Senate bill would boost Coast Guard's in-house acquisition support

The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a fiscal 2009 spending bill that would allow the Coast Guard to hire more acquisition employees to oversee the Integrated Deepwater System.

The committee tweaked the budgets of several other Coast Guard programs, as outlined in its recent report on the bill.

To enhance the Coast Guard's ability to perform the role of systems integrator for the $24 billion Deepwater program, the committee recommended spending $4.5 million to hire 65 additional acquisition employees.

That is half the amount requested by the Bush administration. The committee deemed that request unrealistic.

"The committee fully supports the Coast Guard's effort to be the systems integrator for the Integrated Deepwater program," the committee members wrote. "However, the request included funds for full-year [full-time equivalent positions], which means the 65 new positions would need to be onboard by Oct. 1, 2008. Given the Coast Guard's 18.5 percent vacancy rate for acquisition personnel, this is an unrealistic proposal."

The Senate committee also approved the transfer of $82 million and 652 full-time equivalent positions from an acquisition account to the operating expenses account. Lawmakers said the move would enhance flexibility and enable the agency to better manage its major acquisition projects, including Deepwater.

The committee also authorized $7 million for a structural retrofit of the new national security cutter Bertholf. The cutter, which the Coast Guard accepted in May, is undergoing a two-year period of operation, testing and evaluation.

In its report, the committee noted ongoing concerns about information security on the cutter.

"The Coast Guard has highlighted information assurance as a significant risk category," the report states. "For example, the Coast Guard must meet [Transient Electromagnetic Pulse Surveillance Technology] certification to prevent unintended information emanation and in order to process classified information. This certification has not occurred. The Coast Guard is to keep the committee updated on progress made to resolve ongoing information assurance issues, including TEMPEST certification, in addition to the status of critical decision points and dates for all [national security cutters]."

In other actions, the committee:
  • Cut funding for the Nationwide Automatic Identification System by $6 million from the requested level because of delays in achieving initial operating capability for Increment 2 of the project. The final budgeted amount is $8.6 million. The completion of Increment 2 is likely to be achieved by the fourth quarter of 2010, a year later than projected, the report states.
  • Provided $73 million for Rescue 21 as requested. But the senators noted that the baseline cost of the program has risen by $336 million ? to $1 billion overall ? and the schedule has been stretched by six years to 2017. The cost increase is due to difficulties in obtaining tower and environmental leases, Federal Aviation Administration restrictions, wetland concerns and issues related to structural integrity, the report states.
  • Provided $10 million, which is $3.6 million more than requested, to add 168 new watchstander employees to improve situational awareness and information sharing at the Coast Guard command centers.
  • Authorized the following requested amounts: $354 million for additional national security cutters, $115 million for the Fast Response Cutter replacement patrol boat and $66 million for the Mission Effectiveness Project to extend the life of existing patrol boats.
  • Approved $23.7 million to equip three Coast Guard aircraft with radar, sensors, identification systems, displays, antennas and a mission operator's station.

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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