AIA Supplier Management Council Summer Meeting

Keynote Speech by HII President and CEO Mike Petters (as prepared)
HII Corporate

“All politics is local.”

Even if you’re younger than I am, you probably know these famous words were spoken by the late Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, who served as Speaker of the House under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Those four words say a lot.

But if there’s any doubt about what he meant, he also said this:

“You can’t assume anything in politics. That’s why every Saturday I walk around my district. I talk to the longshoremen in Charlestown. I listen to the people in East Boston and their concern on the airport noise. I walk down to the Star Market in Porter Square, and people tell me about meat prices.”

O’Neill knew the value of listening to his constituents’ stories. And we need to recognize the value of telling ours. Yes, the Aerospace Industries Association does a great job of engaging lawmakers and Administration officials on issues important to our industry.

But we play a critical role as individual AIA members. We need to tell our elected representatives, appointed officials, and fellow taxpayers about the value of the work we do locally—and the impact it has nationally. With that in mind, let me show you what Huntington Ingalls Industries does.

I know most of you toured our Ingalls Shipbuilding division yesterday and had a chance to go aboard the amphibious transport dock Portland, which recently completed builder’s sea trials.

Ingalls is just one segment of our business, so I want to show a short video that will give you the full picture of what we do at HII.

Again, the AIA does a great job of advocating for our industry as a whole.

In the last two months:

  • It urged Congress to confirm Patrick Shanahan as Deputy Secretary of Defense.
  • It has urged Congress to rebuild military readiness in its 2018 budget.
  • And it published the “2017 Facts & Figures” report.

Hopefully we all know the key messages: 2.4 million American jobs and $872 billion in sales.

But we can’t rely on the AIA to do all of our heavy lifting. We need to get out and advocate for ourselves.

Tip O’Neill said he walked his district every Saturday, but I’m not sure how many representatives are doing that now. If your legislators aren’t knocking on your businesses’ doors, you need to knock on theirs.

Invite them to your facilities and show them what you do. Tell them how it impacts your community, your district, your state.

If all politics is local, make the case that your local contributions have a global impact. You can be sure that the tour you went on yesterday is similar to the ones given to members of Congress and Defense Department officials.

That includes Virginia’s Rob Wittman, chairman of the House Armed Services’ Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, who was here in February, and Senator Roger Wicker, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, was here just last month.

In the last year, our shipyards have also hosted visits by representatives from California, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland and Texas. Why?

Because we know that direct constituent interactions have more influence on decisions by members of Congress than other advocacy strategies.

Mike Petters at AIA
HII President and CEO Mike Petters.

We also know that Congress places a high value on citizens—and groups—who have built relationships with the members and their staffs. In fact, survey data from the Congressional Management Foundation shows that 96 percent of Congressional staffers said “in-person visits from constituents” have “some” or “a lot” of influence on an undecided lawmaker.

And 91 percent said it would be helpful to have “information about the impact the bill/issue would have on the district or state.”  But only 9 percent reported they receive that information frequently.

Nine percent. That leaves a lot of room for improvement.

Similarly, 79 percent said a personal story from a constituent related to the bill or issue would be helpful, yet only 18 percent report that they receive it frequently.

Indeed, citizens have significant potential to enhance their advocacy skills and influence Congress.

Let me give you some examples from HII. As you saw in the video, we created a Technical Solutions division last year to grow our services business and expand our customer base. But aircraft carriers, submarines and amphibious warships make up the bulk of our business.

As such, we support independent “industrial base coalitions” that exist for each of these product lines.

These are true grassroots coalitions made up of large, medium and small companies in almost every state and Congressional district. These supplier-led coalitions help us tell the story of the local, regional, national—and, I would say, global—impact of shipbuilding programs to members of Congress.

Key messages align with AIA issues like federal budget, industrial base policy, sequestration and workforce.

In their overlapping roles as constituents, local business owners and taxpayers, these suppliers use their voices to help the president, members of Congress and the public understand how their decisions will affect Navy shipbuilding and local jobs and communities.

The coalitions use several strategies for interacting with members of Congress, including hosting tours of the plants, writing letters and an annual trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress and staff. Engagement follows the rhythm of the budget process with timely interaction with key decision-makers. Through their stories, they can help Congress understand how policies affect a business.

When Congress delays funding, a company in Pennsylvania can tell their member of Congress how they will have to delay hiring or investing in their business. When Congress debates the advantages of advance procurement, a company in Texas can provide examples of how they can help reduce costs through investment in new equipment and technology, acquiring raw materials in economic quantities, and hiring more skilled workers.

Here’s one example from, the Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition—what we call the ACIBC. A few weeks ago, there was a great news story about the importance of a multi-ship procurement strategy for carriers. But it wasn’t published in Virginia or California or Washington—places where carriers are built, maintained or homeported.

It was published in Milwaukee’s Journal Sentinel.

The paper reported:

“About 1,300 Wisconsin jobs are supported by the Navy’s aircraft carrier supply chain, which had a $128 million economic impact in the state between 2012 and 2016. … Milwaukee Valve, in New Berlin, is one of about 20 companies in Wisconsin and 1,100 firms in 46 states supplying parts and services for the world’s most technologically advanced ships.”

Think about that: A thousand miles from our shipyard in Newport News, more than 200,000 people were reading about the critical role their community plays in building aircraft carriers.

