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GAO Tells Coast Guard, NOAA to Incorporate Acquisitions Lessons Into Shipbuilding Program

The U.S. Coast Guard and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) collectively spend billions of dollars to replace aging ships that conduct search and rescue, icebreaking, and research missions.

An investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that acquisition programs can benefit from long-term strategic planning that identifies how trade-off decisions would affect the future of the acquisition portfolio.

In July 2018, GAO found the Coast Guard continues to manage its acquisitions through its annual budget process and the 5-year Capital Investment Plan. As a result of this planning process, the Coast Guard has continued to defer planned acquisitions to future years and left a number of operational capability gaps unaddressed. Incorporating the use of a long-term strategic plan and additional trade-off discussion into the Capital Investment Plan could lead to more informed choices before irreversible commitments are made.

GAO’s prior work has also found that acquisition programs should start with solid business cases before setting program baselines and committing resources. At the heart of a business case is a knowledge-based approach – successful shipbuilding programs build on attaining critical levels of knowledge at key points in the shipbuilding process before significant investments are made.

However, in September 2018, GAO found the Coast Guard did not have this type of sound business case when it established the program baselines for its polar icebreaker program in March 2018 due to risks in technology, design, cost, and schedule. For example, GAO reports that the Coast Guard’s planned delivery dates were not informed by a realistic assessment of shipbuilding activities, but rather were primarily driven by the potential gap in icebreaking capabilities once the Coast Guard’s only operating heavy polar icebreaker reaches the end of its service life.

Agencies have partnered with the Navy to take advantage of its resources and shipbuilding expertise, including the Coast Guard when acquiring the polar icebreakers. For example, in September 2018, GAO found that the Coast Guard and the Navy had established an integrated program office and a ship design team. These teams provided input to Navy cost estimators, who developed the polar icebreaker program’s cost estimate.

GAO says lessons learned from its extensive work on ship acquisitions could be used to inform how the Coast Guard and NOAA buy ships. These include developing a long-term strategic plan, establishing a sound business case before committing resources, partnering with the Navy to use some of its shipbuilding resources and experience and estimating the costs and risks of different contracting approaches before committing to one.

GAO has previously recommended that the Coast Guard develop a 20-year fleet modernization plan, reflect acquisition trade-off decisions in its annual Capital Investment Plans, and address risks to establish a sound business case for its polar icebreakers acquisition. DHS has concurred with these recommendations and is taking steps to implement them.

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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