Deepwater milestone signals a step forward

The Coast Guard has achieved a milestone in its long-troubled $24 billion Integrated Deepwater Systems acquisition program. On May 8, the agency approved final acceptance of the $700 million National Security Cutter Bertholf, which is the largest Deepwater asset completed thus far.

Whistle-blowers previously raised questions about the readiness of the classified information systems on the cutter. The watchdog group Project on Government Oversight published a report May 21 that states that the Bertholf does not meet Tempest standards for securing classified communications. However, days later, Rear Adm. Gary Blore, assistant commandant for acquisition at the Coast Guard, said the final Tempest testing had been completed. The certification came May 29.

“Being certified with the authority to operate was the last major step before deeming the cutter fully ready for Coast Guard operation,” Blore said. “With this authority to operate on classified networks, Bertholf is now approved to communicate using classified systems with other Coast Guard, Department of Defense and partner agency assets.”

Blore said the Coast Guard knew when it accepted the cutter that there would be no major problems in getting the certification. The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command finished the needed testing in April, he said.

In an interview with Federal Computer Week, Blore discussed other aspects of the Deepwater acquisition. Here are some highlights.

FCW: There have been concerns raised about the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility for processing classified data. A watchdog group said the SCIF will not be fully installed until next year, and final testing will occur then.

Blore: There are a lot of misunderstandings about the SCIF and Tempest certification. You can have a boat that is Tempest-certified that does not have a SCIF. That is not unusual. Once the SCIF is installed, we will recertify.

We have been working on the SCIF since 2004. I compare this to the Toyota Highlander. Toyota continued to produce the Highlander with the V-6 engine while it developed a hybrid engine for it. That is what we are doing with the SCIF, which includes electronic equipment with enhanced capability. We are working with the Navy [to develop and install] the SCIF.

The SCIF is not necessary to accomplish the mission. We will be Tempest-certified and mission-capable with the equipment we have on the Bertholf. We will need to recertified [with the SCIF installed] in a year. And we may do a software upgrade on the cutter in five or six years, and we will need to be recertified again after that.

The Coast Guard has never had a SCIF before. It was new for us, and it took a little longer.

FCW: Are you on schedule with the Bertholf?

Blore: We have met all our deadlines for the last six months. Bertholf is ready to go and do operations. It could have gone faster. We would have been happy to have it all done at the final acceptance. The Bertholf was first in class. It will go faster on the Waesche and the Stratton, [the second and third national security cutters under construction].

When we identified bonding wires on the Bertholf that needed to be at different widths [for Tempest certification], we immediately installed the right wires on the Waesche.

FCW: What is in store for the Deepwater acquisition program in the months ahead?

Blore: We are doing much better with vacancies on the acquisition staff. We have about a 10 percent vacancy rate for contracting officers now. Two and a half years ago, it was 29.8 percent.

Our contract with Integrated Coast Guard Systems will expire in 2011. After that, we will go for a fixed-price contract. The government will continue as lead systems integrator.

The government probably also will put in its own [command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] suite. That will be easier and avoid a lot of internal fees. It will be beneficial to the taxpayer. About 65 percent to 70 percent of the software is Navy-owned already. For the remainder, we may continue to use Lockheed Martin.

I feel good about being the lead systems integrator. We are already seeing innovation, and we are getting more efficiency and functionality out of our logistics centers. It has been good for us. It has been a lift, too, and required a lot of rethinking.

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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