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Navy pays $400K per flush to unclog its prized carriers plumbing

J.D. Simkins

The Navy’s prized new super carrier was meant to be a symbol of American military might over the world’s oceans, but it is the ship’s toilets and plumbing system that are proving to be obstacles the service has yet to master.

According to a Government Accountability Office watchdog report published Tuesday, the sewage system pipes onboard the super carrier Gerald R. Ford are too narrow to accommodate the amount of daily waste being flushed by crew of more than 4,000.

“Frequent clogging of the system,” which is similar to those used on a commercial airliner, has necessitated unique fixes that include flushing the entire “sewage system on a regular basis” with an acidic substance capable of unclogging the obstructed monstrosity, the report found.

The cost per flush? A mere $400,000. What’s worse, the carrier George H. W. Bush, commissioned in 2009, features the same sewage system and is experiencing similar issues.

High demand of sailors using heads throughout the mammoth ships, coupled with soaring costs and extensive hours devoted to unexpected maintenance, has raised doubts about whether the oft-congested plumbing is even sustainable.

“The Navy is kind of in this little conundrum right now with regard to trying to do everything it needs to do to get the amount of ships that it thinks it needs, but also maintain and sustain the ships that it already has,” Shelby Oakley, director of the GAO’s Contracting and National Security Acquisitions department, said Tuesday on the GAO’s Watchdog Report podcast.

The toilets on the Ford and Bush were just one of 150 ongoing maintenance issues identified in the report that “required more sustainment effort than planned for during acquisition.” Bloomberg was first to report the sewage issue.

“What struck us in our audit work in talking with the sailors and the engineers, and the spare parts logisticians, and various other members of the fleet maintenance operations community is just how frustrated they are with the condition of some of the new ships that they’re asked to operate,” Laurier Fish, GAO senior analyst, said on today’s podcast.

And sailors have a legitimate reason to gripe.

Since 2012 the service has estimated deferring 5,300 planned maintenance days on ships built during the last 10 years due to the emergence of unexpected issues, contributing “to the fleet’s inability to maintain ships at planned cost and schedule, which we have previously found is a significant Navy-wide issue,” the report stated.

“That frustration was very palpable to us and something that struck us as key through this review,” Fish said.

The service responded favorably to most of the GAO’s recommendations, according to a response letter from Assistant Secretary of the Navy James F. Geurts.

“The Navy generally agrees with the GAO recommendations proposed in the subject report,” Geurts wrote. “And in many cases has already begun implementing those recommendations as best practices.”