Ocean Research Fleet:

NOAA Needs to Plan for Long-Term Fleet Requirements

RCED-90-42: Published: Nov 13, 1989. Publicly Released: Nov 13, 1989.

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Judy A. England Joseph
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Office of Public Affairs
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the: (1) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) research fleet's ability to carry out its current and future mission requirements; and (2) status of NOAA plans to modernize the fleet.

GAO found that: (1) 28 of 41 interviewed fleet users believed that NOAA fleet support was inadequate for their research needs, due to insufficient ship time, ship limitations, and ship equipment problems; (2) most fleet users reported accomplishing most or all of their objectives, but may have modified or reduced their objectives due to limitations; (3) most users reported not collecting the quantity and quality of data they would have liked for their research purposes, and believed that fleet support shortfalls adversely affected those who could benefit from their research; (4) NOAA program managers and fleet users projected a significantly increased demand for sea time beginning in 1990, and believed that the demand would exceed NOAA capacity; (5) fleet users generally did not believe that new technologies would reduce the need for ship time or that other agencies would carry out NOAA research if NOAA were unable to do so; (6) although the NOAA fleet was generally in good condition for its age, many of the ships were nearing the end of their useful lives, and NOAA had delayed repairs, upgrades, and replacements due to funding limitations; (7) the estimated backlog of repairs was more than twice the amount of repair expenditures in fiscal year 1988; (8) NOAA projected that it would cost about $83 million to upgrade ships, $85 million to replace 4 ships, and $120 million to build 7 additional ships; and (9) Congress is considering legislation requiring NOAA to modernize its fleet and authorize it to enter into multiyear contracts and lease agreements to provide some of the necessary fleet support.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Secretary of Commerce approved the NOAA 15-year fleet replacement and modernization plan. Congress is recognizing the urgency of modernizing the NOAA fleet and has appropriated $33.2 million in fiscal year 1992 to begin the modernization program.

    Recommendation: In order for NOAA to fulfill its mission effectively and efficiently, the Secretary of Commerce should ensure that NOAA, with departmental approval and support, officially adopts a plan to provide long-term ship support to its users. This plan should, among other things, provide flexibility so that NOAA can, if provided by Congress, exercise multiyear contracting authority to experiment with long-term chartering and leasing arrangements. Such an experiment should be used to determine the effectiveness of these arrangements in providing some of NOAA future ship support.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce


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