Protest from Mississippi shipyards forces Bath Iron Works to tread water on $21 million Coast Guard cutter design contract

Posted April 24, 2014, at 3:52 p.m.

BATH, Maine — Bath Iron Works has halted preliminary design work on a new fleet of Coast Guard cutters after two Mississippi shipyards eliminated from a competition to build the vessels filed a protest with the federal government.

In February, BIW secured a $21 million contract to perform preliminary design work for the next generation of offshore patrol cutters.

Bollinger Shipyards in Lockport, La., and Eastern Shipbuilding Group in Panama City, Fla., were also awarded preliminary design contracts, and the three shipyards remain in competition to build the new line of cutters.

Construction for the 25 ships could be worth up to $11 billion, U.S. Naval Institute News reported.

But after the Coast Guard whittled that field to three shipyards, Huntington Ingalls Industries, which owns Ingalls Shipbuilding, and VT Halter Marine, Inc., both in Pascagoula, Miss., filed protests with the U.S. Government Accountability Office, arguing that they should not have been eliminated from the competition, the GAO confirmed Thursday.

According to BIW spokesman Jim DeMartini, “That stopped everything.”

Until the GAO determines whether the protest has merit, none of the three shipyards will continue work on the preliminary design. A decision is due in early June, according to the GAO website.

A senior Navy analyst said Thursday that such protests are not uncommon — and rarely successful.

“The bottom line is, there’s no program that doesn’t get protested,” Jay Korman of the Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm The Avascent Group, told the Bangor Daily News. “It’s just a reflection of these competitions. They’re fewer and farther between … and every program these days is a must-win program.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who was at the Bath shipyard to accept union endorsements Thursday, said she’s confident the Coast Guard was thorough in its review process. “I have heard of no flaw in the contract awards that would lead me to believe the GAO is going to reopen the entire process,” she told the Bangor Daily News.

Construction on the cutters is scheduled to begin in fiscal year 2017.

The new cutters are designed to “replace the aging fleet of 210-foot and 270-foot medium endurance cutters, which are becoming increasingly expensive to maintain and operate and are, in many respects, technologically obsolete,” according to the Coast Guard’s website.

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