GAO: Coast Guard needs more acquisition experts

The Coast Guard has improved the way it oversees its $24 billion Deepwater program but is still struggling to hire enough expertise for the job, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.


The Coast Guard took over the lead systems integrator role for Deepwater a year ago. The function previously was carried out by prime contractor Integrated Coast Guard Systems, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp.


Coast Guard project managers and technical experts now have most of the management responsibility and program accountability for Deepwater, according to GAO. The program, initiated in 2002, replaces cutters, patrol boats and other major assets.


But the agency is still relying on contractor advice for crucial information, including cost estimates, and it is having difficulty reducing the 20 percent vacancy rate in its acquisition office, the GAO report states.


“Like other federal agencies, the Coast Guard has faced obstacles in building an adequate government workforce,” the report states. “It has various initiatives under way to develop and retain a workforce capable of managing this complex acquisition program, but faced with an almost 20 percent vacancy rate, it is relying on support contractors … in key positions.”


In addition, the Coast Guard is now overseeing Deepwater on an asset-based approach rather than the system-of-systems approach used previously, GAO said. Although this new approach offers increased control and visibility, it is not appropriate for certain aspects of Deepwater, such as communications and intelligence systems, GAO said.


The Coast Guard recognizes the shortcomings of its new approach but is not yet in a position to address those concerns, GAO added.


A continuing disconnect between Major Systems Acquisition Manual requirements and current Coast Guard acquisition practices is also a problem, GAO said. The lack of continuity arose because Deepwater acquisition decisions were previously delegated to the Coast Guard without departmental oversight, the report said.


“The consequences of not following a disciplined acquisition approach are clear now that Deepwater assets such as the National Security Cutter have been paid for and delivered without the Coast Guard’s having determined whether the assets’ planned capabilities would meet mission needs,” GAO said.


Finally, the GAO report noted problems with Northrop Grumman’s earned value management data and said the company’s system for producing the data might need to be recertified to ensure its reliability.


Coast Guard officials agreed with most of the findings and partially agreed with the earned value management findings. The Coast Guard said it had developed an approach for increasing transparency of the earned value management data.

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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