Deactivating Research Vessels:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Use of Private Ships

RCED-86-133: Published: Jun 11, 1986. Publicly Released: Jun 11, 1986.

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John M. Ols, Jr
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) proposal to deactivate a number of its marine research vessels and increase the use of private-sector vessels.

GAO found that: (1) in fiscal year (FY) 1985, NOAA operated 22 ocean-going research vessels to support its fisheries, oceanographic, and hydrographic programs; (2) NOAA programs and projects have averaged 4,872 days at sea annually over the last 3 years; (3) private-sector vessels accounted for about 16 percent of NOAA days at sea during that period; and (4) NOAA wants to deactivate half of its fleet, which could save up to $11 million of its annual $61 million in fleet support costs. GAO also found that: (1) NOAA officials at different research centers had differing views on the desirability, safety, and cost-effectiveness of increasing private-sector fleet support; (2) while some NOAA officials believe that chartering private-sector vessels would be advantageous because they are more modern, more readily available, and manned by more experienced crews, other officials believe that NOAA vessels are safer and more readily available; (3) NOAA vessels' daily costs range from $1,000 to $22,000, compared to $465 to $4,955 for private-sector ships, but it noted that the comparison may be geographically skewed because one NOAA research center charters most NOAA private-sector fleet support; and (4) costs for NOAA vessels also tend to be higher because it owns larger, more expensive multi-purpose vessels, whereas most of its charter vessels are smaller, single-purpose vessels, such as fishing boats.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: As a result of the recommendations included in RCED-90-42, NOAA is undertaking a study to provide long-term ship support to its users. Future NOAA actions in this regard will be tracked through followup on the recommendation.

    Recommendation: Before deactivating a significant portion of the NOAA fleet, the Administrator, NOAA, should develop more definitive information on the merits of such an action. Although a number of options may be available, one option is for NOAA to gradually increase the use of private vessels so it can obtain the additional experience and data needed to justify the deactivation proposal.

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


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