Senate Passes Cantwell Bill to End Waste in Coast Guard's Troubled Deepwater Vessel Program

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed legislation crafted by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) that will overhaul the U.S. Coast Guard’s acquisitions program to ensure the wise use of taxpayer dollars and fix the Coast Guard’s troubled “Deepwater” program. The bill stems from a multi-year investigation spearheaded by Cantwell that uncovered major problems, including cost overruns and cracks in the hulls of new vessels. The measure, which now goes to a House-Senate conference, seeks to ensure open competition in future Coast Guard acquisitions, end the Coast Guard’s reliance on the private sector to manage its procurements, and mandate better technical oversight by Coast Guard engineering staff.
“Today we have taken a major step towards securing a strong Coast Guard for the future while ending the waste of taxpayer dollars,” said Cantwell, chair of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and the Coast Guard. “Our vigorous oversight of the Deepwater Program brought to light inexcusable problems and abuses, and I am absolutely committed to ensuring they aren’t repeated. Those who serve in the Coast Guard and all of us who depend on them demand that we do better.”
Deepwater – a partnership between the Coast Guard and a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp., known as Integrated Coast Guard Systems (ICGS) – is a 25-year, $24 billion initiative to replace the aging fleet of Coast Guard vessels and aircraft used in missions more than 50 miles from the coast. It is the largest procurement effort in the Coast Guard’s history. Through Deepwater, the Coast Guard plans to acquire three major classes of new cutters, new small boats, new or upgraded aircraft, modernized helicopters, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), all linked by state-of-the-art command, control, and communication systems.
In 2007, Cantwell’s subcommittee brought to light reports by the Government Accountability Office and the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General outlined the Deepwater Program’s extensive problems. For example, the first two National Security Cutters – Deepwater’s flagship vessels – were hundreds of millions of dollars over-budget, and the contractor’s design failed to meet the Coast Guard’s performance requirements. Eight patrol boats rebuilt at a cost of over $100 million were engineered so poorly that the ships cracked and have been decommissioned by the Coast Guard as not seaworthy.
On February 14, 2007, Cantwell chaired a subcommittee review of Deepwater’s problems reported by the GAO and Inspector General. In late June 2007, the Senate passed a Cantwell amendment requiring the Coast Guard to halt all new Deepwater acquisitions until an independent third party completed a comprehensive “alternatives analysis” review. The provision was also ultimately included in the Omnibus appropriations bill passed by Congress.
The acquisition reform language contained in the Coast Guard Authorization Act is based on Cantwell’s Integrated Deepwater Program Reform Act. That bill passed the Senate last Congress but was never signed into law. The Coast Guard Authorization Act – including Senator Cantwell’s acquisition reform language – will now go to a House-Senate conference committee. Cantwell’s release on the overall bill is available here.