House and Senate negotiators working out differences in an $82 billion supplemental spending package have approved language withholding from the Navy funding to pursue a strategy of letting only one shipyard build the next generation of destroyers.

Unlike last week’s nonbinding budget resolution for the coming year, the supplemental appropriations bill being negotiated by a conference committee for the current year would have the force of law if approved by Congress.

The House was poised to vote today; the Senate, on recess, is expected to take up the measure next week.

The provision, approved Tuesday, was sought by congressional delegations from Maine, Mississippi and other shipbuilding states to stymie the Navy’s proposed winner-take-all approach for building the Navy’s stealthy DD(X) destroyer.

The Navy contends that so few ships will be built that it doesn’t make sense to divvy the work between Maine’s Bath Iron Works and Northrop Grumman’s Ingalls shipyard in Mississippi, as has been the practice in recent years.

Those two shipyards build destroyers and cruisers for the Navy. Shipyard proponents say the Navy’s proposed policy could drive the losing bidder out of business, eliminating all hope of competitive bids in the future.

“Two shipyards ensure greater competition in the long run – both in the development of cutting-edge technology and in ensuring the best price for the taxpayer,” Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe said Tuesday evening in a statement.

Both supported last week’s budget resolution citing the same provision as well as language that would allow federal money to be doled out over several years rather than in a lump sum. The change is expected to keep shipyards in business longer because they wouldn’t have to lay off workers between jobs.

The Pentagon’s acquisitions chief has put the Navy plan on hold, but defense analysts say it may have been only a temporary victory for the shipyards.

U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, D-Maine, who voted against last week’s budget resolution and criticized the provisions in that measure as toothless, praised the inclusion of the language in the supplemental appropriation.

“This is real protection for Bath Iron Works and the 6,000 Maine workers whose jobs have been jeopardized by the Navy’s proposal to sole source the DD(X)” destroyer program, he said in a press release Wednesday.

“Unlike the ‘sense of Congress’ language in the budget resolution passed last week, this measure has the force of law and explicitly forbids the Navy from abandoning competitive bidding on the DD(X),” he said.

Allen, who represents the 1st Congressional District, which includes Bath, said he worked with House Appropriations Committee conferees to have the language included, as did Collins and Snowe in the Senate.

Rep. Mike Michaud, also a member of the Congressional Shipbuilding Caucus, applauded the conferees’ decision to add the DD(X) provision.

“I have been working nonstop with my colleagues to maintain the two-shipyard system,” he said in a written release.


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