GAO: Cutter delivery might veer off schedule

The Coast Guard's first national security cutter constructed as part of the $24 billion Deepwater program might not be ready by its scheduled late April delivery date, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

The cutter Bertholf was originally set to be finished in August 2007 but rescheduled for an April 2008 delivery. Now, it could be delayed beyond that date, GAO said.

"It is uncertain at this time whether the new delivery date will be met due to several factors involving testing, certifications and other areas of technical risk," states a GAO report dated March 11. The report was addressed to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee's Ocean, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard Subcommittee.

Last week, Coast Guard officials were optimistic. Rear Adm. Gary Blore, chief acquisition officer, said on March 12 he expected the national security cutter to meet the revised delivery date. He was not immediately available to comment on the GAO report.

Coast Guard spokeswoman Laura Williams said today the Bertholf is scheduled for acceptance in late April or early May. But she declined to give a specific date.

And, there is another problem in the current delivery schedule, GAO auditors said.

Acceptance trials for the Bertholf are scheduled to begin April 7, and ship delivery is scheduled for three weeks later, GAO said. But the contract requires a full 30 days between acceptance trials and delivery.

"The Coast Guard and the contractor are aware of the discrepancy; however, no decision has been made on how to resolve this issue," the GAO report states. "The Coast Guard will have to either extend the delivery date of the ship to meet the requirement or waive it." GAO recommended delaying acceptance.

The national security cutter acquisition has evolved over time, GAO auditors said. Its initial costs have nearly doubled ? from $385 million per ship projected in 2002 to $681 million per ship today ? due to additional requirements related to the 2001 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina and program management changes, the report states.

The national security cutter also faces other challenges.

"An aggressive trial schedule leaves little time for dealing with the unexpected, and most certifications have yet to be completed," the GAO report states. "Coast Guard officials expect the ship to meet all performance parameters, but will not know for certain until the ship undergoes trials."

The report also addressed some recent concerns about command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance issues, including certification for handling classified information on the cutter.

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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