Q&A with Sen. Doug Jones: Of Ships, the Wall and Budget Redirection

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones  (D-Ala.) recently sat down with the Huntsville Business Journal and discussed several issues important to our state and nation. This is the fourth installment of five reports from the interview. Today’s topic is defense spending and border security.

HBJ: Mobile is a key player in shipbuilding, especially with Austal and the U.S. Navy. What can you tell us about the shipbuilding industry there?

Sen. Jones: Austal, down in Mobile, I think is the leading shipbuilding company for the Navy right now. They’ve built the LCS (Littoral Combat Ship) ships, they built the EPF (expeditionary fast transport) ships, they’re such a good company; they’ve come in pretty much on time and on budget.

The Mobile-built EPF can transport military units and vehicles, or can be reconfigured to become a troop transport for an infantry battalion. The EPF has a flight deck for helicopters and a load ramp that will allow vehicles to quickly drive on and off the ship.

The Navy is really high on them; I am hopeful that they will get the frigate contract that is going to be let relatively soon.

The problem we’ve got with Austal right now is the number of LCS and EPF ships are winding down and there’s going to be a lag time and a transition period, even if they get the frigate contract. I’m going to assume for a moment that they are.

There will still be a transition where all the workers aren’t going to be utilized. So, one of the things that we’ve done in this year’s budget was to contract an extra EPF ship to be built for this year, to help stabilize the workforce down there.

HBJ: Did President Trump say he is moving money from there to help pay for the wall?

Sen. Jones: Recently, the president has announced that he’s going to do away with that and take the money from the Department of Defense’s budget to fund the border wall.

At the State of the Union address, the President bragged about – and he should have – the number of immigrants and refugees seeking asylum are down. The number of people crossing the borders without their correct documentation; those numbers are down.

This wall is a political issue that is trying shore up some drug smuggling lanes. And I can tell you as a former U.S. Attorney, building a concrete bollard wall that you can stick your arm through is not going to be the way to stop that. There are so many ways that we can do it more cost efficiently.

Sen. Jones: “Mexico is not paying for our wall; Mobile is paying for our wall.” (Photo/Steve Babin)

People may think maybe it’s related to immigration, it’s not. It’s just purely a political issue and the president has taken $261 million out of Austal and that EPF ship that was put in the budget and he’s line-iteming and moving that $261 million over to help build 17 miles of new wall and refortifying about 160 miles of wall.

So, the bottom line is this: Mexico is not paying for our wall; Mobile is paying for our wall.

We went through hours and hours of what they call “posture hearings” on the Armed Services Committee. And Congress, in a very bipartisan way, worked with the budget and National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to appropriate money so that we could modernize our military, give our men and women in uniform everything that they need to protect the United States of America and here we’ve got money being taken out of that budget, $3.8 billion to build a concrete bollard wall.

Yes, I shook my head, too, as did everybody.

Again, make no mistake; I’ve supported stronger border security. We need to find out who’s been coming across our borders and try to do the best we can to secure those borders.

There’s just a better way to do it. The wall has become more of a symbol now, than it is an effective reality.

(Tomorrow: Sen. Jones discusses the military and military families)