Panel supports changes to Coast Guard modernization

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Thursday approved a bill that would overhaul the Coast Guard's troubled $24 billion fleet-modernization program, notably by preventing private contractors from managing the effort by October 2011 at the latest.

Lawmakers said they are trying to put the government back in control of the Deepwater program, given problems that were discovered with the first assets and technology developed under the effort by an industry team of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.

The bill, H.R. 2722, would make significant changes to Deepwater. "This legislation really makes very significant improvements in accountability in the way the Coast Guard manages its Deepwater program," said committee Chairman James Oberstar, D-Minn.

Coast Guard Subcommittee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., added, "I believe we have broad agreement that the Coast Guard must move deliberately to put the people [and plans] into place to manage its own procurement."

The bill, approved by voice vote, would require the Coast Guard to remove the private industry team as the Deepwater lead systems integrator within four years, or earlier if the Homeland Security Department certifies that doing so is possible.

The committee also approved by voice vote an amendment that would require the Coast Guard to partner with the Navy for expertise in acquisitions. Amendment sponsor Gene Taylor, D-Miss., noted that the Navy procures and manages new assets every year. "This is taking advantage of some great assets that our nation already has."

Congress moved to restructure the Deepwater program after government investigators reported that eight new patrol boats were plagued with problems and deficiencies. The Coast Guard has since decommissioned the boats and is negotiating with the industry team to recoup $100 million.

"There is $100 million worth of scrap metal sitting right now in Baltimore that shows a waste," Cummings said.

Problems have been found with other work done under the program. The committee said in a statement that they include "the failure of the effort to lengthen 110-foot patrol boats to 123 feet, failure of the first design for the new fast-response cutter, and failure of the initial design effort of the vertical unmanned aerial vehicle."

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