Managers of the U.S. Coast Guard's $24 billion fleet-overhaul program appeared to cover up a Navy engineering report that highlighted design flaws in a new flagship cutter under scrutiny by government investigators, a senior House Democrat said yesterday.I think two things are conspiring to negatively impact concerns about Deepwater right now. First, things aren't good with the Deepwater project. Coasties have been in bed (figuratively, not literally) with the contractors. Secrecy has ruled, rather than transparency. The scope was way too big. But, it's not just Deepwater. The other conspiratorial element is that federal contracting, in general, is under the gun; it's not just the Coast Guard who's messed up. The Department of Defense hasn't been playing all that well, and the Coast Guard's sister agency in the Department of Homeland Security are also screwing up. Whether it's the boarder control initiative along our southern boarder or missing billions in Iraq or illegal use of funds to pay for security consultants and hired guns, things aren't looking good for the contracting world.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the December 2005 report included "bottom-line" warnings in red ink on a pair of briefing slides that concluded the national security cutter, as it is known, would not last the required 30 years.
But the warnings were deleted in a copy of the report given by Coast Guard officials to Department of Homeland Security auditors and altered in an edited version included in a wider briefing on the $1 billion-a-year fleet-replacement program, known as Deepwater, to the Coast Guard's commanding officer at the time, Waxman said.
Jason Sigger, the Armchair Generalist, states, "We contractors are whores, but at least we admit the nature of the game." Many of his readers take issue, but I think the point is solid: Contractors are first, and foremost, interested in making a profit and satisfying their responsibilities to owners and stockholders. The public good is secondary to profit. Decisions are made to increase profit, not to satisfy responsibilities to the public.
It's easier, I suggest for a government employee to focus on serving the public as profit is removed from the equation.
I'm reminded of conversations I had with my brother about contractor-run prisons. In a contractor-run prison, maximizing profits is paramount; with a government-run prison the financial mindset is about saving money. The two mindsets drive a difference in behaviors.
The same is true elsewhere in the world of government and contracting. And, until somebody gets it right, the spotlight is going to continue to shine and is going to continue finding the dirt we'd rather have remain hidden.