House Democrats seek to restructure Coast Guard modernization

Democrats on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee introduced a bill Thursday that would restructure the Coast Guard's troubled fleet modernization program and prohibit putting private contractors in charge of it.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Coast Guard Subcommittee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said the bill is needed to strengthen management of the $24 billion Deepwater program, which has come under heavy scrutiny by government investigators and lawmakers. Significantly, the bill would prevent private contractors from being the program's lead systems integrator two years after enactment of the measure. A team from industry giants Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. now fills that role.

The Coast Guard has said it plans to take over management of the program, but has not provided a timeline for doing so.

"The legislation we are introducing today will help to steady the new course by putting in place the systems and the personnel the Coast Guard needs to effectively manage all future procurements," Cummings said during a news conference. He added that a two-year timeframe is provided to give the Coast Guard time to build up its management staff.

"The inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security has emphasized that the Coast Guard must move slowly and deliberately to prepare to assume the role of lead systems integrator," Cummings said. The Coast Guard would also be required to use full and open competition for most future procurement under the program.

Government investigators have found major problems with the program, especially with the work that Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman did to turn 110-foot patrol boats into 123-foot patrol boats with updated equipment and technology. The Justice Department also has opened an investigation into the program. The Coast Guard last month revoked its decision to accept the 123-foot patrol boats, and said it was seeking to recover costs from the industry team. The government spent about $100 million on the boats, which have been taken out of service.

The House bill is silent on whether the contractors should reimburse the government for costs associated with the program. But Cummings said he wants the funds repaid.

"I've told Lockheed Martin the same thing; we want our money back," Cummings said.

The bill also would require independent certification for assets acquired under the program, including having new cutters evaluated and certified by the American Bureau of Shipping.

The legislation would also require the Coast Guard to appoint a civilian chief acquisition officer to oversee the program. "We believe that the appointment of a civilian with extensive career experience in acquisitions and management will bring to that position expertise that simply is not inherently cultivated among uniformed Coast Guard officers, given the service's mission requirements," Cummings said.

Similar legislation already has been introduced in the Senate.

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