GAO urged to review Coast Guard vessel delays

The USCGC Fir. (Sept. 23, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times
The USCGC Fir. (Sept. 23, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

A congressional committee has asked the Government Accountability Office to review significant delivery delays of Offshore Patrol Cutters and Polar Security Cutters for the Coast Guard, as well as related significant budgetary issues.

The vessels are planned to address the icebreaking capability gaps of the Coast Guard in the Arctic and Antarctic. Meanwhile the Coast Guard must rely on the aging Polar Star, the only operational heavy icebreaker, while exploring other options to address the capabilities gap which could prove costly, said Peter DeFazio, D-Or., chair of the committee, and Rep, Sam Graves, R-Mo., in their letter to Dodaro.

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure addressed its concerns to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, regarding three Polar Security Cutters to be built by VT Halter, who was designing the cutters but faced challenges, including impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which have caused delays in the start of ship construction.

To mitigate the impact of these delays, the Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard may authorize the start of construction before the design is stabilized, a practice that has resulted in poor outcomes, including cost growth, for other shipbuilding programs, DeFazio and Graves told Dodaro. That given, they urged the GAO to review the management of the PSC acquisition program.

The committee also voiced concern over the status of the Offshore Patrol Cutter fleet, the largest acquisition effort ever for the Coast Guard. Initially set to cost about $12 billion over its 30-year life cycle, the program recently saw significant cost and schedule delays, they said. In October 2019, Homeland Security had approved up to $659 million in limited relief to the shipbuilder for the first four hulls. This approval resulted in changes to the overall cost, schedule and acquisition strategy, including procurement costs for the first four vessels rising from $300 million to $400 million.

The committee told Dodaro they are also concerned about the operational gap between the end of service life for aging Medium Endurance Cutters and the delayed delivery of the OPCs.

Given the budgetary committee that Congress, DHS and the Coast Guard have made for the OPC program to date, continued oversight is necessary to ensure the OPC program does not continue to see cost growth or additional schedule delays, they said.