Coast Guard breaks ice with acquisition method, GAO says

Coast Guard acquisition planning for the decades-long, $17 billion Integrated Deepwater System procurement of cutters and aircraft 'was among the best of the federal agencies we have evaluated,' the General Accounting Office's JayEtta Z. Hecker told a Senate subcommittee Wednesday.

But the responsibility for Integrated Deepwater's success lies with a systems integrator joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. and their subcontractors, Hecker testified at a hearing of the Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere and Fisheries.

Deepwater's 'unique contracting approach depends on a steady, predictable funding stream of about $544 million [a year] over the next two or three decades,' said Hecker, GAO director of physical infrastructure. Such an approach 'has never been used on a procurement of this size or complexity, and there are no models in the federal government to guide the Coast Guard in developing its acquisition strategy.'

Furthermore, she wrote, the funding stream 'is not materializing as the Coast Guard had planned.'

Noting that unproven technology 'is a frequent contributor to escalated costs, schedules and delays,' Hecker said the Guard is developing a technology readiness assessment model for risk management. The Guard is also establishing prices for deliverables, negotiating change order terms and setting contractor incentives.

Hecker said the Guard is 'one of several agencies that will bring with it existing IT problems' as it joins the Homeland Security Department. Fourteen years after legislation called on the Guard to develop a vessel identification system for sharing information, she said, 'no such system exists, and future plans for developing the system are uncertain.'

Meanwhile as the Coast Guard realigns itself with DHS, 'whether the evolving homeland security mission will affect [Deepwater] requirements remains to be seen,' Hecker said.


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