Report finds major flaws in new Coast Guard ship
By Washington Post
Published January 28, 2007
WASHINGTON - The Coast Guard's newest cutter, the flagship of a $24-billion plan to modernize the nation's coastal fleet, has significant design flaws and the service has failed to properly supervise the contractors doing the work, government inspectors have found.
The 418-foot National Security Cutter is the largest ship the Coast Guard has ever commissioned, but as designed would be limited in its ability to venture far from U.S. shores in search of drug smugglers and terrorists, according to a report scheduled to be released today.
The Coast Guard plans to build eight new cutters. The first was christened in November and will be delivered to the service in August. The second is slated for delivery in October 2008.
The combined cost of the first two ships has already increased from $517-million to about $775-million. That does not include the cost of addressing the design flaws or an additional $302-million for "re-pricing of all work associated with the production and deployment" of the first two ships, the report said.
Technical experts said the design of the vessel was likely to result in "fatigue cracks" that would sharply increase maintenance costs and shorten the ship's useful life. And the report said the Coast Guard appeared ill-equipped to supervise the project's contracting team, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, which had been given wide latitude.
The agency lacks the "appropriate workforce, business processes, and management controls for executing a major acquisition program" like this one, the report by the Department of Homeland Security inspector general said. "The Coast Guard is still trying to come from behind and create the organization needed to manage the program."
The Coast Guard and its contractors hindered the audit of the program, known as Deepwater, after ignoring years of warnings from technical experts about the ships' designs, the report said.
A representative for the Coast Guard did not return a call for comment Friday. But in a response included in the report, the service challenged the inspector general's conclusions, saying the findings do not represent the "most current, comprehensive, or technically accurate data."
"The Coast Guard opinion is that decisions regarding structures and production have been well-considered and were prudent and correct," the response said.
A spokeswoman for the Lockheed-Northrop contracting team said the companies concurred with the Coast Guard's response.
"There are no flaws with the design," spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell-Jones said.
She said the Coast Guard is the "technical authority for the National Security Cutter" and if the report claims otherwise, "then the report is flawed."
Deepwater aims to modernize and replace the Coast Guard's aging fleet over 25 years. In December, the Coast Guard sidelined eight Miami-based 123-foot cutters produced under the program after finding they were not seaworthy.
[Last modified January 28, 2007, 00:42:08]
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