Lawmakers Say Coast Guard Withheld Warning Of Flaws In Cutter Design

Lawmakers Say Coast Guard Withheld Warning Of Flaws In Cutter Design
December 14th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Lawmakers Say Coast Guard Withheld Warning Of Flaws In Cutter Design

Lawmakers Say Coast Guard Withheld Warning Of Flaws In Cutter Design
New York Times
December 14, 2006
Pg. 38

By Eric Lipton
WASHINGTON, Dec. 13 — The Coast Guard withheld from Congress warnings raised more than two years ago by its chief engineer about structural design flaws in its new National Security Cutter, a $564 million ship now near completion in Mississippi, Democrats and Republicans said in interviews this week.
The lack of full disclosure about that and other problems in the Coast Guard’s $24 billion modernization effort, known as Deepwater, has created a credibility gap that some members of Congress say now jeopardizes the endeavor.
“The Coast Guard clearly does not understand that transparency and accountability are essential to a program of this magnitude,” said Senator Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine, the chairwoman of the Senate panel that oversees the service’s operations.
Ms. Snowe and other Congressional leaders said they were unaware until this past week that the Coast Guard’s chief engineer, Rear Adm. Erroll Brown, had written in March 2004 to the Coast Guard official in charge of the Deepwater program, Rear Adm. Patrick M. Stillman, to warn him that the design for the National Security Cutter had “significant flaws” and that construction should not begin until they were addressed.
“Importantly, several of these problems compromise the safety and viability of the hull, possibly resulting in structural failure,” said the letter, a copy of which was posted on The New York Times Web site last Saturday as part of reporting on the Deepwater project.
Admiral Stillman, who has since resigned, declined to comment.
Representative Harold Rogers, Republican of Kentucky, who heads the House panel that oversees the Coast Guard budget, said the lack of full disclosure was distressing.
“Withholding information leads to poor decisions for the nation, as we are witnessing now with this cutter modernization initiative,” Mr. Rogers said. Coast Guard officials said Wednesday that they have tried to keep Congress fully informed about progress on the Deepwater project, which is replacing or rebuilding almost all of the service’s ships, planes and helicopters. “The Coast Guard takes very seriously its obligation to keep its authorizers and appropriators informed,” a spokesman, Cmdr. Jeffrey Carter, said.
Representative Bob Filner, Democrat of California, said the shortcomings in the Deepwater program are so severe that the contract should be terminated. Two military contractors, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, were hired in 2002 to design the ships, build them and oversee most of the other project details.
“This has now threatened our national security,” said Mr. Filner, the ranking Democrat on the House panel that oversees the Coast Guard. “After four years and billions of dollars, we have nothing to show for it.”
A spokeswoman for Lockheed and Northrop declined to comment.
The uproar over the National Security Cutter follows the suspension of two earlier projects under the Deepwater modernization: a plan to renovate 49 of the Coast Guard’s 110-foot patrol boats, and construction of a new class of ship called the Fast Response Cutter.
Details about the problems with the two earlier programs had been provided to Congress, but the leaders of the subcommittees that oversee the Coast Guard budget and operations said they should have also been informed, more than a year ago, that the design questions extended to the National Security Cutter.
Construction of the first new National Security Cutter, a 425-foot vessel slated to be the flagship of the Coast Guard fleet, started in September 2004, before most of the issues identified by Admiral Brown were addressed, Coast Guard engineers said in interviews this month. The admiral has since retired.
Unless structural modifications are made, the ship will be susceptible to buckling of its superstructure, premature cracks in its hull and decks, and, in an extreme case, the possible failure of the hull girder, which is a ship’s backbone, said Chris Cleary, a senior naval architect at the Coast Guard.
An independent analysis by Navy engineers early this year has confirmed that the ship, as designed, may be susceptible to premature fatigue cracking, although top Coast Guard officials said they had been assured that the problems would not present a safety hazard for the ship, which is to start sailing next year.
Coast Guard officials in the last year did tell some Congressional committees that the service was addressing contractual issues with Northrop that might require additional work to the first ship, staff members on the House and Senate committees said.
During a June 2006 hearing on the Deepwater program, the Coast Guard commandant, Adm. Thad Allen, briefly mentioned the difficulties, telling a House panel that “there are some technical issues associated with the construction that we will address in subsequent hulls.”
The Coast Guard intends to reinforce the first two versions of the National Security Cutter and to change the design of the remaining six versions, a plan it notified Congress of last week. The service has not disclosed how much the repairs to the first two ships will cost or who will be responsible for the bill.
Coast Guard leaders said in interviews that any new class of ship has design challenges that must be resolved. Given that the start of the National Security Cutter construction had already been planned in 2004 — and that any delays would add to the ship’s cost — they decided to allow the first ship to be built, while continuing to investigate their engineers’ reports of design flaws.

Similar Topics
Army Vows to Cut Guard Role
Costly Fleet Update Falters
Coast Guard Finds Flaws In Converted Patrol Boats
Coast Guard Fleet Cuts Could Hurt Border Patrols
Coast Guard To Idle 8 Cutters After $100 Million Renovation