Celebrating the American Shipbuilding Association’s demise:

by Craig Hooper on December 1, 2010

Today, this blogger–along with the Navy–won a big victory.

For me, it’s a vindication of sorts: On November 14, 2007, I was the first to publicly call out the American Shipbuilding Association and it’s lobbyist-in-chief, Cindy Brown (that’s her on the right). I hammered the ASA’s record:

If you’ve spent the last 20 years lobbying for navy shipbuilders, and yet, during your 20 year tenure, the fleet has shrunk from about 600 ships to 279 vessels, the numbers say you’re an incredible, flamboyant failure.

One of the reasons I got into Navy milblogging was my frustration at the Congressional habit of limiting shipbuilding competition by, in large part, presenting the “Big Six” shipyards as America’s sole (and irreplaceable!) contributors to shipbuilding’s industrial base. With the help of well-funded lobbying organizations like ASA, these big shipbuilders, well, took over, hijacking naval strategy so it would keep their shipbuilding monopoly going.

On July 23, 2007, I first articulated my concern that the ASA, by aiding and abetting the Navy’s unhealthy appetite for overly-big and overly-complex ships, was squelching competition, because, in my words:

The big guys are gonna keep lobbying for big boats….because, if the US Navy starts building smaller vessels in any numbers, all these hungry little guys are going to eat the big dogs for lunch

I didn’t think the “Big Six” monopoly was healthy for the Navy or the nation, and, in the early days of this blog, it really rankled. I thrashed out ideas. Ranted. Complained. But, in the end, I figured the easiest way to chip away at the ASA was to push for better, more in-depth media coverage of Navy shipbuilding, so, I got started, writing:

When will reporters understand that the “U.S. Shipbuilding Industrial Base” extends far beyond Cynthia Brown’s clientele–the two big shipbuilding dogs, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics? Cindy Brown is simply a supporter of two companies–and, beyond that, the state of America’s shipbuilding industry as a whole matters precious little…The way I see things, Cindy Brown and the American Shipbuilding Association are handmaidens in the destruction of America’s shipbuilding industrial base. And if I were a small Navy shipbuilder, I’d contact reporters who use Cynthia Brown as a “unbiased” source on the “state of American shipbuilding” and howl, howl, howl…

In 2008, I helped limit the ASA’s ability to influence the public by exposing the American Shipbuilding Association’s intimate (and, I think, irregular) association with Congress’ local newspaper, The Hill. For the ASA, the Hill was a critical outlet because it weilded disproportionate legislative influence. I spent a lot of time looking at the ASA’s “go-to” reporter, Roxanna Tiron, and put her record out there for her editors to examine her pro-ASA work. I mean, take a look at this.

It didn’t take long for Cindy Brown and the ASA to disappear from The Hill’s pages.

The writing was on the wall.

With the demise of Congressman Gene Taylor (D-Northrop Grumman) in the last election, the ASA’s power and access to Hill’s naval tastemakers had completely eroded. It had–just like most of the rest of the Big Six, grown lazy and sclerotic, and had no real ability to communicate–no ability to demonstrate contemporary relevance. In the end, the ASA was so backward, it had nary a blog, twitterfeed or Web 2.0 presence at all, and that, given the ASA’s inability to make a case for itself in the public sphere, killed the organization.

And so, according to Tim Colton, yesterday the ASA decided to dissolve.

Good riddance.

But what will take ASA’s place? I fully expect Gene Taylor and Trent Lott to pick up the pieces where ASA left off–to try and harness American naval strategy to the fate of a few big companies, limit competitiveness and stifle innovation. But, I suspect, this next time, it’s gonna be a bit harder.

America now knows the big shipbuilders simply cannot do an adequate job–even with their monopoly–and now the little guys, with the JHSV, LCS, and OPC programs, have just enough oxygen (and, hopefully, some PR savvy) to start kicking back a bit.

And then, of course, there’s the naval blogosphere. Speaking truth to power since oh, 2007.

It’s a good day.

{ 1 trackback }

In Press: Talking Shipbuilding with the Seattle Times
January 2, 2011 at 2:06 am

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: