Coast Guard program still dogged by problems, GAO says

Fifteen years after the Coast Guard launched the Deepwater program to update its aging ships and systems, the true cost and a viable schedule for the plan remain elusive, according to a new report by government auditors.

The General Accountability Office said that meeting Deepwater’s ambitious goals is “unachievable” under current operating conditions.

In 2007, when the Coast Guard took over as the lead systems integrator of Deepwater after numerous problems were uncovered with contractor Lockheed Martin, the total price tag for the program was estimated at $24.2 billion. But that total will swell another $5 billion to as much as $29.3 billion, and possibly more, according to a GAO report submitted to Congress.

Individual programs have experienced sharp increases, the GAO report said. The estimated cost of the National Security Cutter program, considered the centerpiece of the program, grew nearly 40 percent over the past four years, from $3.45 billion to $4.75 billion. Cost of the fast response cutters climbed 32 percent, from $3.21 billion to $4.24 billion. The report said the acquisitions program is “expected to cost more than what its budget will likely support.”

The Coast Guard is unable to estimate more accurate costs because it has not revised baseline budgets for all its assets, including the Offshore Patrol Cutter, one of the costliest items in the program, the report said. In addition, cost estimates are unreliable because the Coast Guard has not followed best practices.

GAO offered 10 recommendations including tradeoffs to the planned Deepwater fleet and submission of more consistent reports on cost, schedule and technical risks to Congress, with lawmakers having the option of withholding acquisition funds if reports are late.

The report states that the Coast Guard has made improvements over the past four years. “Now the Coast Guard needs to take broader actions to address the cost growth, schedule delays and expected changes to planned capabilities that have made the Deepwater program as presented to Congress, unachievable.”

The Coast Guard said in a statement that it is taking steps to address GAO’s recommendations and is pursuing other improvements.

Since starting the program in 1996, the Coast Guard has taken delivery of 18 cutters, replaced aging equipment on 13 patrol boats and acquired about 17 airplanes.



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