Axe’s 13 Questions for the U.S. Coast Guard


Categorie: Accountability, Naval, Reporters |

cosco-busan-admiral-thad-allen.pngThis spring the Coast Guard allegedly faked a key test on its flagship, $650-million National Security Cutter. The allegations were only the latest to come out of the troubled, $25-billion Deepwater modernization scheme, which has been beset by technical failures, shady contracting, delays and huge cost overruns.

Through it all, the Coast Guard has resisted giving straight answers to simple questions. But in the wake of last week’s heated conference call with Commandant Thad Allen (pictured), the Coast Guard has offered to answer any questions. I came up with 13. Noah at Danger Room will be passing them along to Allen’s people.

1) Has the Coast Guard’s access to SIPR Net been totally or partially shut down recently? If so, why?

2) Was the National Security Cutter designed with Secure Compartmented Information Facilities? If not, why not – and what is the Coast Guard going to do about it?

3) Four years ago Coast Guard civilian employee Ron Porter issued waivers for security shortcomings in the network systems for the 123-foot cutters, despite not being a full Certified Tempest Technical Authority. Why was that allowed to happen?

4) Who is the Coast Guard’s current CTTA?

5) Were any C4ISR systems installed on, then removed from, Bertholf prior to her INSURV inspection in the spring? If so, what were they, who removed them, and why? Were those systems re-installed?

6) Rear Admiral Gary Blore said that some of Bertholf’s systems would be brought on line for the first time during her work-up on the West Coast. What are those systems?

7) Considering that not all of Bertholf’s C4ISR systems were functioning at the time of her acceptance, what system was she using for secure comms?

8) Do NSC 2 and 3 share the exact same design with NSC 1? Or have their designs been altered based on lessons learned during Bertholf’s construction and trials? If the designs have been altered, what are the major changes?

9) Considering Deepwater’s “system of systems” architecture, how does the Coast Guard ensure that flaws with one component system do not “spread” to other components? In other words, if one comms system leaks emissions, how do we know that a similar, if not identical, comms system on another platform won’t also leak emissions?

10) Congress wants the Coast Guard to name a three-star acquisitions chief with 10 years of acquisitions experience. How will the Coast Guard fill this requirement, considering the service’s practice of prohibiting “limited duty”?

11) Why did the Coast Guard award Bollinger the contract for new Sentinel-class cutters, considering that Bollinger was involved in the botched work on the 123-foot cutters three years ago? Is the Coast Guard concerned about a repeat of the 123 fiasco?

12) What is the status of the Coast Guard’s $100-million refund on the decommissioned 123s?

13) Did the 123-foot cutters, before they were decommissioned, ever use their “secure” C4ISR equipment near Cuba?

Coastie observers: did I miss anything?


17 Responses to “Axe’s 13 Questions for the U.S. Coast Guard”

  1. David,

    Thank you for the very gracious offer to several of us in the Blogosphere to submit questions for this effort. Since I’m on technical expert in this field, I offered up my two questions to Michael DeKort who is.

    Thanks again!

  2. Michael DeKort says:

    While I am encouraged by the CGs request for the questions I am a bit cautious. This format does not permit immediate follow up. As such if the CG takes its normal course and tells partial truths and misrepresents others it will look to the average reader that they were transparent (as the answers will seem reasonable to a laymen) and we won’t accept any answer from them. If however this is a true act of complete transparency I surely welcome it. In the spirit of that full transparency I have some additional or clarifying questions:
    - Why was Bollinger permitted to win or even bid on the FRCs with the refund still not paid and their never being able to tell us what went wrong in their design of the 123s? How is it they are deemed competent, professional and ethical enough to take on a much larger and more complicated effort than adding 13ft to a hull they built and designed? Should the CG have not told the ICGS parties you do not get to compete on any new surface asset projects until this is cleared up?
    - Isn’t the refund amount for the 123s much more than $96m? Recently the GAO issued a report stating that the impacts to the nation were well over $100m and they (nor you) have counted the 8 lost SRPs or the residual value of the 110s that were ruined. Isn’t the real cost closer to $200m?
    - Why were the 8 SRPs scrapped?
    - When are the Bertholf’s complete instrumented TEMEPST tests going to be run? Why weren’t you able to perform them before acceptance and why did you miss you August commitment after that? What are the cost and design impacts of the existing flaws and what are those flaws?
    - What were the 353 critical C4ISR design flaws the Navy highlighted a year ago and which ones are still open and why?
    - If not designed for a SCIF was there a design in place for any secure comm space and why is a SCIF being added?
    - Since at least one 123 used SIPRNET (potentially within or near Cuban waters) and it did so with critical TEMPEST failures the Navy did not want waived how do you know (not assume) that the system was not compromised?
    -Would you be open to bringing Kevin Jarvis and I on board, even if it is just as consultants, to review what you are doing and ensure what you are doing is the right thing? Wouldn’t this end the controversy, give your organization a little more credibility and help silence not only the critics but give congress and others more confidence?

