Written by Matt Sheley / Daily News Staff
Courtesy of Newport Daily News
MIDDLETOWN – Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee visited a local defense firm Thursday morning and pledged to do whatever he can to help maintain and to grow operations at Naval Station Newport, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center and other Navy operations on Aquidneck Island.
“If it’s good for business, it’s good for Rhode Island,” Chafee told about three dozen defense contractorsgathered in a second- floor conference room at Rite-Solutions in the Aquidneck Corporate Park.
The fallout from a federal multimillion-dollar bribery and government contracts kickback scandal and the resulting failure of Advanced Solutions For Tomorrow, a local defense firm that employed about 100 people before it abruptly closed in February, have weighed heavily on people in the field.
Attorney Robert M. Silva said it was crucial that Chafee understand the impact on the defense industry, which is a backbone of the local and regional economy.
“We’re still going to be standing after all the dust and smoke clears,” Silva said. “In the meantime, we need to do everything we can to make sure Gov. Chafee, our congressional delegation and everyone else understands the importance of these activities.”
ASFT founder and president Anjan Dutta-Gupta, 58, of Roswell, Ga., entered a guilty plea last week in U.S. District Court in Providence to a charge of bribing a public official, admitting his role in a scheme that bilked the Navy of more than $9 million from 1996 through January 2011. Dutta Gupta has agreed to cooperate with federal investigators in their prosecution of his alleged accomplice, Ralph Mariano, 52, of Arlington, Va., a civilian program manager and senior systems engineer with the Naval Sea Systems Command, which oversees NUWC contracts.
A federal judge said she will consider Dutta-Gupta’s contributions to the investigation when she sentences him in December. He faces up to 15 years in prison and a hefty fine. Mariano has pleaded innocent to a similar bribery charge and remains free on bail.
As a result of the investigation, the Navy recently stripped NUWC of its ability to award or to amend contracts. Until things get squared away, all NUWC contracts will be reviewed by NAVSEA’s office in Washington, D.C., a process that is projected to slow down the award process for four to six weeks. That is bad news for area defense contractors, some of whom are concerned about imposing unpaid furloughs or laying off employees because of the resulting funding gap.
To alleviate those concerns, NAVSEA and NUWC Newport have asked defense contractors to provide written notification when they expect that at least 75 percent of a contract’s funding would be obligated within 60 days so everything gets done with minimal interruptions. NUWC announced it is continuing to work with NAVSEA to process contracts as quickly as possible to avoid any interruption of supplies and services to the Navy while ensuring proper oversight.
According to a statement issued Wednesday by NUWC spokesman David Sanders, 20 “priority contract actions” have been issued, with another four in the approval phase. Many contractors were brought up to speed on the latest developments during a briefing Monday, Sanders said.
“We continue to work with our parent command NAVSEA to process actions as quickly as possible,” he said. “I don’t believe this week there have been the number of interruptions in contractor work like there had been last week, and we’re making a concerted effort to make sure the contractors are aware of the requirements.”
Chafee’s visit Thursday began with a trolley ride to the business district on Aquidneck Avenue, followed by an impromptu tour of Newport’s new ultraviolet stormwater treatment plant. The governor dropped in at Rite-Solutions on Silva Lane, a company that employs more than 130 people in a variety of high-end engineering and development jobs tied to information technology.
Contractors and others on hand said area businesses have to work harder than ever in the wake of the kickback scandal. Middletown Town Planner Ronald M. Wolanski noted there are about 40 companies and approximately 2,200 jobs, mostly high-tech and defense-related, in the corporate park alone.
“There’s never been a better time to be thinking about the different ways to collaborate,” said Jim Lavoie, Rite-Solutions chief executive officer. “It’s no longer about getting the whole pie. It’s about getting your fair share.”
The subject of the upcoming Base Realignment and Closure process was addressed, with everyone agreeing that a solid game plan needs to be in place far before the next round is announced.
“We have to have a strategy and a plan and tactical moves, so that when the next BRAC comes, we’re not scrambling around,” Lavoie said.
© 2011 Newport Daily News