GAO calls for Deepwater acquisition updates

Congress will have a hard time determining annual funding levels for the U.S. Coast Guard's Integrated Deepwater System if agency officials do not update their acquisition schedule, General Accounting Office officials said in a report released today.

The Deepwater program is designed to modernize the agency's cutters, aircraft and communication equipment for missions 50 miles from shore. In fiscal year 2004, Congress topped the administration's budget request by $168 million by appropriating $668 million for the 20-year project.

Although the program carries an estimated price tag of $17 billion over two decades, actual funding in any given year depends on Deepwater's acquisition schedule, including design and fabrication phases, interim phase milestones and critical paths between assets. The data that was available to the investigative body indicated that some Deepwater assets have fallen behind schedule.

According to GAO officials, Coast Guard officials said they haven't updated the Deepwater acquisition schedule because the program changes every year. However, the Defense Department's programs also morph frequently, yet DOD officials update their acquisition schedules annually, according to the report.

The auditors recommended the Coast Guard update its acquisition schedule in time for the fiscal year 2006 budget proposal submitted to the Homeland Security Department and Congress — and every year after that.

Coast Guard officials generally agreed with GAO's findings.

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