Floating unused in the Coast Guard's Baltimore shipyard are no less than eight cutters that were just delivered a few months ago. Completely useless, the ships are slated to be dismantled instead of patrolling the seas seeking out terrorists, drug smugglers, and illegal aliens.
Designed and destined to become an integral part of the Homeland Security apparatus, these ships, built by a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman corporations called Integrated Coast Guard Systems, or ICGS, were so shoddily built that they could not perform the tasks that were assigned to them.
Known as Project Deepwater, the program was supposed to be the shining beacon for Homeland Security to display, but instead turned swiftly into a cost over run nightmare. Originally designated as a 25 year, 24 billion dollar contract that would give the Coast Guard a farther reach than ever before, experts in the ship building industry are calling this a taxpayer ripoff of the grandest type.
Deemed unfit for the high seas, the eight ships in the Baltimore yard are the result of 100 million taxpayer dollars going to the bottom of the deep blue ocean. Having been in the press for about one day, the entire sordid affair has once again slipped beneath the radar and sonar screens, with no repayment for the obvious foul ups on the part of ICGS. ICGS reasons that since they fulfilled the contract given to them by the government, they don't have to pay anything back. Even though the ships could not perform in high seas, and had cost over runs of millions of dollars, as well as security problems with the communications, this corporate alliance feels they fulfilled their contract to the best of their ability.
Months overdue and 255 million dollars over cost, one of two other 'state of the art' cutters has finally come online. But just like the eight sister cutters slated for demolition, the Bertholf, called the flagship of the new and improved Coast Guard, has problems of it's own. Technical problems that prevent communications from being secure, flight deck deficiencies, computer problems that interfere with the ship being able to self propel, and numerous other glitches still have to be fixed in order for the Bertholf to become operational. The second ship, not named as of yet, is due for October delivery. Total cost of just these two ships? 1.1 billion dollars. The problem with the Bertholf? It was supposed to be able to sail out to sea alongside regular Navy vessels, but design flaws don't allow it to build up enough speed to keep up. So it will be the most expensive patrol boat in the history of man instead. Hopefully ICGS gets the second ship right. It's fast becoming a case of if at first you don't succeed, just use some more taxpayer dollars until you get it right.
But the real chutzpah of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman comes in the form of Congressional demands for repayment of the money spent on the eight other ships that don't float properly. Instead of doing the right thing, these corporate behemoths are fighting every step of the way, insisting on negotiations with Congress as to how much, why, and when. And even though they didn't build the Bertholf to specifications, they feel they don't owe anything on that ship because hey, the thing actually floats!
Just imagining how many more cost over runs will be coming up in the 25 year period ahead of us makes one shudder. The brave men and women who will be serving on the ships of Project Deepwater should be the main concern though. Because if ICGS is cutting corners in order to turn a buck, and slapping out ships that could very well sink if used as intended, then we're no longer talking away financial responsibility, we're talking murder. These irresponsible corporations should have had their contracts torn up, their assets frozen until repayment for the cruddy ships was made, and all of the malfunctioning equipment and systems aboard the Bertholf made functional.
There's no room for debate when it comes to the lives of the people who will be out there on the high seas, rescuing those whose boats over turn, protecting our shores, and stopping criminals from entering this country. The old saying of "If you break it, you pay for it" applies here. Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman should pay for the ships that they themselves broke, but expect the taxpayers to foot the bill for, period.