GAO Urged to Review Delay of Coast Guard Vessel Deliveries

A U.S. House committee looking into significant delivery delays of Offshore Patrol and Polar Security Cutters to the U.S. Coast Guard has asked the Government Accountability Office to review the situation, as well as related budgetary issues.

Given the significant budgetary commitment from Congress, the Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard have made for the Offshore Patrol Cutters program to date, continued oversight is necessary to ensure that the program does not continue to experience cost growth or additional schedule delays, said the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Committee chair Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR, and ranking member Rep. Sam Graves, R-MO, told Gene Dodaro, comptroller general of the GAO, that the Offshore Patrol Cutter fleet, the largest acquisition ever or the Coast Guard, was initially projected to cost about $12 billion over its 30-year life cycle, but the program has experienced significant cost overruns and schedule delays.

In October 2019, Homeland Security approved up to $659 million in limited relief to the shipbuilder for the first four hulls using its contractual actions authority for national defense, they said. This approval resulted in changes to the overall cost, schedule and acquisition strategy, they said. The procurement costs of four of these vessels increased by a total of between $300 and $400 million since the program’s initial cost estimate and delayed the contract delivery dates of these four vessels between eight to 13 months, they said.

Similarly, in a letter about the Polar Security Cutters, the committee told the GAO that given schedule delays and potential cost growth, continued oversight of the program is critical.

The committee urged the GAO to review management of that Polar Security Cutters acquisition program and the Coast Guard’s efforts to address icebreaking capability gaps until these vessels are fully operational.

The shipbuilder for these Polar Security Cutters, VT Halter, had begun designing the cutters, but challenges including the pandemic have delayed this process as well as the start of lead ship construction, DeFazio and Graves told the GAO.

To mitigate impact of these delays, 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, they said.

Meanwhile, with delivery of the first cutter delayed, the Coast Guard must continue to rely on the aging Polar Star, the nation’s only operational heavy icebreaker, and explore other options to address the capability gaps which could prove costly, they said.

Given all these schedule delays and potential for rising costs, continued oversight of both programs by the GAO is critical, they said.