DHS withdraws Coast Guard's acquisition authority

Although the Coast Guard has lost its decision authority for major acquisition projects by order of Congress, the service will continue to be involved in managing and in overseeing milestones for those projects, the service said.

Under language contained in the fiscal 2009 homeland security spending legislation  Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was required to rescind the delegation of acquisition decision authority to the Coast Guard for major projects. The rescission went into effect Sept. 25, the Coast Guard announced in a news release on Oct. 28.

Congress had delegated the authority to the Coast Guard in 2003, primarily  to manage the $24 billion Integrated Deepwater Systems asset replacement project.

Last month, lawmakers approved the provision to return the authority to the Homeland Security Department's chief procurement officer, in accordance with a recommendation from the Government Accountability Office, which had raised concerns about possible mismanagement of Deepwater. The problems included the service's rejection of eight completed Deepwater patrol boats that had been extended and rebuilt but were found to be structurally unsound.

Despite the rescission, the agency will continue to be involved in oversight and management of the Deepwater program.

“The rescission of acquisition decision authority does not imply removal of Coast Guard management of major acquisition projects,” the service said.

The Coast Guard said the transfer of authority conforms with its Major Systems Acquisition Manual guidance and its Blueprint for Acquisition reform, which have been in effect since July 2007.

“The formal implementation of GAO’s recommendation ensures continued Major Systems Acquisition Manual compliance and major projects are reviewed and approved by DHS at each prescribed decision milestone. Prior to DHS approval to proceed toward the next milestone, the Coast Guard must demonstrate the project is properly progressing by satisfying milestone and acquisition plan criteria,” the service said.

However, the rescission does not appear to have satisfied Deepwater critics and whistle-blowers, who have been voicing concerns about alleged problems with the Deepwater National Security Cutter’s radio and communication systems, especially with regard to whether those systems meet requirements in secure transmission of classified information. The service has said final testing of those systems is not yet completed.

“You can see that by not only this announcement but other continuing signs that major problems still exist,” Michael DeKort, a former Lockheed Martin Corp. engineer who has testified to Congress about Deepwater’s technical and management problems.

At the same time, DeKort praised the service for publishing the release. “Even though the news reflects poorly on the CG leadership and they try pretty hard to put a positive spin on things, the fact that CG-9 posted it at all is a good sign. We need to see more 'transparency' on things that shine a light on problems within the Coast Guard,” DeKort wrote on his blog Oct. 29.
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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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