After six years as the Coast Guard’s Deputy Assistant Commandant for Acquisition, Michael Tangora is retiring from the service. Reflecting on a government service career that has also included shipbuilding and naval engineering assignments with the U.S. Navy, Tangora has been impressed with the professionalism and accomplishments of the Coast Guard’s acquisition enterprise.
“I want to thank people I’ve worked with at the Coast Guard for enriching my life,” Tangora said. “I’ve learned so much over the last six years, and I would not trade it. Not only have we delivered a quantum technology upgrade to the men and women serving on the front lines of the Service, we have also put processes in place to help ensure the Coast Guard has the assets it needs to carry out its missions.”
Tangora’s tenure with the Acquisition Directorate has been characterized by results: setting the then-Deepwater Program on sure footing and on a path to be integrated within the broader Coast Guard acquisition investment portfolio, delivering capital assets like the National Security Cutter (NSC), and helping to build a professional acquisition support organization to buttress all aspects of the Service’s $30 billion recapitalization investment portfolio. Throughout, Tangora has earned a strong reputation as a plain-spoken, often humorous, advocate for success in Coast Guard acquisition.
Tangora came to the Coast Guard in November 2006, serving first as Deputy Program Executive Officer for the Coast Guard’s Integrated Deepwater System. Prior to that, he had worked for the Navy, where his jobs included serving as deputy program manager for Aircraft Carrier Programs; as deputy assistant program manager for Aircraft Carrier Modernization; as the assistant program manager and technical director for Surface Mine Warfare Systems Programs; and as assistant program manager for Mine Warfare Ship Programs.
While his experience with the Navy prepared him for taking on the challenges of supporting the Coast Guard’s modernization investment portfolio, Tangora noted that there were significant differences between the acquisition approaches of the two sea services. On the one hand, the scope and engineering complexity of the two services’ projects differ. The scale of the effort and the resources each service has to apply to its programs also differ. While the Navy is able to command the effort of 5,000 people to conduct an aircraft carrier overhaul, the Coast Guard Acquisition Directorate includes fewer than 1,000 personnel in total, supporting all of the service’s major acquisition projects. That fact alone drives the desire for creative solutions and an insistence on economy in the Coast Guard’s acquisition processes.
“I would contend that the Coast Guard’s difference is that we don’t have enough people or budget to always do the job the way we want it,” Tangora said. “So you are constantly looking for a creative way to get it done cheaper or more effectively.”
Another difference Tangora has seen between the Coast Guard and its Department of Defense colleagues is the degree to which the smaller service seeks out opportunities to collaborate with its uniformed brethren to get the job done.
“The Coast Guard is much more of a collaborative body; that’s one thing I’ve found out,” he said. “And the current administration is more collaborative than I’ve seen in six years. It’s open, transparent and collaborative. And really, a lot of that has to do with the leadership—it’s the Commandant, it’s the Vice-Commandant, it’s the Deputy Commandant for Mission Support and the Deputy Commandant for Operations—you’ve never had a more aligned team.”
During his time at the Coast Guard, Tangora has seen, and been a part of, significant organizational change. When he arrived, the Coast Guard was beginning to re-think how it approached acquisition and systems engineering through the legacy Deepwater Program, and how this major effort, born in the late 1990s, could be effectively integrated within an enterprise approach to Coast Guard acquisition. Tangora and Coast Guard senior leadership, including then-acquisition chief Vice Adm. John Currier, helped to develop a way forward that created the CG-9 organization and asserted the Coast Guard’s role as systems integrator for all of its major systems acquisition programs, including the Deepwater projects.
“It was a very exciting time when I first got here, because there was a lot to change,” Tangora said. “Really the father of the whole thing, the reformation of acquisition here, was Vice Adm. Currier. He knew the Coast Guard better than almost anybody, and he knew what could be and what couldn’t be. He coined the phrase that the Coast Guard should be, ‘a model for mid-sized acquisition enterprises,’ and that, in one line, is very telling.”
Among the accomplishments of which Tangora is most proud is his role in securing the future of the NSC program. When he arrived in the PEO, the program was in significant danger of being restructured or cancelled. Tangora helped to lead the team of Coast Guard acquisition program managers and contracting professionals that came up with solutions to re-set the program on surer contractual footing – with the Coast Guard securely at the helm as systems integrator – and strengthen the service’s relationship with the shipbuilder to deliver a world class patrol ship that meets Coast Guard requirements. Today, with three NSCs commissioned and NSCs 4 and 5 being built, the ships are performing well, and the program has become an acquisition success story.
Ultimately, though, it is not the assets delivered that Tangora leaves behind.
“I didn’t build any of the ships I have overseen in the Navy or the Coast Guard; I didn’t weld anything or join even one piece of steel, that’s not what you leave behind in acquisition,” Tangora said. “What you leave behind is the people and processes we have put in place.”
From early on in his career, when he worked as an engineer or as a program manager, or during his time with the Coast Guard, Tangora has found his motivation from those he served: the men and women who are the end users of the products and services his organization has provided.
“The thing that always motivated me was the blue shirts on the deck plates; they work so hard,” Tangora said. “You can’t help but get motivated and impatient for progress. When you go out there and you find something that is old and not working and you come home and you say we’ve just got to fix this.”
For Tangora, the best way to meet the needs of those on the front line is to continue the proud tradition of dedication to duty shown by the acquisition workforce today. The modern toolsets — new boats, cutters, aircraft and command and control systems — that CG-9 delivers provide the operational community with the mission capability they need to accomplish their missions more safely and effectively. That is the perspective Tangora takes away from his time with the Coast Guard, and the legacy he leaves for CG-9.