  3. Suggestions says:

    I imagine that Admiral Allen has been asking these questions of his staff:

    1. How much total has, is, and will be spent on the first three National Security Cutters for design, production, and final (post-special) commissioning?

    Ask for a specific description of NSC costs by breaking down them in these 3 categories: Deepwater contracts, Deepwater change orders, and non-contract and non-change order funding. This means including costs associated with the Deepwater contracts involving C4ISR electronics development and integration contract, systems engineering and integration contract, and others. The actual cost for the NSC could be greater than $600 million when factoring in the other contracts such as C4ISR development.

    2. How much will it cost to make the NSC compliant with TEMPEST? Where will this funding come from and how much will Northrop and/or Lockheed be paid these costs?

    3. How long will it take to make the NSC compliant with TEMPEST standards?

    4. What is the long term plan for the 123 WPB’s that are currently at the Coast Guard’s Baltimore Yard?

  4. paddleball says:

    Has the Coast Guard made any attempt to utilize leprechaun magic to fix the 8 scrapped WPBs? If not, why?

  5. Rich Johnsan IG says:

    From the O’Bama campaign:

    Restore Management and Oversight Capacity: The federal government’s ability to manage contracts has not kept up with the increase in the volume and complexity of federal contracts. Such an arrangement contributed to wasteful spending in the Coast Guard’s $24 billion Deepwater contract and the Department of Homeland Security’s $30 billion border security contract with Boeing.

    Read more about O’Bama’s objectives at:

  6. Springbored says:

    Hooray! Good questions all. I commend the Coast Guard for offering to answer these questions, and, you know, there’s nothing but upside from answering the questions honestly. It’ll hurt–but only for a news cycle. But demonstrating the upside–forthrightness-honesty-integrity–that’s priceless. I’d be far more ready to support and even accept a few honest misteps from a service I respect…

    What is the status of the small vessel launching doors on the NSC-1? Has the NSC-1 launched and recovered small boats at speed yet? When will it do so?

    Have problems with getting the NSC cutters operational forced changes in the overall management plans for Coast Guard vessel management? What are your plans for the USCG Acushnet and has the deployment plan for the USCG Acushnet changed due to NSC delays?

    What is the presumed lifetime of the NSC-1, 2 and 3 hulls? Which of the three vessels will require structural modification during their lifetime? When are the modifications take place? How much will the modifications cost? How much time will the ships be off-line for modifications?

    How are the NSC cutters really going to be used? What’s their future mission? How has the NSC mission-set evolved over the past few years, if at all?

    And, finally,

    Don’t you just love all us bloggers?

  7. anonymous says:

    “-Would you be open to bringing Kevin Jarvis and I on board, even if it is just as consultants, to review what you are doing and ensure what you are doing is the right thing? Wouldn’t this end the controversy, give your organization a little more credibility and help silence not only the critics but give congress and others more confidence?”

    Oh, that is rich.

  8. Michael DeKort says:

    I figured I would take a shot at another offer to help directly. I have offered before – a few times over the years. If we had been in a position of authority on the ship and C4ISR designs most if not all of the problems and the whole fiasco would never have happened. Not hindsight – we knew and informed everyone 5 or so years ago. (It’s really not that difficult to figure out. The errors were in rudimentary areas)

  9. Springbored says:

    Oh…yeah….If the NSC-1 was designed to have a permanent SCIF, was the SCIF able to be certified without modification? Is the NSC-1′s permenant SCIF functional now? If not, when will it be completed?

  10. Bill Wells says:

    In a few months the belt tightening will begin. The numbers of new cutters will be reduced largely because of the waste in time and money in the Deepwater system.

    The project was wrong headed from the start. Most in the Coast Guard are unaware that between 1929 and 1939 in the depths of the Great Depression the 835 officer of the Coast Guard were able to produce 20 major cutters, hundreds of new patrol craft, and a modern aviation system.

    What happened to the later Coast Guard?

  11. anonymous says:

    “I figured I would take a shot at another offer to help directly. I have offered before – a few times over the years….”

    So you’re going to make the offer through David Axe?

    Don’t you think that for an effort like the one you’re proposing to be successful, to have any value at all, the person/people providing the service would have to be able to exercise a high degree of neutrality?

    Considering the nature of the comments you’ve made on blogs and elsewhere, don’t you think the Coast Guard would have some serious doubts about the level of neutrality and independence you could provide in such a role?

    Not trying to be an a-hole, I think these are reasonable questions to ask.

