Defense Industrial Base Rebounding From COVID-19.

Author:Tadjdeh, Yasmin

In March and April--as the number of COVID-19 casualties skyrocketed--the defense industrial base was being roiled. Production lines shuttered and suppliers closed as employees tested positive for the coronavirus. Numerous programs across the services faced delays and disruptions.

But as the country works to reopen and the rate of new COVID-19 infections drops, parts of the industrial base are largely rebounding, according to officials.

For the Navy, the virus led to disruptions across its shipbuilding programs, but shipyards appear to have turned a corner with productivity and employee attendance now on an upswing, said James Geurts, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition.

"As we've gone through the crisis, we have not had to shut down any of our shipyards--both private or public--and as I look at the case count, we are having [a] relatively flat number of cases and more folks coming back than getting infected," he said during a teleconference with reporters in late May.

So far, the service has been able to largely continue operations while working in the midst of the pandemic, he said. "Attendance slowed down for a little while, [but] we're seeing that attendance creeping back up," Geurts added.

For short periods of time, worker attendance dropped as low as 50 percent, he said.

Meanwhile, productivity among individual workers has remained high, he noted.

"What I was very concerned with is we would have the double whammy," Geurts said. The worry was that not only would low numbers of workers come into the shipyards, but those who did come would be less productive due to social distancing and other safety measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, "the shipyards have been very creative and inventive on how to maintain productive output per person," he said. "Now what we need to do is get the number of people where it needs to be so we can get the total productive hours" up to normal levels.

On the supplier side, the Navy had more than 200 suppliers close due to the pandemic, Geurts said at the time. However, it is now "seeing many more of those open than close." The service has been tracking 10,000 companies and suppliers within what Geurts calls the traditional defense industrial base. Of those, about 250 have experienced some type of closure. Of those 250, all but 35 had reopened when Geurts spoke to the press. Geurts said he was not aware of any firm that had closed...

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