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The Man Who Keeps an Eye on the Costs of Shipbuilding

One of the few Bush administration holdovers remaining in the Pentagon as President Barack Obama nears his second term, Sean J. Stackley, is the Navy’s top ship buyer.

Stackley, whose official title is assistant Navy secretary for research, development and acquisition, oversees all Navy and Marine Corps weapons programs, a broad portfolio with an annual budget that exceeds $50 billion.

But it is the ship programs that many on and off the Hill most immediately associate with Stackley, a former Navy surface warfare officer who served as a Senate Armed Services Committee staffer before taking his current job at the Pentagon in July 2008.

One congressional source said Stackley, who previously managed the Navy’s LPD-17 amphibious ship, has gained the respect of people on the Hill and is credited with bringing shipbuilding programs — which have long been known for escalating costs and schedule delays — under control. Stackley’s strategy has been to engage contractors in extended, and sometimes painstaking, discussions about the costs presented in their bids. “He is driving costs down by forcing shipbuilders to prove their numbers,” the source said.

Rep. J. Randy Forbes of Virginia, a Republican senior House Armed Services Committee member, said Stackley is very intelligent, has good intentions and is willing to work with lawmakers on the Navy’s shipbuilding plans.

Stackley frequently testifies on Capitol Hill, telling the Senate Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee in April that the Navy’s plans for a fleet of about 300 ships will allow the United States “to maintain our maritime superiority today and for the foreseeable future.”

And, while he has been tough on industry, Stackley also recognizes that shipbuilders are a “strategic national asset” that must survive any downturn in defense spending.

“The range of capabilities that characterize today’s fleet required an industrial base with extraordinarily diverse manufacturing capabilities, underpinned by a skilled workforce and a unique design and engineering capability,” he told the House Armed Services Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee in September.

Stackley’s next task could be his toughest yet: managing a nearly 10 percent cut to shipbuilding budgets under a looming sequester.

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