Friday, July 10, 2020

Doug Jones ignores criminal investigation at Austal USA as he decries Mobile firm's loss of U.S. Navy shipbuilding contract to competitor in Wisconsin

Austal USA shipyard in Mobile

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) recently voiced displeasure with the U.S. Navy's decision to award a shipbuilding contract to a Wisconsin company over a bid from an Alabama firm, Mobile-based Austal USA. At first glance, this seems to be a story of a politician who is disappointed at his failure to bring home the pork for one of his state's large employers. But at second glance, Jones appears to be hopelessly ill-informed -- or he simply is lying to his constituents. Perhaps of more concern -- especially to progressive voters of color, who largely put the senator in office -- Jones might be tossing bouquets at former GOP Gov. Bob Riley, one of the slimiest politicians in modern American history. That suggests, as we've noted before, that Jones is a classic DINO (Democrat In Name Only).

How did Jones react to news that Austal USA had come in second to Fincantieri, of Wisconsin? Consider this report from Alabama Political Reporter (APR), with the headline "Jones disappointed that Austal lost frigate contract to Fincantieri":

Austal USA’s bid for the U.S. Navy’s $795 million contract to build the next-generation guided missile Frigate was rejected in favor of a design offered by Fincantieri Marinette Marine, a Wisconsin-based shipbuilder. U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-Alabama, did not hide his disappointment with the Navy’s decision. Austal builds the Independence class littoral combat ship (LCS), expeditionary fast transports, and other navy vessels in Mobile.

“I am disappointed that the Navy chose not to award the contract for the next-generation guided-missile frigate to Austal USA,” Jones said. “Austal is the only U.S. shipbuilder providing ships to the Navy on time and on budget right now. It is my understanding that this award is for the first ten of a potential 20-ship buy, and I am confident that if Austal chooses to compete for future awards, the Navy will find Austal to be the best choice.

“Just last December, Austal USA celebrated 20 years of shipbuilding in Mobile,” Jones said. “Austal’s extraordinary success is testament to its unmatched local workforce and its ability to build highly capable, cost-effective ships safely and on schedule. I especially appreciate Austal’s commitment to the health and safety of its employees and the community, as well as to our national security, through the workforce protection measures it has implemented and its economic support donations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our shipbuilders are critical to our national defense, and I am grateful for their dedication during this difficult time.”

Fincantieri will build an adapted variant of the Italian FREMM (European multi-purpose frigate) in Wisconsin at its Marinette shipyard. The contract also includes plans for up to nine more ships from the firm — a deal that’s ultimately worth more than $5.5 billion.

Are Jones' sad-sack utterances telling the full story? Not exactly. For that, you need to turn to a January 2019 Legal Schnauzer post titled "Former Alabama Gov. Bob Riley is a lobbyist for Austal USA, the Mobile ship builder that is under federal investigation and has international financial woes, too":

Former Alabama Gov. Bob Riley is the chief lobbyist for a Mobile ship-building company that federal investigators raided last week. Austal USA, with its international headquarters in Henderson, Western Australia, long has been a pet project for Riley -- both while he was governor and since he left office.

Austal USA is one of Mobile's largest employers, with a workforce of about 4,000. It builds Littoral Combat Ships and Expeditionary Fast Transports for the U.S. Navy, and reports it is competing in a selection process for a series of next-generation frigates.

The nature of the investigation remains unclear, but it appears to have grown from a financial probe in Australia. From a report at

Australian ferry and defense shipbuilder Austal is cooperating with an Australian probe into market disclosures it made in 2015 regarding cost overruns on LCS-6, the Littoral Combat Ship USS Jackson. Austal builds one of the U.S. Navy's two LCS variants, the aluminum-hulled Independence-class ships.

In a filing released through the Australian Stock Exchange on Thursday, Austal confirmed that it is "assisting an investigation by ASIC (the Australian Securities and Investments Commission) into market announcements . . . with respect to earnings from its Littoral Combat Ship program." Its American division, Austal USA, confirmed Friday that it is also cooperating with the U.S. Navy in an unspecified investigation. Local media reported that officials from the Department of Defense, the NCIS and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service were spotted at the Austal USA yard in Mobile, Alabama.

So, Austal USA and its parent company have problems with cost overruns, apparent financial chicanery, and a Defense Department criminal investigation, but Doug Jones claims the company should have been awarded the Frigate contract?

As for Bob Riley, here is how we put it in our earlier post. For the record, Doug Jones is legal buddies with former First Son and oily operative Rob Riley:

Could this develop into a full-blown scandal, with Bob Riley at the center of it? It's too early to tell, but Riley (often in conjunction with one or both of his oily children -- Rob Riley and Minda Riley Campbell) has been tied to corruption for years. So far, the Rileys have managed to mostly dodge accountability. But if they are found to be involved in an international financial scam, involving misuse of U.S. defense funds . . . that tune could change.

Either way, Alabamians should be keeping a close eye on this story. Riley and his successor as governor, Robert Bentley, dumped millions of taxpayer dollars into Austal USA. Right now, it looks like that could have been a bad bet -- with everyday Alabamians being left holding the bag.

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