  12. Michael DeKort says:

    Fair questions

    I started making my offers to help ICGS in 2003 and the CG in 2005 and did so repeatedly including at the hearing. I never got a response to those offers. It is now many years later. As such I gave the private offers a lot of time. I also wanted to publicly demonstrate my commitment and give those watching – especially from the outside – something to think about.

    As for neutrality if you scan all of my blogs, my statements to congress etc you will someone who stays on the facts, acknowledges when either the CG, ICGS or congress do something right and when I am wrong. (Show me where ICGS and the CG did the same) I also followed Lockheed’s process to the letter as well as the processes provided by the government. I only went public because the DHS IG was being stonewalled by the CG (which they declared in a hearing) and I didn’t get anywhere with the appropriate congressmen in charge – who happened to be republican at the time (Peter King’s lack of involvement was the last straw). My entire focus has been the systems and the mission. I think a lot about what I do, when I do it and how I do it. I don’t always get that right. Having said that I have gotten this far because I am right far more often than not, am resourceful and determined. (Of course I have gotten key help along the way) If I wasn’t neutral and focused on those systems and missions (which includes going after those in charge if they are part of the problem) I wouldn’t have had enough credibility to be a lead witness at a hearing or received that ethics award from IEEE that was presented by Rep. Cummings. If I were to be asked to help either one of these organizations there would be conditions. Anyone in a position to have raised the issues or changed them, who did not, will no longer work on the project (of course most should be fired but I am not sure that’s for me to decide) and I want to start from scratch – a bottoms up review – to see where the holes still may be. I would want 90 days for that and full access to people and information. Then we go from there.

    As for whether or not the CG or ICGS thinks I would be neutral I guess you would have to ask what neutral means to them. Does it actually mean full transparency and satisfying the mission needs to the fullest extent? (There are always gray areas that involve give and take. I understand no one gets everything they want. I just want to get close). If neutral means protecting them when they don’t deserve being protected and not being fully transparent because of politics or personal agendas – then no I wouldn’t be neutral.

  13. anonymous says:

    Don’t confuse neutrality with integrity (which I’m not challenging).

    The point is that you’re a notable figure in the whole Deepwater saga. You were involved as a contractor, a whistleblower, a congressional witness called to testify by an oversight committee and (currently) a frequent contributor to blogs covering this specific issue. You’ve expressed your opinions quite openly on the subject. Put aside whether those opinions are right or wrong. Wouldn’t that sort of activity and your closeness to the situation call into question whether you could look at things with an unbiased eye?

  14. Michael DeKort says:

    Not at all because I did all of this with an unbiased eye. (Personally unbiased not technically. I have a set of professional and technical biases due to my experience. That bias is the type that should and will always be brought to the table)

    The facts and analysis of the environment and history drove me. I rarely discuss my own situation or how this has affected me or my family. (Usually when I do it is in response to something directly pertinent). As such it’s mission first.

    Where wouldn’t I be neutral?

    Deciding on the right requirements or solutions? I think the solutions I have presented in this area are informed, fair, neutral and in keeping with the needs of the mission.

    Handling people across the table who I don’t respect, who I think did wrong and should be held accountable? Bitter about my situation? Hiding behind the technical aspects in order to exact some personal revenge? I dealt with this in Lockheed when my appraisals suffered and I had to move my family several times. I NEVER let that affect my job. No shouting matches, back door moves, direct/indirect retaliation, passive aggression etc. Heck there literally was NEVER one shouting match. Believe it or not I can separate the two and focus project out. From the mission out. Would I like to have things set right? Sure. But that is separate from the work. (This is one reason why you don’t see Lockheed attack me credibility, professionalism or capabilities. While not perfect each was stellar.)

    If I was told I had to sit in a room with every LM and CG individual I have had a problem with and get this thing back on track I would start with this exact conversation. Let’s get the gorilla out there and deal with it. I would tell them I will focus on the work and I will only deal with them through that. Any and all disagreements will be from the work, project and mission out. We’re all not gonna be on each others Christmas cards list but we have a job to do. Sounds unlikely but I have done it before. At the very least I have no interest in being a hypocrite or someone I don’t like. I am just wired different than most.

  15. TT Mattesan says:

    Bill Wells, in regards to your post here, can you attribute that to the further politicization of the Officer Corps? Has the quality of the leadership and vision improved or has the Corps become more risk adverse and less visionary?

  16. TT Mattesan says:

    I would reword this question: Did the 123-foot cutters, before they were decommissioned, ever use their “secure” C4ISR equipment near Cuba?

    I would reword it as such: Did the 123′s use secure comms? If yes, approximately how many miles were the off of Cuba when they used the secure comms.

    Keep in mind they could answer the question based on their interpretation of the word “near” and state the cutter was not “near” Cuba when it used its secure comms. I always thought being specific with questioning ensures there are no vague answers, unintentional or intentional.

  17. Michael DeKort says:

    Coming up on 3 weeks with no response

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