Coast Guard commandant celebrates contractor while DOJ lawsuit is pending
Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert Papp appeared at a dockside ceremony in Lockport, La. with the governor and other dignitaries on March 2 to accept delivery of the latest cutter from federal contractor Bollinger Shipyards.
But going unmentioned at the large gathering was that the Justice Department eight months ago went to court to accuse Bollinger of making false statements to the Coast Guard on a related contract. That unresolved False Claims Act lawsuit brought by the DOJ seeks unspecified damages expected to be in the millions of dollars from Bollinger.
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Based on news reports of the celebration, Bollinger appears to be experiencing little fallout from the lawsuit and the U.S. attorney general’s office seems to be mostly on its own with little support from other federal agencies for the lawsuit.
DOJ brought the legal action against Bollinger Shipyards in August 2011 to recoup an unspecified amount of money from Bollinger. The U.S. attorney general claimed the company made false statements about the hull strength of eight patrol boats it was elongating for the Coast Guard under the Deepwater program. The Coast Guard rejected the completed boats as unseaworthy, and eventually refashioned, and then terminated, the Deepwater program.
In the months following the filing of the lawsuit, the Coast Guard has continued to award contracts to Bollinger, and Sen. Mary Landrieu, (D-La), chair of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, said she worked hard to ensure Congress allocated $358 million to support those contracts.
The Coast Guard signed a $180 million contract with Bollinger for the production of four more fast-response cutters in September 2011. The agency’s total contracts with Bollinger to date were valued at $597 million, the company said at that time. The total value of the agency's contracts with Bollinger is $1.5 billion, if all options are exercised.
At the ceremony on March 2, Papp praised Bollinger and appeared overjoyed with the new cutter, according to an article in the HoumaToday.com online newspaper.
In an interview afterward, Papp described the current lawsuit as something the Justice Department chose to pursue and said it had no impact on future contracts, according to HoumaToday.com.
“Elongating the old Island Class cutters was one of the earlier solutions, and we decided to terminate that contract,” Papp said, according to HoumaToday.com. “This is a completely different project. The company has a great track history.”
“We have to make a strong argument for these ships,” Landrieu said, according to HoumaToday.com.
Michael DeKort, a Deepwater whistleblower who has a pending False Claims Act lawsuit against the Deepwater prime contractor, said he was concerned that the Coast Guard’s ongoing support for Bollinger appears to undermine the DOJ’s lawsuit.
“I understand innocent until proven guilty,” DeKort wrote on his blog on March 4. “What that should not mean is pumping hundreds of millions more $ to Bollinger and to undermine the DoJ while you figure out if they are guilty. At the very least the CG leadership and politicians should have called for the matter to be resolved and at least feign concern that Bollinger could have gotten people killed. They might even have debarred Bollinger until the matter was resolved.”
Coast Guard, Bollinger and DOJ officials were not immediately available for comment.