House committee would tighten oversight of Deepwater program

The House Homeland Security Committee approved legislation today that would toughen the requirements on the Coast Guard’s Deepwater program and improve the implementation of the Transportation Worker Identification Card (TWIC).

The committee revised three sections of the Coast Guard Authorization bill passed by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that deal with port security, the Coast Guard modernization program and TWIC.

The Homeland Security Committee unanimously approved the substitute bill by voice vote.

“We developed the substitute in collaboration with many members of this committee,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the homeland security panel. “It provides an additional $229 million in resources for Deepwater, but also strengthens the Coast Guard’s management of this program. TWIC is an area of concern that we addressed in this report too. The [substitute bill] is a reflection of committee’s oversight of the Coast Guard.”

The bill would authorize $8.3 billion for the Coast Guard in fiscal 2008, including more than $1 billion for Deepwater. But with that additional funding comes more oversight. The measure now goes to the full House for a vote and the Senate also must take action on its version of the bill.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) authored a new provision in the substitute bill to require the Coast Guard to establish a chief acquisition officer for the program and require the Homeland Security Department to establish, approve and maintain technical requirements and report on the progress, spending and corrective actions taken.

“Poor planning, cost overruns and substandard work have cost American taxpayers millions of dollars,” Davis said in a statement. “But the Coast Guard is asked to do more than ever before, and its equipment today is not up to the task. We can’t turn our backs on Deepwater, as many would have us do. We need to work to make the program better.”

In addition, Davis’ provision would require a full technical review of the designs, engineering proposals and changes in addition to giving the DHS inspector general access to all records maintained by those working on the program.

The committee also addressed TWIC challenges. Lawmakers would mandate a report from DHS’ secretary on the implementation of TWIC at 10 ports, including the number of workers and the challenges the program is finding and how it would address them.

The DHS secretary would have to submit a report on the TWIC pilot 120 days after the test program is completed. It would assess the technology used, the viability of the technology and which metrics were achieved.

The committee also wants the Government Accountability Office to review the background checks for TWIC and whether they are redundant and/or inefficient and what DHS will do to deal with these issues.

Finally, lawmakers approved a mobile biometric identification test program to enhance border security. The DHS secretary would have to ensure the pilot test is coordinated with other biometric programs and study the feasibility before expanding it.

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