maintenance and development of force-wide technical expertise.”

The impetus behind Navsea’s maintenance oversight push is the spate of extra repairs needed for the LPD-17 USS San Antonio.

“In May 2011, Navsea terminated for convenience the LPD-17-class multi-ship, multi-option maintenance contract with Earl Industries due to NAVSEA’s loss of confidence in Earl Industries’ ability to successfully complete repairs to LPD-17-class ships,” Navsea said. “These most recent findings are consistent with Navsea’s decision to cancel Earl Industries’ contract for LPD-17-class ships.”

Navsea noted that it “also took action earlier this year to replace senior leadership at Norfolk Ship Support Activity due to insufficient quality assurance oversight of work.”

While conducting the LPD-17 repairs during an “unscheduled availability” at Naval Station Norfolk to correct leaks on all four of the ship’s main propulsion diesel engines, the Navy discovered multiple instances of incomplete or incorrectly completed work by Earl Industries, Navsea says (Aerospace DAILY, July 21).

“These failures included foreign material exclusion plugs left in the drain piping system, use of incorrect material and improper installation and sealing of gaskets,” Navsea says.