Thursday, April 26, 2007

Testifying before Congress

Not me, of course. No fear there.

I learned today that a civilian employee of the the nation's Fifth Military Service was hauled before Congress last week to testify about Deepwater before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The scuttle is that the chairman of the committee, James Oberstar, was looking to find the smoking gun. Evidently the smoking gun is that someone in the Coast Guard knew something and covered it up. Possible, but I suspect the true smoking gun is that we're just naive.

I recently heard a person in the know say that it was, indeed, naive for leaders of the Coast Guard to believe that whoever won the Deepwater contract would put the interests of the Service first and would partner. It's the contract, stupid. They do what the contract says (and no more), and they are out to make money. Money. Money. Money. That is what it's all about.

Did the contractors cover up flaws? I certainly don't know, but the fact that there was no one guarding the hen house makes me think that there's no way a good product was going to get delivered. It would be like going to the city to get a building contract and for them to say, "Okay, just follow all the rules, and when you're done, sign this form that says you built to code."

Right. That'll work.

Anyway, in addition to the big guns, the House committee called Scott Sampson, a civil servant who works in the Vessel Specifications Branch of the Maintenance & Logistics Command Atlantic. Representative Oberstar noted before the hearings got underway,
In today’s hearing, we will hear charges of serious management failings in contract execution and oversight among all the parties involved in Deepwater.
Well, I don't know if that's what they heard, but no duh. Of course there were serious management failings in contract execution and oversight; that's how this debacle came to be.

Representative Oberstar noted,
serious problems were known very early in the program and that many warnings were delivered by very courageous individuals involved in the program from the earliest days.

Many of these warnings were consciously rejected or not taken seriously by various levels of management. I want to commend those individuals who were courageous enough to put their jobs on the line at the time by trying to do the right thing, and have assisted us in understanding what happened. In particular, I’d like to thank Michael DeKort, Robert Braden and Scott Sampson for doing the right thing.
Mr. Sampson's testimony can be found here. It provides an interesting chronology, but there's no smoking gun. His written statement concludes with this:
While engineers continue to discuss whether a solution to the many problems that plague the 123 exists, it is clear to me that the initial problem of not increasing the strength of the 123 was a serious oversight of basic naval architecture and their failure was predicted. Despite the offering of applicable experience and lessons learned, ICGS and the Coast Guard failed to take advantage of them and suffered a devastating setback to the program and its mission capability. It is my sincerest hope that these issues can be resolved and better interagency relationships can be established.
Let's hope we keep the fox away from the hen house from here on out.

Please note: This has been another posting not about the Coast Guard.

About the photo with this post: In the public domain from here. Cutline: PATROL BOATS (FOR RELEASE) KEY WEST, Fla (Nov. 10, 2006)-- The Coast Guard Cutter Padre's bridge is reflected in a puddle on the pier of Sector Key West, the cutter's homeport. The Padre is a 123-foot patrol boat that is routinely deployed in support of maritime law-enforcement, undocumented migrant interdiction operations, search and rescue, living marine resources enforcement and homeland security missions. USCG Photo by Lt. Cmdr. C. T. O'Neil.

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