President Bush will address graduates of the Coast Guard Academy today, thanking them for their service to our country. Unfortunately, under his watch, Coast Guard readiness has deteriorated greatly. The Coast Guard has fewer ships than it had five years ago despite billions of dollars in taxpayer expenditures. Today, the President is expected to speak on the subject of Iraq, but Americans will want to know what he plans to do about making sure the Coast Guard is ready to do its job. The members of America’s Coast Guard deserve better than their current civilian leadership.
The Coast Guard has fewer ships than five years ago. “A promotional video for the biggest project the Coast Guard had ever taken on looked impressive enough: ‘Deepwater’ would include 91 new ships and 124 smaller boats, plus new planes and helicopters. But five years into the program, the Coast Guard has fewer boats and ships now than it did before it started.” (CBS – 60 Minutes, 5/17/07)
The Coast Guard spent $100 million . . . . to ruin eight perfectly good patrol boats. “You can begin with the fact that the Coast Guard spent nearly $100 million to ruin eight patrol boats. The plan was to take the aging workhorses of the fleet, the 110-foot Island Class patrol boats, and lengthen them by 13 feet, adding a launch ramp for small inflatable boats and expanding the superstructure. But something went drastically wrong at the Bollinger Shipyard near New Orleans, where the first eight boats were extended…After just a few weeks on the water, all eight boats experienced severe structural problems and had to be pulled out of service. They are currently tied up at a pier at the Coast Guard’s Baltimore yard waiting to be decommissioned. Their problems, the Coast Guard says, are too serious to be fixed. (CBS – 60 Minutes, 5/17/07)
Coast Guard ships were outfitted with equipment that in some cases wasn’t even waterproof.
“‘We actually ordered radios for the very small boats that go on the 123s that were not waterproof,’ DeKort says.
‘How did the radios get changed?’ Kroft asks.
‘Because, coincidentally, one day during testing it rained and four of the radios failed,’ DeKort explains.
Asked if they offered him any apologies, DeKort says, ‘Oh, no. I was actually removed from the project shortly after that.’
The radios, which were vital for communications with other boats and helicopters, weren’t the only problem. DeKort says the antennas and electronics components on the exterior of the boat wouldn’t survive in the extreme weather the Coast Guard has to operate in, a fact that was later backed up by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general.” (CBS – 60 Minutes, 5/17/07)
Metal fatigue has reduced the life of a 30-year ship to just five years. “When the Coast Guard’s first large cutter in 35 years was christened in November at Northrop Grumman’s Pascagoula, Miss., shipyard, it was a gleaming symbol of the service’s ambitious $24 billion Deepwater program to update its aging fleet…The Pascagoula-built National Security Cutter, at 418 feet the crown jewel of the Deepwater program, is under scrutiny for metal fatigue that critics say shortens its 30-year life to less than five years.” (McClatchy Newspapers, 5/20/07)
The Coast Guard – after being lax in its oversight duties – has had to seize control of projects back from private contractors. “The Coast Guard is taking control of its troubled $24 billion modernization program from Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman as part of a restructuring of the project, congressional sources confirmed yesterday. The move comes during mounting criticism of the contract for the so-called Deepwater program that made a Lockheed-Northrop consortium ‘lead systems integrator’ and gave it significant management powers. Critics said the contract gave the corporate team too much control and that the Coast Guard was lax in its oversight duties — a combination they say led to a series of setbacks. Deployment of cutters and patrol boats produced so far has been delayed, the capabilities of some larger ships have been reduced, and costs have increased.” (Washington Post, 4/17/07)
Even after $24 billion spent, the Coast Guard fleet modernization program still faces massive cost overruns. “The Coast Guard’s massive fleet-modernization program could experience more cost overruns totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, meaning the agency might have to buy fewer and less capable assets, the Homeland Security Department’s top investigator told lawmakers Thursday. The Coast Guard is improving its management of the troubled Deepwater program, but costs still could rise for new national security cutters and unmanned aerial vehicles, department Inspector General Richard Skinner said in written testimony to two House Homeland Security subcommittees. The $24 billion, 25-year Deepwater program aims to upgrade aging vessels, aircraft and communications systems. Government investigators repeatedly have identified problems with it.” (National Journal’s Technology Daily, 5/17/07 )
The Coast Guard is now trying to recoup some of the billions lost to contractors in the failed modernization effort. “The Coast Guard said yesterday that it will seek damages from Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman for eight failed patrol boats that have come to exemplify the problems with its $24 billion modernization effort. The service is seeking a refund for a project to convert 110-foot patrol boats into 123-foot vessels as part of its so-called Deepwater program. The Coast Guard initially planned to upgrade 49 patrol boats but stopped in 2005 after eight had been completed and problems developed in their hulls and decks. At that time, the eight boats, converted at a cost of about $80 million, were put on restrictive duty that forbade them operating in waves higher than eight feet. Last year, after finding more problems, the Coast Guard took those eight boats out of service, and it recently said the boats could not be salvaged and would be scrapped.” (Washington Post, 5/18/07 )