Senate wants Coast Guard to oversee Deepwater

The Senate passed legislation this week that codifies how the Coast Guard should manage its $24 billion acquisition program aimed at modernizing its aging fleet. The bill mandates that the oversight and management of the Deepwater initiative rest with the agency and not with contractors.

The program has been under fire for years from lawmakers and government investigators for its management, oversight and delays on several key acquisitions. Those concerns prompted the Coast Guard to announce in the spring its plan to assume the role of lead systems integrator, taking the responsibility from a Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman consortium.

Notably the Senate’s Integrated Deepwater Program Reform Act prohibits the Coast Guard from using a private-sector entity as a lead systems integrator for procurements with limited exceptions. Furthermore, the bill ensures that the Coast Guard use full and open competition for new contracts related to Deepwater.

If the Coast Guard plans to use a private contractor as lead integrator, it must justify its rationale to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. It also includes provisions limiting the interest that lead or Tier 1 contractors can have in subcontractors.

“We have taken a major step toward securing a strong Coast Guard for the future while ending the waste of taxpayer dollars,” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash), chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Committee’s Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and the Coast Guard Subcommittee and sponsor of the bill, said on the bill’s passage. “The problems and abuses that have come to light over the past year are inexcusable, and I am absolutely committed to ensuring they aren’t repeated.”

The Senate measure also would require that the commandant hire a qualified independent third party to conduct an independent analysis of Deepwater’s capabilities, interoperability, costs and technology, and report the findings to Congress before moving ahead with many further acquisitions under the program. It also would generally bar the acquisition of “technically immature major assets.” The bill also would require the comptroller general to submit a report to Congress on the program’s management and procurement within 180 days after the bill is signed into law, as well as quarterly status updates from the commandant to the committees. The Government Accountability Office and the Homeland Security Department inspector general will also have to issue reports.

The House passed a similar bill this summer, which will be reconciled with the Senate version in conference.

Similar provisions aimed at bolstering oversight of Deepwater were tied to the programs funding in the DHS budget that Congress approved this week.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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