Senate moves to step up Deepwater oversight

The Coast Guard's $24 billion Deepwater modernization program would be overhauled with increased oversight and open competition under legislation approved Wednesday by the Senate Commerce Committee.

The Integrated Deepwater Program Reform Act (S 924) was introduced on March 20 by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to address errors, delays and cost overruns in the troubled program to modernize the Coast Guard's fleet, aircraft and systems.

"We can't get Deepwater back on its feet without strong transparency, reliable oversight and open competition," said Cantwell, chair of the Senate Coast Guard Subcommittee. "The men and women of our Coast Guard deserve the best equipment money can buy, and taxpayers have a right to know that their tax dollars are spent wisely and efficiently. Deepwater has failed on both these points."

The legislation is co-sponsored by Subcommittee Ranking Member Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

Several of the measures promoted by Cantwell's bill were implemented by Coast Guard Commander Adm. Thad Allen on April 17. These include having the agency take over the lead systems integrator role currently held by a joint venture of federal contractors Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md., and Northrop Grumman Corp of Los Angeles. The Coast Guard may continue to do some asset production with Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, to be determined on a case-by-case basis, Allen said.

However, following Allen's announcement, Cantwell said she would continue advancing her legislation to implement additional oversight, codify the bill's provisions into law and increase transparency.

"The changes announced today need to be paired with all the comprehensive transparency, oversight, accountability and best practice requirements called for in my legislation," Cantwell said on April 17. "The Coast Guard can't pick and choose elements from this bill and ignore others that many government reports have called essential."

Several steps have not yet been addressed by the Coast Guard, but are included in the legislation, Cantwell said. These include:
  • Requiring a third-party entity with acquisition expertise to review all proposed Deepwater assets for which contracts have not yet been issued and determine the best way to procure these assets;
  • Requiring the Coast Guard to certify to Congress, before issuing new contracts, that technology meets feasibility, design, mission and cost objectives;
  • Authorizing the Coast Guard to shift personnel to its acquisitions staff; and
  • Implementing the Coast Guard's Blueprint for Acquisition Reform.

Several federal audit reports have detailed problems in the Deepwater procurement thus far. There have been technology and design problems with the 123-foot patrol boats and the National Security Cutter. The Coast Guard suspended in March the Fast Response Cutter and said it would put the $600 million project out to bid.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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