Finally, Congress approves Coast Guard authorization bill

Senior Coast Guard leaders soon will be able to complete a significant reorganization of the service's command structure after Congress approved legislation authorizing the changes.

Lawmakers on Thursday sent the fiscal 2010 and 2011 Coast Guard Authorization Act (H.R. 3619) to the White House, where it awaits President Obama's signature to become law. It is the first authorization bill the service has had since 2006, and it contains long-sought approval for a number of changes aimed at improving management.

The legislation authorizes the president to designate up to four vice admirals in addition to the vice commandant, which remains a vice admiral. The four designated vice admirals are not linked to specific positions, thereby allowing the service flexibility in structuring its service.

Former commandant retired Adm. Thad Allen sought for years to restructure the Pacific and Atlantic area commands into an operations command at Portsmouth, Va., and a readiness command in Alameda, Calif., where the Atlantic and Pacific commands are now located.

"The [current] Commandant [Adm. Robert Papp Jr.] has discussed his desire to retain both Atlantic and Pacific areas rather than establishing an operations command, while using two deputy commandants at headquarters to oversee operations and mission support. He also intends to retain the already-established Force Readiness Command under the leadership of a rear admiral," said Capt. Ron LaBrec in an e-mail response to a query from Government Executive.

The authorization bill also establishes an acquisition directorate to guide and oversee implementation and management of all Coast Guard acquisition processes, programs and projects.

Furthermore, to avoid repeating past failures of the service's major modernization effort known as Deepwater, the measure prohibits the Coast Guard from entering into any agreements that give private contractors the status of lead systems integrators. Deepwater, a 25-year, $25 billion program to upgrade maritime and air assets, along with communications systems, originally was managed by Integrated Coast Guard Systems, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. In 2007, the service took over management of the program after major cost overruns and performance problems emerged.

The bill addresses a number of other vital areas for the Coast Guard, including oil spill prevention and response, maritime safety, alien smuggling and arctic operations.

CORRECTION: The original version of this story incorrectly described the potential organizational changes to the Coast Guard. It has been updated to correct the errors.

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