July 1, 2007  

An even keel

Righting the Coast Guard’s acquisition structure

The Coast Guard has been under fire in the press and on Capitol Hill for a variety of problems associated with the Deepwater fleet recapitalization program. But ahead of the storm of criticism, the service took a deep look at its acquisition structure, and in July, it will establish a dramatically new integrated acquisition directorate.

The new directorate, called CG-9, will combine the Deepwater program with the rest of the service’s acquisition structure. The challenge and the goal is to consolidate all the existing professional acquisition assets of the Coast Guard to develop the service’s capacity to effectively govern the recapitalization effort necessary to meet today’s and tomorrow’s maritime security needs and requirements.

Combining acquisition efforts — and related policy and research and development organizations — will correct the current fragmentation of scarce acquisition resources and a suboptimal ability of the service to provide proper governance of the acquisition process. As both cause and consequence of fragmentation, the Coast Guard suffers from a lack of standardized processes, internal inefficiencies and external confusion regarding who is responsible and accountable for each step in the acquisition process. The current situation has also led to overlap and redundancy among contractors. Rather than integration, cacophony has resulted.

A key element of the reform effort is to end the fragmentation of current acquisition structures and to craft common standards, processes and approaches throughout the new acquisition directorate. There is no accepted doctrine for the collaborative integration of requirements generation, design, acquisition, sustainment, planned obsolescence or planning for future acquisitions. Major systems, as a result, are not managed from a lifecycle perspective. Governance of individual projects has become problematic, causing confusion within headquarters staffs and operational sponsors regarding where the responsibility for project execution lies. This is why a key principle for acquisition reform is creating integrity and empowerment for program management within the newly consolidated acquisition directorate.

The new acquisition organization is a key element in the overall strategy for change management of the Coast Guard. With the decision by the national authority to make the Coast Guard the lead organization in the new U.S. national maritime security strategy, the service has been restructuring to become a more effective instrument of national policy. That means combining acquisition and operations into a unified whole so the operational capabilities required can be implemented with the proper tools, training and instruments necessary for the task.

Creation of the new CG-9 acquisition directorate is viewed as the launching point for a robust effort to forge an integrated governance arm to guide Coast Guard recapitalization efforts. The immediate task is the consolidation of the Integrated Deepwater Systems (IDS) organization (G-D), Acquisition Directorate (G-A), Headquarters Contracting Authority, and Research and Development into a single Directorate of Acquisition under the leadership of a chief acquisition officer. The consolidation will enable the Coast Guard to more effectively focus its limited acquisition resources, leverage synergies between these acquisition-related staffs and improve work force competencies.

The goal is to organize acquisition functions to eliminate redundancies and align support functions to better control costs and program risks as well as to reprogram billets to meet resource needs within the Acquisition Directorate. The merger is viewed as a first step in the servicewide restructuring of acquisition, engineering, logistics and human resource functions into a mission support architecture for Coast Guard operations.

The approach begun under the original Deepwater effort will be improved under the new acquisition organization. For example, the Deepwater approach allowed a systems solution to be taken with regard to Maritime Patrol Aircraft. The aircraft was chosen to work within a system, not to buy a platform viewed solely in terms of its own capabilities. Adherence to an operational systems architecture needs to become standard throughout the acquisition enterprise.

In another example, Rescue 21, the Coast Guard’s new maritime 911 emergency communications system, was too ambitious at its outset. Now, however, the service’s acquisition leadership is working closely with the contractor to restructure the program to craft a more effective, technically achievable and affordable step-by-step systems solution. The new CG-9 acquisition directorate will build on these types of successes.

The new acquisition enterprise will require an ability to formulate and execute three very different contractual approaches:

n Acquisition of goods and services. Traditional approaches to acquisition will be modified as sustainment becomes part of the asset acquisition process.

n Main asset acquisition. The formation of strong program managers will be central to the management and governance of this process.

n Governing systems integration tasks and tools. The challenge is to ensure that the Coast Guard is fully capable of governing the process of systems integration. As a midsized service, the Coast Guard needs to be able to leverage the capabilities of systems integrators both within and outside of the U.S. government. Leveraging commercial off-the-shelf and government off-the shelf within a systems architecture is a key art form necessary for the Coast Guard to succeed in its acquisition approaches. Working with systems integrators allows the Coast Guard to enhance its ability to do so. In other words, the Coast Guard will craft appropriate relationships on all three levels and seek to master the interaction among the three levels of services, assets and systems integration.

As a much smaller service than the other armed services, the Coast Guard has the possibility of getting it right and recasting the relationship between the government and the private sector. Part of the challenge is to shape an acquisition structure appropriate to Coast Guard culture. The service has a distinct bias for action. It also has a concept of operations built around partnering. To perform its missions, the Coast Guard works daily with commercial organizations (e.g. shipping lines), law enforcement organizations (in the U.S. and abroad) and with military authorities (U.S. and foreign). As such, the Coast Guard must deploy systems capable of operating with commercial, law enforcement and military partners and stakeholders.

A new command unit within the Coast Guard will be launched in July, as well — the Deployable Operations Group. The DOG is an integrated team designed to work in crisis situations to deliver comprehensive and deployable capabilities to provide organized, equipped and trained specialized forces to Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security and interagency operational and tactical commanders. These DOG forces will deploy in support of national requirements across the U.S. and other high-interest areas.

The adaptive force packaging embodied by the DOG requires adaptive acquisition support. The DOG is modeled in part on Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and, as such, wishes to use the adaptive acquisition model used to support the JSOC.

In other words, the ability to support new integrated capabilities such as the DOG is a key goal of the new acquisition strategy. The parallel launch of a new acquisition organization with a new integrated command element reflects how the Coast Guard leadership views the twin sides of the integration challenge. The end game of the two-pronged effort is enhanced mission execution.

The emphasis on integration of acquisition and operations has been forged in response to the new mission focus change from Sept. 11, 2001, as well as the experience of service immersion in the response to the Hurricane Katrina challenge. Additionally, with several years of experience in the Deepwater effort and a successful reorganization of Rescue 21, the Coast Guard is reshaping its approach to acquisition and support. The new integrated organization will enhance the service’s ability to deploy and support new assets as it performs as the integrated maritime security arm of the U.S. government.

Adm. John Currier is director of the Coast Guard Acquisition Directorate.