That’s the value of the ACIBC.

Let me tell you a similar story related to the Amphibious Warship Industrial Base Coalition.  Portland—the ship you toured yesterday—was supposed to be the final one in the San Antonio class due to budget restrictions. We know there is a demand from the Navy and Marine Corps for more amphibious ships, and they love our LPDs

As I said, they just didn’t have room for them in the budget. Well, in December 2015, we received an advance procurement contract for a 12th LPD, Fort Lauderdale. Last December, we received the construction contract.

The Navy lacked funding to buy another LPD beyond Portland, but the coalition told their story to their Navy and Marine Corps customers, to Congress, to the taxpayers, to anyone who would listen.

After hearing our story—multiple times—it began to resonate.  It made sense. And soon LPD 28 became part of the Navy and Marine Corps’ story.

Of course, it helped that LPD production lines are hot and that performance in the program continues to improve with each ship. But wait—there’s more.

Two weeks ago, Ingalls received an advance procurement contract for LPD 29. That ship is a bridge to the new, LX(R) class of amphibious ships, and telling the hot production line story, and helping the customer tell theirs, is an important part of what helped keep this production line and supply chain hot.

Now let’s take a global view: Why do we do what we do?

I grew up on a farm, the oldest of six siblings, and my dad told my five siblings and me that we were darn lucky to live in this country and that we needed to pay it back through service.

For him, that meant military service and my four brothers and my sister all served in the military, and my sister still does. But service takes many different forms, and I would suggest that each of you in the room this evening are serving your country. Because all of you, in some form or fashion, support our nation’s defense.

I know a lot of your companies are more involved with research and development than we are at HII, but as defense companies, our mission is to support the men and women who go into harm’s way to protect our way of life. At HII, we call it “Shaping Freedom.”

And the role our country, my company, and yours has in helping to shape freedom around the world cannot be understated. According to the Freedom House website, an organization that tracks the status of free versus not free populations and countries, there are 7.4 billion people in the world.

But the population that is living in freedom – free and democratic environments -- is 2.9 billion. This is less than 40 percent of the entire global population.

America has, for a very long time, been on the pointy edge of the spear to help maintain—and even grow—that free and democratic percentage. And we’ve done a great job, especially since World War I.

Currently, there’s no other country that could do this. And while it may seem unlikely, it’s possible that someday this dynamic could change. And if it does, it’s also possible that another country could take our place as the world’s leader.

And this country, and whoever is in power, may be interested in growing that 60 percent of the globe not living in freedom. In fact, the Freedom House website states that “With populist and nationalist forces making significant gains in democratic states, 2016 marked the 11th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.”

It’s entirely possible, if it were to happen, that a new global leader could and would strip away freedoms that we’ve come to take for granted. The Wall Street Journal reported two weeks ago on the advancements China is making in facial recognition technology. Not a big deal, right?

We’re doing the same thing in the U.S., and if you watch crime shows on TV, you know that cameras are already ubiquitous in some cities. But the article made the point that China plans to use this technology and others for social engineering. They’re even monitoring individuals’ social media posts.

“By 2020,” the paper reported, “the government hopes to implement a national ‘social credit’ system that would assign every citizen a rating based on how they behave at work, in public venues and in their financial dealings.”

It’s antithetical to everything we stand for in a free and democratic society. In our 40 percent of the world, we don’t have to worry about someone breaking down our door and hauling us away based upon a like we made on a Facebook post. Yet.  And we must ensure that this never happens.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we do what we do.

As AIA members, we are bound together in service to help protect freedom, liberty and democracy.  A week ago today, we celebrated our nation’s 241st birthday. That always brings to mind the Declaration of Independence and Thomas Jefferson’s timeless words about freedom.

Jefferson was a prolific writer, and a lot of his thoughts are relevant to my message tonight.

First: Addressing the will of the people in a letter to John Adams, he wrote: “Public opinion … [is] a censor before which the most exalted tremble for their future as well as present fame.” Not quite as pithy as “All politics is local,” but the sentiment is the same: Legislators need to listen to their constituents.

Second: Even though Jefferson opposed war, he was in favor of a strong defense. “For a people who are free,” he wrote, “and who mean to remain so, a well-organized and armed militia is their best security.” We aren’t the ones on the front lines, but we’re designing, building and testing the hardware and software upon which those brave men and women rely.

We are an essential element that allows the people who live in freedom to do so – or as Jefferson would say, an essential part of “their best security.”

As individual aerospace and defense companies, we shouldn’t be afraid to speak up and ask for what we need. And as protectors of freedom, we shouldn’t be afraid to speak up for what is right.

So tell your stories. And help your suppliers tell theirs. Recognize the value in telling these stories at the local level. And always link them to our nation’s ability to defend “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Tip O’Neill would approve. And I’m sure your representatives will too.

After all, as my dad said, we are darn lucky to live in this country.

Thank you.

About HII

HII is a global, all-domain defense provider. HII’s mission is to deliver the world’s most powerful ships and all-domain solutions in service of the nation, creating the advantage for our customers to protect peace and freedom around the world. As the nation’s largest military shipbuilder, and with a more than 135-year history of advancing U.S. national security, HII delivers critical capabilities extending from ships to unmanned systems, cyber, ISR, AI/ML and synthetic training. Headquartered in Virginia, HII’s workforce is 43,000 strong. For more information, visit: