The US Coast Guard has uncovered significant deficiencies in its $5.6 billion National Security Cutter (NSC) program. Although they are taking steps to resolve these issues, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may need to step in to ensure the NSC program operates effectively, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
GAO officials told a congressional subcommittee last week that the Coast Guard needs to improve its oversight of the Coast Guard’s NSC program after testing revealed 10 major deficiencies, including failures in systems related to the combat weapon systems.
The Coast Guard developed the NSC to replace its legacy High Endurance Cutters (HECs), which were first built in the 1960’s. The ships are built at the Huntington Ingalls Industry shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
“The flagship of the Coast Guard’s modern surface fleet, the $5.6 billion NSC program gives the Coast Guard upgraded capabilities and a new, valuable tool in fulfilling its missions, including law enforcement, drug interdiction, and search and rescue,” the report stated.
Although the cutter provides the Coast Guard with more advanced capabilities than the aging HEC, the deficiencies uncovered during Navy testing in 2014—after seven of the eight planned NSCs had already been placed under contract and three were operational—may impact the NSC’s ability to meet some of its missions.
GAO stated, “The Coast Guard has uncovered significant deficiencies and is taking appropriate, if costly, steps to correct known problems and determine solutions to persistent problems with as yet unknown causes, such as cracked cylinder heads in the cutter’s engines.”
Despite these problems, the Navy determined that the cutters were operationally effective, and following the initial testing, a DHS acquisition review board approved the NSC program for full rate production in October 2014. The Coast Guard plans to begin follow-on testing in fall 2016.
However, DHS acquisition guidance does not specify the timing of follow-on testing for its programs or any actions program offices should take in response to the findings of follow-on testing. This puts DHS at risk of fielding assets without knowing their full capabilities.
“While the Coast Guard is working to resolve these problems, the NSC program is already in full rate production with no other production related reviews or DHS acquisition review boards scheduled,” GAO said. “Thus, additional DHS oversight may be necessary to help ensure that the problems are addressed.”
During a recent hearing held by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportationto discuss the status of Coast Guard cutter acquisition programs, Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) expressed concerned over GAO’s report.
“The American public deserves assets that perform as intended and expected," Hunter said. “We do not need missions to be continually compromised due to the limitations of old and new vessels.”
GAO recommended that DHS take several actions to strengthen oversight of test and evaluation of major assets, and that the Coast Guard direct the NSC program to clarify the key performance parameters for cutter boat operations.
DHS and the Coast Guard concurred with GAO’s recommendations, and the Coast Guard is taking steps to test and evaluate the overall ability of each NSC.