The House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation holds a hearing today to receive a 120-day update on the unfolding Deepwater scandal to modernize the Coast Guard's equipment and boats. One thing is clear: there are no easy answers. In April, under the glaring spotlight of Congressional and media pressure, the Coast Guard announced that it would take back control over the Deepwater contract from lead systems integrators Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. The change was primarily prompted by the buckling hulls of eight 123-foot boats. While those boats were decommissioned, deeper problems loom.
Now, a new paper (below) from Deepwater whistleblower Michael DeKort raises questions about exactly what the plan is for fixing the flawed C4ISR system - that stands for command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. In April, the Coast Guard also announced that "salvageable informational technology components would be removed from the boats before they were scrapped." According to DeKort, those IT components have serious problems - including exposing secret U.S. communications from a variety of homeland security and defense-related agencies. So what exactly will be salvaged and will it still have flaws?
The Coast Guard's hands are not clean. They acquiesced to a variety of requirements under the Deepwater contract which have now become signature failures of the program. As defense contractors gleefully point out, it will be no small task for the Coast Guard to find the right personnel to effectively manage the Deepwater contract. According to a report in Washington Technology:
One of the chief impediments to re-empowering the government acquisition workforce will likely be the difference in salaries between the public and private sectors, said Renato DiPentima, who retired April 1 as president and chief executive officer of SRA International Inc. Experienced project managers in the private sector can make $200,000 to $400,000 a year, he said, while in government, the maximum Senior Executive Service salary is $168,000.
In the same article, the President of U.S. Operations for CACI International piled on, criticizing a proposal from Representative Duncan Hunter to end the lead systems integrator model by 2011:
"To think that in five years, by 2011, you can develop that talent within the government - they will find out the hard way that you cannot do that," said Paul Cofoni, president of U.S. operations at CACI International Inc. "To create that kind of expertise takes a generation."
-- Beth Daley
What It Is and Why It Is a Problem
About the Author: Michael
DeKort is the Former C4ISR Lead System Engineer on the 123 Systems project at Lockheed
Martin. He testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure
Committee in April 2007 about his experiences trying to fix problems with
Lockheed Martin’s performance on the Deepwater contract. He can be contacted by
email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Deepwater System Program
In 1993 the United
States Coast Guard (USCG) made a formal statement that their assets (aircraft
and boats) were reaching the end of their service lives, including systems that
allow them to communicate securely, navigate in adverse conditions or
nighttime, and assess their environment regarding tactical information such as
who is friend and foe. The electronics systems that enabled their assets to
communicate with one another – known as command, control, communications,
computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) – were
outdated and could not meet growing domestic security demands. In 1993 and 1996
the Coast Guard issued reports indicating the necessity for updated equipment,
and in 1996 they launched the Integrated Deepwater System (IDS) program to
address this need. Every USCG mission occurs in the Deepwater arena, in which
the water is too deep for small boats and extended presence or travel is
required of USCG officials.
While significant steps have been taken to address high-level concerns regarding the Lockheed Lead Systems Integrator contract requirements and oversight environment for the Deepwater contract, there are still critical safety and security design and implementation issues in the program that have not been addressed. These concerns are addressed below.
The C4ISR Contract
Working with various industry teams, the USCG decided which assets (ships and planes, for example) to keep and to retire, and how many new assets to create. The assets that were kept and those newly developed needed to be outfitted with updated C4ISR systems. In 1998, the USCG actively sought manufacturers from the aircraft design and communications technology industry to design this new C4ISR system and new assets for deepwater missions. In 2002, the USCG awarded a 20-year C4ISR contract to the Integrated USCG Systems (ICGS), a joint venture established by Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, to design new assets, develop the new C4ISR system, and implement the updated C4ISR system in each asset. The cost of this contract has grown to over 24-billion dollars.
The C4ISR contract utilizes what is called a System of Systems approach. This means that ICGS is contractually obligated to design systems that use common features and install them on every asset, to maximize commonality. For example, in the world of automobile industry, a car manufacturer might place the exact same radio in every car it sells. The System of Systems approach guarantees that each asset will have the same C4ISR system.
While the implementation of the same C4ISR system may seem like an efficient and wise measure, these C4ISR systems have several design flaws that compromise the security and safety of both the USCG use of the assets and the American citizens the USCG protects. Under the IDS program, ICGS outfitted eight with a plan for 49 (forty-nine) 123-foot maritime patrol boats (123’s) with the same flawed C4ISR systems, setting a precedent for all future ICGS maritime assets to have identical problems. Several governmental investigations and congressional hearings have revealed serious problems with the 123’s created by ICGS, such as buckling hulls (or bodies) of the boats in addition to C4ISR problems. However in spite of significant efforts to date by some government officials, particularly by the congressional committees lead by Representative Oberstar and Representative Cummings, these organizations still maintain there were or are no C4ISR design flaws of any significance. As such no one has taken responsibility for the problems or committed to making any changes relative to eliminating them on future deliveries.
