The Coast Guard is in the process of building 8 cutters as part of a fleet expansion program called Deepwater which is overbudget and behind schedule. The cost of the first vessel the 418 foot Bertholf has doubled to $640 million and is 8 months late. It has hundreds of problems with its communications system (supplied by Lockheed Martin) which will prevent it from dealing with classified information. It also has design flaws (Northrop Grumman is the builder) that could lead to premature cracks due to metal fatigue reducing the ship’s projected 30 year life span. The Coast Guard, nevertheless, was willing to accept receipt of the ship and repair these defects despite it being the contractor’s responsibility.
On September 25, 2007, a whistleblower Anthony D’Amiento passed on sensitive but unclassified documents showing that the Coast Guard was aware of these problems. On October 1, 2007, D’Amiento was put on leave and instructed to cooperate with Coast Guard investigators, which he did. On October 29, 2007, he was told that he could pick up his home and office computers being held by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General. When he arrived, he was met by Paul Weare an investigator for the DHS Inspector General Richard Skinner who tried to question D’Amiento without his lawyer being present. D’Amiento refused at which point 3 security guards appeared. One of them pointed a gun at D’Amiento’s chest and he was told he would be arrested if he ever came back. His computers were not returned. This kind of brutish, clownish behavior all in the effort to cover up a service that can’t get its radios to work or its ships to float is exactly what you would expect of Michael Chertoff’s DHS. It is also another example of how the government goes after whistleblowers rather than the greedy, incompetent, and corrupt they expose.
Nor was this the first problem the Coast Guard had since it let its Deepwater contract to Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin in 2002. There was an initial plan to add 13 foot extensions to all 49 of its 110 foot Island class cutters at a cost of $11 million a piece. In 2004, one of these the Matagorda fleeing Hurricane Ivan was subsequently found to have a 6 inch crack in its deck and buckling in the structural members of its hull beneath its main engine. Shaft alignment problems were also found. Following a lengthy study, on November 30, 2006, the 8 ships which had undergone the hull extension at a cost of $88 million were pulled from service.
The Coast Guard and its contractors next went for a 140 foot Fast Response Cutter made out of composite materials, instead of steel. Except that none of them knew much about composite materials and after $26.7 million, they still didn’t have a viable design. The take home message here is that, despite repeated failures, the defense contractors involved are doing fine. I just hope that Coast Guard personnel know how to swim.