Coast Guard takes troubled new cutter on grand tour.

Author:Magnuson, Stew

BALTIMORE -- The month of June marked the coming out party for the Coast Guard's shiny new' national security cutter--the Bertholf

Making its way north up the eastern seaboard, the flagship vessel of the much maligned Integrated Deepwater System, held on-board parties for VIPs and tours for the media and public.

Adm. Thad Allen, commandant of the Coast Guard, after riding from Washington, DC., to a Baltimore pier, said he believed that the program had "turned a corner."

Deepwater, a system of boats, aircraft and a software and communications backbone that will one day tie them all together, has suffered from cost overruns, delays, and a radical change in the management structure. It is also the subject of one FBI probe.

About the same time the Bertholf arrived at Washington's Navy Shipyard, a Government Accountability Office report titled "Change in Course Improves Deepwater Management and Oversight, but Outcome Still Uncertain," landed on lawmakers' desks.

Like Allen, the report was mostly upbeat.

"Coast Guard leadership is making positive changes to its management and acquisition approach to the Deepwater Program that should put it in a position to realize better results," the report said.

A major change was the removal of the prime contractor, Integrated Coast Guard Systems, as the de facto manager of the program. The Coast Guard was ill-prepared to oversee the contractor's work. Since the Coast Guard took over the program, the service has faced a difficult task in building up its own acquisition workforce, the report noted.

It has changed the way it procures boats, aircraft and other equipment. The "asset-based" approach has allowed the service to hold competitions for individual pieces of equipment outside of the ICGS contract. This differs from the "systems-of-systems approach," where the program's progress was judged holistically.

The new system allows managers to spot technical glitches and cost overruns more easily, GAO noted.

The problem is that the technological backbone--the communications, software and sensors suites that will tie the 12 new ships and aircraft together--doesn't fit well into this revised approach.

"An asset based approach--would entail some risk, as interoperability among all Coast Guard units and DHS components, as well as Navy and others, must be assured," GAO said.

The Bertholf is not certified to tie into the Defense Department's secure network, SIPRNET. The common operating picture, which would allow...

To continue reading