Deepwater C4ISR: The Problems
External Equipment: The C4ISR systems on the 123’s are not properly protected by the boat’s external equipment. Over 30 items on the 123’s do not meet contractually specified environmental survivability requirements. This means they will not survive or operate correctly in environments with extreme temperatures, violent wind gusts, or torrential downpours. Said differently, they will not operate where they are needed most – in bad weather. They could lose communications, be unable to navigate or have no idea they are in harms way because they are not receiving command and control and intelligence data.
Low Smoke Cables: The C4ISR contract calls for low smoke cables in
all 123’s, which are electrical cables suited to operate in water. In the case
of a fire on board, low smoke cables prevent the fire from spreading between
compartments, smoke from both poisoning the personnel and saturating the
communications equipment, among other electronics, and rendering them
Camera Surveillance System: The USCG directed ICGS to install the same camera surveillance system they had on their 270-foot boats. This system allowed for 360-degree coverage using a 2-camera mast-mounted system that could be operated by one person in a USCG port – thereby removing the need for sentries to be physically present on or near the boats. The system was part of a multi-phase effort by the USCG to increase safety and decrease manpower. The system ICGS developed did not match the system found on the 270-foot boats, as it has 4 fixed cameras and has significant blind spots over bridges and pilot houses. These blind spots are over 15 feet wide on the deck and pose serious security hazards.
Classified Communications Systems: The secure communications
systems on the 123’s do not meet government design and installation standards known
as TEMPEST. This means the communications systems not only permit
eavesdropping, but they also enable the 123’s to transmit classified
information to sources that the USCG does not trust. Furthermore, SIPRNET, the
classified internet used by the
Non-water proof radios: As an example of how far these parties were
willing to go to hide their flaws and make as much profit as possible, there
was a point when the USCG was knowingly permitting Lockheed to deliver
non-waterproof radios for the zodiac type boats that were to piggy-back on the
123’s and other assets. In spite of
warnings from me, fellow engineers and the vendor who made the radio these
parties refused to change out the radio until they shorted out several of them
during a coincidental rainstorm that occurred during testing before
delivery. Prior to this, Lockheed
actually ordered 5 additional radios in spite of the warnings of potential loss
of life this decision would make.
Individually these issues are critical enough. As a whole they are disastrous. Lockheed Martin and the Coast Guard knew every one of these problems existed in late 2003 before any of the 123’s were delivered. In spite of that, they pressed on and delivered 8 of them before the line was shut down due to hull buckling. Had the buckling not occurred, all 49 123’s would have had these problems.
The Future of the C4ISR Contract
As stated before, the Deepwater C4ISR contract is a System of Systems effort. This means every problem described above will probably be a problem on every boat the ICGS delivers over the life of the contract. Imagine every USCG boat unable to operate in bad weather, communicating with our enemies being able to understand every word, boat fires that cause far more destruction than necessary, and a video surveillance system that if non-augmented would permit a USS Cole type of disaster.
While the 123’s in question are out of service and some issues, such as the camera surveillance system, can be easily augmented with sentries, anyone who investigates this contract needs to shed light on the intentions of the USCG and ICGS. As I stated before, without the discovery of the cracked hulls on the 123’s, the USCG and ICGS would have delivered all 49 of the 123’s with these problems. In addition to knowing about the problems early in the program, every one of them could have been fixed with common off the shelf equipment. Other than a minor repair to the FLIR system, ICGS and the USCG took no steps to fix any of the other problems on the 123’s. The remaining USCG boats that are continuing to be procured, for example the OPC, FRC, and NSC boats, continue to be plagued with C4ISR safety and security problems. Unless corrected, these organizations will continue producing boats with these problems over the next 20 years, with the same or worse problems in order to satisfy the commonality requirements and to void acknowledging their errors. In doing so these organizations betrayed the country’s trust and put money and personal career motivations ahead of the Coast Guard and the nation’s needs.
