Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Chairwoman and Ranking Member of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, and Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, sent a letter to Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen expressing concern over the Coast Guard’s preliminary acceptance of the National Security Cutter BERTHOLF before many of the ship’s problems have been adequately fixed (text of the letter below).Last month, the U.S. Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) conducted a thorough assessment of the ship, and recommended that the Coast Guard delay acceptance until eight serious, “starred” deficiencies were addressed. When the Coast Guard took preliminary acceptance of the ship yesterday, it did so without having resolved those starred deficiencies – seven of the eight deficiencies remain incomplete. The letter also outlined concern that INSURV was unable to conduct a complete assessment of the BERTHOLF’s advanced computer and communications systems.In their letter, Senators Cantwell and Snowe and Congressman Cummings demanded answers on how the Coast Guard plans to resolve the BERTHOLF’s problems and pressed that all of the ship’s problems must be resolved before its final acceptance.
"Despite the Coast Guard’s decision to conditionally accept the first National Security Cutter, this ship is far from being out-of-the-woods," said Cantwell. ”There are thousands of specific problems that still need to be fixed, and the Coast Guard must hold the ship’s contractor accountable for finishing the job and delivering what the taxpayers were promised."
“Given the millions of taxpayer dollars that have already been wasted on the Deepwater project as a result of poor judgment, we will be closely watching to ensure that the BERTHOLF is fit for the seas upon final acceptance,” Congressman Cummings said. “The Coast Guard must be vigilant in ensuring that the new NSC will be the exceptional vessel that we have all envisioned—worthy of the brave men and women who will be performing critical missions upon it.”
“While I am encouraged by the Coast Guard’s renewed focus on aggressive program management and accountability to the taxpayers, this project is still far from completion,” said Senator Snowe, the Ranking Member of the Senate Subcommittee on Fisheries and the Coast Guard. “Throughout the conditional acceptance period and all phases of this monumental acquisition, the Coast Guard must be as vigilant in protecting the American taxpayers’ investment as they have always been in protecting our mariners. Final acquisition of a fully-functional National Security Cutter will be a quantum leap forward in the Coast Guard’s ability to safeguard the American public and I look forward to the day when the men and women of the Coast Guard are no longer sailing aboard one of the oldest Naval fleets in the world.”
The text of the letter is as follows:
May 9, 2008
Admiral Thad Allen
United States Coast Guard
2100 2 Street, S.W.
Washington, DC 20593
Dear Admiral Allen:
Following the Coast Guard’s preliminary acceptance of the first National Security Cutter (NSC), BERTHOLF, and the placement of the cutter in “in commission special” status, we write today to express our concern that this cutter was accepted with a number of deficiencies, including serious deficiencies noted in starred trial cards that have not yet been fully resolved.
We are confident that the NSC will be an exceptional cutter that will provide significantly expanded mission capabilities to the Coast Guard. However, following its evaluation of the ship’s completeness, the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) recommended that the Coast Guard Commandant authorize acceptance and delivery of the ship “provided all starred deficiencies have been corrected or waived prior to acceptance.”
The action taken yesterday constitutes a preliminary acceptance, and we are concerned that this action was taken with deficiencies, including starred cards, still outstanding. We understand that all starred card issues will be resolved by the end of May. We expect to be notified when these issues are resolved and if there are any delays in meeting this timeline.
We are also concerned that because the information systems onboard BERTHOLF are not yet completely installed, INSURV was unable to conduct a full assessment of those systems. INSURV consequently recommended that the Coast Guard conduct a more complete evaluation during the final contract trials once the entire information system has been completed. Clearly, work remains to be done and we would like an explanation as to how the Coast Guard plans to complete this evaluation, while holding the contractor responsible to ensure that the BERTHOLF’s capabilities are fully realized.
We appreciate the diligent testing regimen to which NSC 1 has already been subjected, including machinery trials and builder’s trials in addition to the acceptance trials. However, we also believe it is imperative that the Coast Guard not move to final acceptance of this vessel before all outstanding deficiencies are resolved.
Accepting a ship like the National Security Cutter BERTHOLF is a long and complicated process. We want to express once again how important it is for the Coast Guard to hold the shipbuilder accountable. The contractor’s work on this ship is far from done – and the same goes for the U.S. Coast Guard. We expect that as stewards of taxpayer dollars, you will use every tool at your disposal to hold the contractor fully accountable for the completion of this ship and fulfillment of the shipbuilder’s contractual obligations. Our government is spending well over $600 million to acquire the BERTHOLF, and we should get the ship that we were promised. Taxpayers should expect nothing less, and neither do we.