NOAA Fleet

Responses to Post-Hearing Questions Gao ID: GGD-99-60R March 22, 1999

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO addressed congressional concerns regarding the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), focusing on: (1) the management challenges facing the Department of Commerce in its administration of NOAA; (2) whether GAO reviewed the latest available studies of NOAA's fleet and modernization efforts or NOAA's fisheries research acquisition plan; (3) whether GAO examined the cost efficiency or effectiveness of NOAA's ships or compared the costs of NOAA's ships with those of private or other available ships; (4) whether GAO reviewed NOAA's fisheries research ship replacement plans; (5) why replacing the NOAA fleet is entwined with the issue of the NOAA Corps; and (6) whether GAO reviewed NOAA's downsizing of the NOAA Corps.

GAO noted that: (1) GAO has concerns about the Department's implementation of Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76, performance of commercial activities, the adequacy of NOAA's ship cost comparisons with private sector and other available ships, and its inherent preference for operating its own ships, rather than contracting out more with the private sector and other public entities and relying more heavily on them to come up with the ships and marine data that NOAA needs; (2) GAO has not had an opportunity to review the latest study of NOAA's fleet modernization or NOAA's acquisition plans for fisheries research and hydrographic missions; (3) GAO has not reviewed NOAA's current cost claims; (4) GAO's work in the costs area, which is about 5 years old now, faulted NOAA for setting unrealistic conditions for its evaluation of outsourcing alternatives and raised serious questions about NOAA's claims and the basis on which NOAA founded those claims; (5) GAO has found that, once federal assets like ships and airplanes exist, it seems cheaper to operate them than to contract for services, since the capital and associated fixed operating costs are already sunk; (6) although GAO has not reviewed NOAA's construction plans or supporting cost justifications, GAO understands that the Commerce Inspector General (IG) has reviewed at least some of them; (7) the Commerce IG has criticized certain NOAA rotational patterns as not critical to or paid for by other NOAA missions; (8) if there were no NOAA fleet, there would be no justification for the NOAA Corps as a separate service; (9) in 1995, the National Performance Review, noting that the NOAA Corps was the smallest uniformed service and that the fleet it commanded was obsolete, recommended that the NOAA Corps be gradually reduced in number and eventually eliminated; (10) GAO has not reviewed NOAA's reported downsizing of its NOAA Corps; (11) however, in 1996, GAO: (a) reported on the anomaly of NOAA being paid military benefits and allowances while not meeting the Department of Defense's criteria and principles for a military compensation system; and (b) compared the costs of the NOAA billets that existed at the time with civilian pay and benefits for the same positions; (12) while GAO has not reviewed NOAA's downsizing of the NOAA Corps and claimed cost savings, the Commerce IG did review NOAA's 1997 plan and legislative proposal to downsize and civilianize the NOAA Corps; and (13) the IG recommended downsizing the NOAA Corps to achieve significant cost savings and management efficiencies.

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