In testimony and press statements, Lockheed Martin has defiantly stood by its design, claiming their designs have no problems and that they successfully met all of the Coast Guard’s requirements. To make matters worse, the USCG refuses to ask for changes in spite of the dangers and the fact that the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General (IG) as well as other experts in the field, including the lead USCG C4ISR engineer for the effort, have each stated that every one of these issues needs to be addressed. (Lockheed and the USCG point to two areas in the IG report where the IG disagreed with my allegations. I have since demonstrated to the IG that those two findings were in error. The IG continues to investigate these issues.). Lockheed Martin representatives also advocate waiving the original requirements for low smoke cables and for equipment durability, and forging ahead with their newly developed systems filled with flaws. Is this where you want your tax dollars to go? Is this the way you want major defense contractors and our USCG to act post 9/11? Do we want leaders in the contractor companies that put the Coast Guard and the nation in this position? Do we want leaders in the Coast Guard that not only roll over and aid in trying to sweep the problems under the rug but actually reward the contractor for putting them in that position by giving them bonuses through award fees? (While the Coast Guard has acknowledged the hull-buckling problem, they have never stated that the C4ISR issues actually exist or are a problem. If you follow the sequence of events over the past year, they only disclosed what they had to and made the minimum amount of changes they could and only did so when pressed by outside government organizations or the press.) In recent hearings, Congress has proposed contract restructuring and adding more oversight for the contract. They have also placed control of the ICGS program solely in USCG hands. While these changes and others that Congress and the Coast Guard have made relative to contract structure, organization changes, increased oversight, and tightening up requirements definitions are definitely steps in the right direction – they actually do not solve the root causes. People caused these problems, not the system they operated in: People who put their own personal needs and career motivations ahead of the mission of the Coast Guard and the needs of the nation. (Additionally Lockheed Martin corporate is putting monetary return to its share holders above the same needs of the Coast Guard and the nation). While there have been hearings, government investigations, print and media press coverage of these issues, there is absolutely no indication that any of the C4ISR issues are being addressed. To the contrary, Lockheed Martin is defending its designs, misinforming the public about the facts surrounding these designs and using incorrect findings by the DHS IG to mislead and misinform. Worse yet, the USCG is permitting them to do so because they don’t want light shed on how much they knew, how early they knew it and how little they did to stop it. Again – the fact that the 123’s will no longer be in service doesn’t solve the problem. If left unchecked, Lockheed Martin and the USCG will populate every boat it delivers from this point forward with these and other potentially faulty systems. Worse yet, they will take the faulty equipment and cables off the abandoned 123’s and reuse them on other boats.
So what are my
1. Keep pressing the Coast Guard and the contractor on the 123 C4ISR issues. As they set the precedent for every other boat delivered, we have to establish that problems exist, that errors were made, people should be held accountable and changes should have been made on those boats in order to move forward. Just because the boats are being scrapped doesn’t mean the C4ISR issues are dead or resolved.
2. Remove Lockheed Martin from the effort. Until Fred Moosally’s inaccurate and misleading comments, I was actually on the side of retaining Lockheed if leadership changes were made along with other changes mentioned and the use of the company’s C4ISR engineers from other internal organizations. (I felt this way because I wanted to avoid the program delay a re-bid would cause). However given his comments, the fact that his comments reflect the ethical and professional direction Lockheed is taking and the fact that the CEO and Board of Directors blew a chance to get involved and fix this when I asked them to years ago there is no choice now other than terminating Lockheed from the contract. Yes the delay of the program to re-bid is unfortunate and it’s possible the grass isn’t greener on the other side (as most defense contractors have demonstrated they are less than what we expect as well), they need to be sent packing nonetheless. While there is no guaranteed or perfect outcome possible, the choice we should not take it to employ a leadership team that has demonstrated that it is professionally and ethically bankrupt. They have more than demonstrated they cannot and should not be trusted to continue on this effort.
3. Should we not remove Lockheed from the project, we should find those in leadership in every organization that made the wrong decisions or choices and remove them from the program. This includes the Coast Guard. In some cases, their employment should be terminated and clearances revoked. This will not only ensure we have different leadership moving forward so we can have a realistic chance at establishing trust and accountability, it also provides a deterrent. Others will see these actions and think a little harder if they are over faced with the same choices.
4. Modify the contractual award fee mechanism to permit the Coast Guard to evaluate near term goals and deliveries and not just the overall system evaluation standards it uses now. Additionally, the Coast Guard should have a mechanism to penalize the contractor through an arbitration process using an independent party. This will also provide a deterrent.
5. Find individuals with a proven track record of being subject matter experts, excellent leaders and who have deep ethical conviction and put them in key positions of leadership on the program or possibly in key oversight roles reporting to Congress on the performance of the program.
6. Change the whistleblower laws to actually encourage people to come forward and responsibly report problems. Take a look into the recent Supreme Court’s Rocky Flats decision. The court disallowed monetary recovery to be granted to a whistleblower because his specific allegation was related to, but did not directly contribute to, the problems that occurred. Change it to permit them to receive credit for any wrongdoing discovered during the course of an investigation.
7. Enact an ombudsman program that embeds people in defense contractor organizations of sufficient size to warrant one. If set up correctly this will give people someone outside of the chain of command to talk to who is easily accessible. Ensure that the moment these people step forward and have demonstrated their allegations have merit they are protected.