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Acquisition Directorate

Ask the Master Chief

Home > Ask the Master Chief > January 2013


Master ChiefQ:  I was aboard one of the new Fast Response Cutters (FRC) last week, and I saw that the water tight doors were non-standard. Why would we do that? How can we maintain and support them?

A: Speaking generically and not directly about the FRCs (because this is actually a much broader issue), I’ll try to address this from the big picture. There are a few different ways to do acquisitions. One way is to be very specific about every piece of equipment and outfit that goes into a new asset. There are some advantages to doing it that way, but, in general, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. Doing things that way increases cost significantly, increases the time it takes to field new assets, and generally limits free and open competition. I will admit there are some advantages to micro-managing some of the equipment we put on cutters and when we need to specify a piece of gear we do. The key word there is need. In general, it is a better practice to establish requirements and specify performance than it is to tell our partners in industry exactly what to buy and install.

Imagine if you were buying a new car, and you went to the dealer and told them you wanted a brand X model Y stereo. Could they do it? Sure they could, but how much money and time would it cost you? What most people would do is tell the dealer they wanted a car with a CD changer and satellite radio and accept what the company put in the car (as long as it met their needs). In other words, establish requirements and allow the car company to pick the specific equipment and leverage superior buying power for larger quantities across all its vehicles. We try to do the same thing whenever practical.

We all remember the story about the $600 hammer. What we don’t remember is how we got there. If I tell a contractor I want a 16.2 ounce hammer made from a special metal and the industry standard is a 16 ounce hammer made from some other metal, I can still get a 16.2 ounce hammer, but it is going to take a lot more time and money to make one. I’m better off telling a contractor I want to pound roofing nails and let the contractor pick the hammer. A simplistic view, I know, but the general idea is the same.

When we develop the requirements/specifications, we not only look at expected performance, we also look at our ability to support and repair the equipment over the expected life cycle of the equipment. Then, we include those support requirements in the contact. The contractor is required to consider these support requirements when designing the asset and selecting the equipment to install.

Now, not every piece of equipment that a contractor installs always works out the way we would hope. In those cases we work with the contactor, operators, and product line managers to come up with a solution that will work. Sometimes that means changing the contract, and sometimes that means replacing the equipment with something else when the original wears out. In each case our goal is to provide an operationally effective asset to the field, while also ensuring good stewardship of the public treasury. In the long run this approach is still usually quicker and cheaper than micro-managing equipment in the original contract.

To submit a question, please e-mail Master Chief Petty Officer Brett F. Ayer directly at Brett.F.Ayer@uscg.mil.

Last Modified 11/20/2014