Washington Babylon — August 22, 2007, 7:01 pm

Boeing and the Coast Guard Reply

Boeing and the Coast Guard have sent letters in response to my post last week, “Confessions of a Defense Junketeer.” In that piece I reported on a junket Boeing recently arranged for reporters in support of its KC-767 tanker program. I also criticized Deepwater, a $24 billion Coast Guard modernization program that has been overseen by Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman (with the predictable result that the two companies awarded themselves for major contracts under Deepwater). The letters—Boeing’s was sent by William Barksdale, Tanker Communications Manager, and the Coast Guard’s was signed by George Kardulias, Director of Communications–are printed below. My reply follows.

Boeing:

As is standard practice in our industry, we often invite reporters to attend tours and briefings at our production facilities. On occasion and for convenience sake, we will provide transport to far-away facilities such as those in Everett. We invite reporters, including bloggers, without any precondition about what they write. We have little control as to whether a particular reporter will chose to do the hard work of focusing on central issues of news–what we believe to be the unparalleled quality of the KC-767, and the existence of an open and competitive tanker procurement process–or whether a reporter will choose to simply and casually revisit what most would agree to be outdated issues. We enthusiastically look forward to future media tours of our production facilities, as we believe that a fully informed media is in the public interest.

Coast Guard:

Your recent web blog on the defense industry made an unfortunate characterization and an error in fact concerning the Coast Guard’s Deepwater acquisition program. While the Coast Guard permanently decommissioned the eight converted 123-foot patrol boats and terminated the conversion of the remaining patrol boats due to structural uncertainties, the Coast Guard has not scrapped Deepwater.

Within the Deepwater Program just last week we awarded the contract for continuation of construction of the first two national security cutters and construction of the third national security cutter. Furthermore, we are accepting new maritime patrol aircraft and have solicited for designs for a new fast patrol cutter. Contrary to your assertion, Deepwater is not a boondoggle; it is a multi-year effort to accomplish the absolutely critical modernization of our aging fleet of cutters, aircraft and sensors.

My Response:

Boeing’s letter doesn’t require much comment, but I would urge you to read this roundup on the company’s junket, written after my post ran, by David Postman of the Seattle Times. As to the Coast Guard letter, I did err in saying that Deepwater has been scrapped. What changed is that the Coast Guard, following a blizzard of criticism, scrapped Lockheed-Northrop management of the program and now oversees Deepwater itself.

Up until now, though, Deepwater has been a horrific boondoggle. “Deepwater is listing under a storm of congressional criticism for design mistakes, cost overruns and lax oversight,” the Seattle Times recently reported.“Four government audits have criticized management of the project, which involves 91 new ships and 240 aircraft.”

Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington has been a leading critic of Deepwater. She has described the program as “plagued by cost overruns, debilitating design flaws, ships and technology that fall far short of contract requirements.” Cantwell’s office summarized some of the major problems with Deepwater:

So far, eight 123-foot patrol boats converted under the Deepwater program are out of service—a waste of $100 million. After spending $25 million, the Coast Guard suspended the Fast Response Cutter project because the contractors’ design failed to meet testing requirements. The National Security Cutter—the largest of the new Deepwater ships—is over budget and the current design and construction fails to meet the Coast Guard’s performance goals. Deepwater’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, Eagle Eye, has significant delays, and the prototype crashed. These mistakes have cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, while delays have forced the Coast Guard to rely more heavily on outdated equipment that was not built for post-9/11 missions.

That sounds like a “boondoggle” to me. We’ll have to wait to see if the Coast Guard can now get the program back on track.

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