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Project on Government Oversight

Troubled Waters

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March 12, 2008

From POGO's blog:

Yesterday, in the Washington Times, David Axe reported that deployment of the Coast Guard's National Security Cutters will be delayed by six months because the ship's radios are not waterproof. That article sent the Coast Guard into a frenzy yesterday to challenge what they said were inaccuracies, according to CGBlog.org. Navy Times reports that the Coast Guard has demanded a retraction of the front page article. We'll be watching do see how the details work themselves out.

The Cutters are part of the troubled $24 billion Deepwater program which has been plagued by delivery delays, failures and scandal. Former Lockheed Martin engineer Mike DeKort blew the whistle early on the fact that the Coast Guard failed to ensure weather durability of external equipment in the program such as the radios.

Last week, the Navy Times reported that an internal Coast Guard report recommended ditching production of two National Security Cutters in favor of other alternatives. The article noted "the risk of 'connectivity problems' among Coast Guard assets and between it and other agencies."

That news followed a statement from the Coast Guard that suggested problems were brewing with the Cutters' classified communications system which involved "some risk" to the delivery schedule. That statement reaffirmed concerns raised by the disclosures of a second whistleblower, Coast Guard engineer Anthony D'Armiento. The statement outlined what has been called by some an unknown process for testing and deployment (Interim Authority to Operate) of the Cutters. The statement raised the specter that the Coast Guard would prematurely accept the Cutters from contractors Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman before major problems were resolved with the ships' communications system. The Coast Guard made this same mistake when it accepted eight 123-foot Deepwater boats despite numerous flaws in those boats, which were later taken out of service with plans to be scrapped. According to some reports, the Coast Guard has denied that it will sign the contract Form DD 250s acceptance forms until the Cutters until the problems are resolved. The Coast Guard will lose important leverage to compel Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to fix serious communications problems if it accepts the National Security Cutters before they are ready.

D'Armiento has been on administrative leave for more than 5 months after he leaked pages from a document which exposed that the Cutters were at high risk for not meeting contract requirements for TEMPEST and Information Assurance. While the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General ostensibly investigates him for leaking this document, the Coast Guard released a full unredacted version of the document to POGO. In 2005, POGO criticized the Department of Homeland Security for issuing a management directive which prohibits the disclosure of information that may be obtainable under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), raising the specter that whistleblowers like D'Armiento would be retaliated against for releasing information which Congress intended to make available to the public.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.