Bipartisan legislation introduced this week in the Senate would allow the Army’s three manufacturing arsenals to adjust their labor rates to better compete with the private sector.
Arsenals now are required to maintain fixed labor rates through the entire year regardless of market conditions, making it difficult for them to compete for contracts or form public-private partnerships, according to a press release from the four senators who sponsored the measure — Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa). The three-year pilot program created under the legislation is aimed at benefiting the Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center at Rock Island Arsenal, located on the Mississippi River between Iowa and Illinois.
“The skilled workers at Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois play a vital role in maintaining military readiness and strengthening our national security,” Kirk said, according to a joint press release. “Removing these unnecessary barriers will give arsenals the opportunity to compete on a level playing field and stay at the cutting edge of manufacturing.”
The measure also would require DOD to identify work opportunities the arsenals are uniquely qualified to meet. The Defense Department would need to consider the arsenals to produce certain legacy items no longer manufactured by the private sector. The arsenals — Rock Island; Pine Bluff Arsenal, Ark.; and Watervliet Arsenal, N.Y. — also should be considered for work rather than engaging in sole source contracts awarded without competition.
Another provision of the bill would require DOD to identify the critical capabilities of each arsenal to meet national security needs and determine the minimum workloads necessary to maintain those skills. Last year, a Government Accountability Office study criticized the Pentagon for failing to identify those capabilities.
“Our delegation got the Government Accountability Office to identify ways the Army could better utilize the arsenals,” Grassley said. “Unfortunately, the Army has not done enough to get the Rock Island Arsenal to the level of workload it needs to maintain its critical capabilities. Our bill would help make that happen.”
The lawmakers said the legislation is part of an ongoing effort to strengthen Rock Island Arsenal, reported the Quad-Cities Times. “This bill would build on our ongoing efforts to help the arsenal adapt to a changing workload and remain competitive,” Durbin said.