A Billion Dollar, Once in a Lifetime Opportunity

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I have been reading over Congressional Research Service’s Specialist in Naval Affairs Ronald O’Rourke’s prepared statement before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Hearing on The Status of Coast Guard Cutter Acquisition Programs, February 3, 2016. The implications are a bit startling.

By using Block Buy Contracting (BBC) and Multi-Year Procurement (MYP), the Coast Guard might save as much as $1.2B. This is an opportunity that may not come again for at least 30 years.  

This breaks down to about $100M on contracting for the remaining 26 Fast Response Cutters, $100M on a contract for two heavy icebreakers, and a whopping $1B over the life of the Offshore Patrol Cutter procurement.

We have never used these contracting methods before, but the Navy has with great success in their Burke class DDG, Virginia class submarine, and LCS programs.

The Congress has already granted authority to use Multi-Year Procurement (MYP) for the Offshore Patrol Cutter program, but because of the requirement of the law covering MYP a contract under these provisions probably could not be negotiated until at least FY2022 by which time the first five ships would have already been contracted for. Block Buy Contracting would require specific enabling legislation but could allow additional savings beginning in FY2018.

I would encourage reading the entire statement. There are only seven pages of testimony and ten pages of background appendices, but I’ll provide a “Reader’s Digest” version. Hopefully the author will forgive me for re-editing his work.

“The Coast Guard has used contracts with options in cutter acquisition programs. A contract with options may look like a form of multiyear contracting, but operates more like a series of annual contracts. Contracts with options do not achieve the reductions in acquisition costs that are possible with MYP and BBC.

“MYP can reduce the unit procurement costs of ships by roughly 10%, compared to unit procurement costs under the standard or default approach of annual contracting. BBC can reduce the unit procurement costs of ships by amounts comparable to those of MYP, if the authority granted for using BBC explicitly includes authority for making economic order quantity (EOQ) purchases (i.e., up-front batch purchases) of components. If the authority granted for using BBC does not explicitly include authority for making EOQ purchases, then the savings from BBC will be less—in the range of roughly 5%. EOQ authority comes automatically with MYP authority, but must be explicitly included in legislation granting BBC authority.

BBC, unlike MYP, can be used at the outset of a shipbuilding program, starting with the lead ship in the class. (emphasis applied–Chuck) MYP, in contrast, cannot be used until the lead ship has completed construction. Thus, for a class of ships that is procured at a rate of one ship per year and in which each ship takes five years to build, BBC can be a contracting option starting with the first ship in the class, and MYP can become a contracting option starting with the fifth or sixth ship in the class. This difference is due to the requirement under the statute governing MYP (10 U.S.C. 2306b) that a program must demonstrate design stability to qualify for MYP. In a shipbuilding program, design stability is typically demonstrated by completing the construction of the lead ship in the class.

“The Coast Guard wants to procure a total of 25 OPCs, and currently plans to use a contract with options for acquiring the first 9 to 11 ships in the program. The OPC program can be viewed as a candidate for instead using BBC for the initial ships in the program, and either BBC or MYP for later ships in the program. If using BBC and MYP were to reduce the acquisition costs of OPCs by about 10% (compared to costs under a contract with options), the savings would amount to roughly $1 billion. An alternate way to characterize such savings would be to say that using BBC or MYP would enable the Coast Guard to get about two and a half of the 25 OPCs for “free,” or to pay for the acquisition of a polar icebreaker.

“The Coast Guard plans to soon award a contract with options for acquiring the final 26 ships in the 58- ship FRC program. The final 26 ships in the program can be viewed as a candidate for instead using either MYP or BBC. If using MYP or BBC were to reduce the acquisition costs of OPCs by about 10% (compared to costs under a contract with options), the savings would amount to more than $100 million. An alternate way to characterize such savings would be to say that using MYP or BBC could enable the Coast Guard to get about two and a half of the 26 FRCs for “free.”

“The Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) program and the polar icebreaker (PIB) program can be viewed as candidates for using BBC, and the Fast Response Cutter (FRC) program can be viewed as a candidate for using either MYP or BBC. Using MYP and BBC for all three of these programs might produce savings totaling about $1.2 billion, an amount roughly equivalent to the average annual funding level in the Coast Guard’s Acquisition, Construction, and Improvements (AC&I) account. In considering whether to grant authority for using MYP or BBC for these programs, Congress may weigh the potential savings of these contracting mechanisms against the tradeoffs…From a congressional perspective, tradeoffs in making greater use of MYP and BBC include the following:  reduced congressional control over year-to-year spending, and tying the hands of future Congresses;  reduced flexibility for making changes in Coast Guard acquisition programs in response to unforeseen changes in strategic or budgetary circumstances (which can cause any needed funding reductions to fall more heavily on acquisition programs not covered by MYP or BBC contracts);  a potential need to shift funding from later fiscal years to earlier fiscal years to fund EOQ purchases of components;  the risk of having to make penalty payments to shipbuilders if multiyear contracts need to be terminated due to unavailability of funds needed for the continuation of the contracts; and  the risk that materials and components purchased for ships to be procured in future years might go to waste if those ships are not eventually procured.”

There seems little doubt we will need all the ships currently planned. The commitment is only a minuscule percentage of the Federal Budget, and therefore constitutes an extremely small risk. Use of Block Buy and Multi-Year Procurement could bring stability to the Coast Guard’s AC&I funding and result savings equal to an entire year’s worth of AC&I funding.

2 thoughts on “A Billion Dollar, Once in a Lifetime Opportunity

  1. Pingback: Coast Guard Sea, Land, and Air Capabilities, Part II, 25 July, 2017 | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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