Coast Guard aims to hire more contract oversight officials

Agency has already recruited more people to ensure better management of fleet modernization, IG says.

Coast Guard officials said Thursday they want to hire more personnel to prevent potential lapses in contract management similar to those that have been exposed in the Deepwater fleet modernization project.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen told lawmakers at a House hearing that he is seeking a senior manager with military experience to oversee the $24 billion program to replace or upgrade aging equipment. "We're going to be fine," Allen reassured members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee overseeing the Coast Guard. "This is not to say we don't have challenges looking forward. Could we use more people? Always, yes."

Lawmakers pointed out that the agency's staffing has increased 18 percent since it took on new responsibilities when it became part of the Homeland Security Department in 2003. But they said this increase is not enough.

Citing the "27 new functions" thrust upon the Coast Guard in DHS, Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., said the agency needs "to increase personnel and funding for personnel."

DHS Inspector General Richard Skinner told lawmakers that the Coast Guard already has started hiring additional staff members to ensure its Deepwater program is not subject to more acquisition missteps. Still, he told lawmakers, the Coast Guard should solicit "independent, third-party assessments" and consolidate its acquisition strategies under one directorate.

President Bush's fiscal 2008 request would increase the Coast Guard's budget to nearly $8.2 billion, a $196.8 million, or 2.4 percent, gain over the amount proposed for fiscal 2007. The increase would go in part toward beefing up Coast Guard Reserve training. The agency's budget for operating expenses, which include pay, would also grow.

In his testimony, Allen also told lawmakers he opposes having the National Science Foundation in control of operational costs for icebreaker ships that belong to the Coast Guard.

"My opinion is that it's very dysfunctional," he said, of splitting the ships' funding sources.