Research Fleet Modernization:

NOAA Needs to Consider Alternatives to the Acquisition of New Vessels

RCED-94-170: Published: Aug 3, 1994. Publicly Released: Aug 10, 1994.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO compared the cost-efficiency and operating practices of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) research vessels to other federal and private research vessels, focusing on: (1) past reports and studies that addressed NOAA fleet operations and modernization needs; (2) the extent that NOAA evaluated alternatives to acquiring new vessels; and (3) additional actions NOAA should take to ensure that all viable and cost-effective options for meeting future mission requirements are fully considered.

GAO found that: (1) past studies of NOAA fleet operations suggest that NOAA should experiment with cost-effective alternatives to acquiring new vessels to meet its program requirements; (2) contracting private-sector vessels would provide greater flexibility as NOAA missions change; (3) although NOAA has considered contracting or chartering vessels in the past, its fleet modernization plan does not fully consider the potential of contracted and chartered services as alternatives to acquiring new vessels; (4) NOAA cannot ensure that its fleet modernization plan represents the most cost-effective means of meeting its future program requirements, since NOAA lacks the financial and operational data needed to assess the cost-effectiveness of contracted and chartered vessels; and (5) NOAA is developing an evaluation methodology to systematically assess fleet modernization alternatives, but budget constraints may limit future chartering experiments.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Funds have been included in NOAA's FY 1995-FY 1997 budgets for private-sector vessel contracting and charter services.

    Recommendation: In order to ensure that all viable and cost-effective options for accomplishing NOAA program missions are considered in making decisions on future fleet modernization, the Administrator, NOAA, should ensure that sufficient funding is made available to carry out needed efforts to assess the operational feasibility and cost-effectiveness of using private sector contracting and charter services for vessels to support such mission requirements as hydrographic charting and mapping.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NOAA completed development of a methodology to assess the results of its chartering efforts.

    Recommendation: In order to ensure that all viable and cost-effective options for accomplishing NOAA program missions are considered in making decisions on future fleet modernization, the Administrator, NOAA, should continue to develop a methodology to assess the results of these efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The level of vessel chartering undergoes routine review by NOAA through the annual update of the fleet modernization plan and the budget formulation process.

    Recommendation: In order to ensure that all viable and cost-effective options for accomplishing NOAA program missions are considered in making decisions on future fleet modernization, the Administrator, NOAA, should reevaluate the level of vessel chartering in the fleet modernization plan in light of the results of these assessments.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

 

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