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Navy To Privatize Weapons Handling

March 13, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Navy is moving forward with plans to privatize its weapons handling operations despite criticism that the proposal would compromise national security.

``We believe in the process, and as we get closer to the actual implementation of those initiatives, we are prudently handling those concerns for security,″ said a Navy spokesman, Cmdr. Brian Cullin.

The workers affected by the plan are responsible for loading and unloading weapons from the nation’s warships.

The plan underway would affect a half dozen bases nationwide in California, New Jersey, Virginia, South Carolina and Washington state. California’s Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station is the busiest weapons depot.

Weapons depots in those areas began preparing for the bids over a year ago.

Critics insist that placing the handling of the nation’s Tomahawk missiles and torpedoes in private hands would jeopardize security.

``Handling ammunition is not like handling groceries,″ Wiley Pearson, a defense policy analyst for the union representing civilian weapons handlers, told The Los Angeles Times, which reported on the changes Saturday. ``You need special skills, and you need special oversight. As a matter of national defense and national security, there is a huge risk here.″

But Cullin countered that privatization has been occurring over the past 15 years in many sectors of the Navy’s operations. Officials did not move forward with the weapons handling plan until they were certain security would not be compromised, he said.

``That’s why you find it being one of the last ones″ for privatization, Cullin said. ``We needed to ensure that the appropriate regulations were in place before we could move forward.″

The Navy does not plan to review the submitted bids until Jan. 1, 2001, he said. The privatization effort, which was included in fiscal year 1999 budget plans for the Navy, is expected to save $8 billion by 2005. About 80,500 jobs will be outsourced as part of the plan.

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