Saturday, January 27, 2007

A failure with Deepwater: A product of an incestuous relationship?

Looks as if the Coast Guard's Deepwater program is in hot water.

Renae Merle and Spencer Hsu of the Washington Post report bad news is headed toward the Deepwater catastrophe, er, I mean, program.
The Coast Guard's newest cutter, the flagship of a $24 billion plan to modernize the nation's coastal fleet, suffers from significant design flaws, and the service has failed to properly supervise the contractors doing the work, government inspectors have found.

The 418-foot National Security Cutter is the largest ship the Coast Guard has ever commissioned, but as designed would be limited in its ability to venture far from U.S. shores in search of drug smugglers and terrorists, according to a report scheduled to be released Monday.

Technical experts said the design of the vessel was likely to result in "fatigue cracks" that would sharply increase maintenance costs and shorten the ship's useful life. The report also said the Coast Guard appeared ill-equipped to supervise the project's contracting team, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, which had been given wide latitude in running the program.
I've heard rumblings. And for years I've heard scuttle of secrecy inside the program and cozy relationships between program individuals wearing blue and wearing suits.

I find it interesting that the prospective Program Executive Officer for Deepwater is Rear Admiral Ronald J. Rábago, who, before he was promoted to flag rank, was the deputy commander for the Maintenance and Logistics Command Atlantic. Yes, I might have seen him on a daily basis. Anyway, what I find interesting is two-fold. First, what a shitty job to be walking into. I'm afraid the chance for a "win" is four to one, against. The Service has too much invested to walk away, and yet I don't see a way to successfully execute the program to meet the desired goals. It's a little too ambitious, and, frankly, I think we trusted the contractors too much. Perhaps that's what happens when you get into bed with someone.

Having said that, Rear Admiral Rábago has never before gotten into bed with Integrated Coast Guard Systems, the joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman which was designed to suck millions of dollars from the Coast Guard. Er, belay that. I meant to say "was created to deliver to the Coast Guard the assets needed to successfully prosecute her varied missions over the next three decades." The closest Rear Admiarl Rábago came to ICGS were his tours at the MLCA and at the Coast Guard Yard... and I know even in those roles, he didn't come to close to the Deepwater we'll-tell-you-as-little-as-we-can Program.
The Coast Guard cutter report laid much of the blame on the Coast Guard's relationship with its contracting team.

The ship's "design and performance deficiencies are fundamentally the result of the Coast Guard's failure to exercise technical oversight over the design and construction of its Deepwater assets," the report said.
He's got his work cut out for him. But, he's the right person for the job.

More troubling than the design problems and the contractor/government relationships, which are very troubling, mind you, are the reports indications that the Coast Guard and the contractors have not been forthright -- and transparent -- with the auditors.
The inspector general also faulted the Coast Guard and contractors for imposing restrictions on interviews with employees and "hindering" the audit. The contractors, for example, wanted lawyers present during interviews with their employees. The meetings never took place.

The Coast Guard initially required that contact with the auditors be reported, that interviewees submit documents to the service before turning them over to auditors, and that an agency official be present during any interviews. The inspector general suspended fieldwork for five weeks in 2005 because of the agency's demands.

The Coast Guard's lawyers found some of the restrictions violated employees' rights. Auditors eventually interviewed some agency officials, but continued to have problems obtaining documents, according to the inspector general. In December 2005, auditors requested a copy of a briefing detailing the results of a structural analysis. The Coast Guard submitted the document, but omitted several pages of technical information, including notations "in large red lettering" stating that the ships would not meet their 30-year service life requirement, the report said.
Why do I find this more troubling? I find this more troubling because transparency, while it has not been a word the Commandant has actually used, is what he is trying to do with the Service. He is pulling and pushing the Service and her members to be more transparent. We must be open. Hiding from auditors is not being open.

Now, the good news, at least as I read the article, is that the stonewalling came in 2005. Admiral Allen took the helm in the summer of 2006. Yes, from 2002 to 2006, he was the Service's Chief of Staff, but he was unable to make the cultural changes from that seat. And, I have it on pretty good authority, that he may have been stonewalled about certain things or, even, boxed out.

We learned earlier this week that Admiral Allen met with senior executives of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman on the 19th to discuss the Deepwater Program.

Patricia Kime of Defense News writes,
Allen held the two-hour meeting with Lockheed Martin chief executive officer Robert Stevens and Northrop Grumman chief executive officer Ron Sugar to discuss the program’s objectives, as well as the Coast Guard’s ongoing efforts to overhaul its acquisition management office.

It was the first meeting between Allen and the senior executives responsible for overseeing Integrated Coast Guard Systems, a partnership between Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman that handles the $24 billion, 25-year Deepwater contract.
As is often the case, buried deeper in the article were some true nuggets of gold.
In the past six months, Allen has quietly been overhauling the Coast Guard’s acquisition management offices. He appointed an assistant commandant for acquisition and has embarked on a hiring frenzy, adding 40 contracting officers and courting more.

Deepwater has a backlog of funding that must be spent but has lacked the personnel to perform contract oversight, Coast Guard officials said.
The meeting between Allen and the two corporations’ top managers was designed to discuss Coast Guard initiatives to strengthen oversight, spokesman Cmdr. Brendan McPherson said.

In a statement, Allen said he envisions having continued, routine meetings with Stevens and Sugar to ensure “executive level oversight” of Deepwater.

“This renewed effort will require a significant investment of time at the most senior executive level of each of our organizations,” Allen said.
Significant investment of time? No sh*t.
ICGS spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell-Jones said Jan. 24 that the Lockheed Martin-Northrop Grumman systems integration team has always maintained communications with the service and described the meeting between the chief executives and Allen as “not unusual.”
Bullsh*t. If this was the first meeting between Admiral Allen and Messrs. Sugar and Stevens, then I would say it is, by definition, unusual, or perhaps I'm missing something here. Here's a question ripe for a FOIA request: If this was the first meeting between the Commandant and senior executives of Deepwater, how many times did the previous Commandant, Admiral Tom Collins, meet with Messrs. Stevens and Sugar, or other senior executives of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. If, over the course of four years, the answer is once or none, then I'd say Ms. Mitchell-Jones misspoke.

So, going back to my earlier prediction. I do think if Admiral Allen stays in the game and Rear Admiral Rábago maintains his professional distance & rides the oversight like a crusty ol' naval engineer, the Coast Guard just might beat the odds.

Let's hope so.


  1. I sat in a status meeting at Lockheed facilities a few months back where the person at Lockheed in charge of all of the software development for one of the DW components said something very interesting. They actually told a room full of CG stakeholders, the actual users of whatever was to be delivered, they were not the customer. ICGS is the customer. Did the G-D staff jump in and correct her? Did the COTR violently disagree? No. They did just as they had done over the last 3+ years I've been involved with this fiasco. Sat there and said nothing. Wait, let me be fair. The G-D staff did, within CG channels, blame the stakeholders.

    I'm waiting for the inspectors to come knocking.

  2. Ouch. We need some people with strong backbones on the the CG side of the table. Your anecdote doesn't bode well for the long-term state of the project.