Problems Remain with US Coast Guard's Homeland Security Performance
by Jim Kouri, CPP
The Coast Guard's Deepwater Program, under the Department of Homeland Security, has experienced serious performance and management problems.
Deepwater is intended to replace or modernize Coast Guard vessels, aircraft, and the communications and electronic systems that link them together. As of fiscal year 2008, over $4 billion has been appropriated for Deepwater. The Coast Guard awarded a contract in June 2002 to a lead system integrator, Integrated Coast Guard Systems (ICGS), to execute the program using a system-of-systems approach.
In response to a Senate report accompanying a Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill, 2008, a Government Accountability Office report assesses whether the changes the Coast Guard is making to its management and acquisition approach to Deepwater will put it in a position to realize better outcomes. GAO reviewed key program documents and interviewed Coast Guard and contractor personnel.
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 outcomes, although challenges to its efforts remain.
The Coast Guard has increased accountability by bringing Deepwater under a restructured acquisition function and investing its government project managers with management and oversight responsibilities formerly held by ICGS. Coast Guard project managers and technical experts -- as opposed to contractor representatives -- now hold the greater balance of management responsibility and accountability for program outcomes.
However, like other federal agencies, the Coast Guard has faced obstacles in building an adequate government workforce. It has various initiatives under way to develop and retain a workforce capable of managing this complex acquisition program, but faced with an almost 20 percent vacancy rate, it is relying on support contractors, such as cost estimators, in key positions.
The Coast Guard's decision to manage Deepwater under an asset-based approach, rather than as an overall system-of-systems, has resulted in increased government control and visibility over acquisitions. Agency officials have begun to hold competitions for Deepwater assets outside of the ICGS contract.
While the asset-based approach is beneficial, certain cross-cutting aspects of Deepwater, such as the program's communications and intelligence components and the numbers of each asset needed, still require a systems-level approach. The Coast Guard recognizes this but is not yet fully positioned to manage these aspects.
The Coast Guard has begun to follow the disciplined, project management framework of its Major Systems Acquisition Manual (MSAM), which requires documentation and high-level executive approval of decisions at key points in a program's life cycle. But the consequences of not following this approach in the past are now evident, as Deepwater assets have been delivered without a determination of whether their planned capabilities would meet mission needs.
The MSAM process currently allows limited initial production to proceed before the majority of design activities have been completed. In addition, a disconnect between MSAM requirements and current practice exists because DHS had earlier delegated to the Coast Guard all Deepwater acquisition decisions, resulting in little departmental oversight.
Coast Guard project managers and decision makers are now receiving information intended to help manage project outcomes, but some key information is unreliable. The earned value management data reported by ICGS lacks sufficient transparency to be useful to Coast Guard program managers, and subcontractor Northrop Grumman's system for producing the data may need to be re-certified to ensure its reliability.
Officials state that they are addressing these issues through joint efforts with the Navy and the Defense Contract Management Agency.
(The National Association of Chiefs of Police obtained the above information from a number of sources including the Homeland Security Department, the US Coast Guard, the Defense Department, Congress' Government Accountability Office, and the National Security Institute.)
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.