Navy and Coast Guard Shipbuilding: Navy Should Reconsider Approach to Warranties for Correcting Construction Defects

GAO-16-71 Published: Mar 03, 2016. Publicly Released: Mar 03, 2016.
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What GAO Found

For five of the six Navy and Coast Guard ships GAO reviewed, guarantees did not help improve cost or quality outcomes. While the type and terms of each contract determine financial responsibility for correcting defects, the government, in most of the cases GAO examined, paid shipbuilders to repair defects. For the four ships with fixed-price incentive type contracts and guarantee clauses, the government paid the shipbuilder 89 percent of the cost—including profit—to correct these problems. This means the Navy and Coast Guard paid the shipbuilder to build the ship as part of the construction contract, and then paid the same shipbuilder again to repair the ship when defects were discovered after delivery—essentially rewarding the shipbuilder for delivering a ship that needed additional work. Navy officials stated that this approach reduces the overall cost of purchasing ships; however, the Navy has no analysis that proves their point. In contrast, the warranty on another Coast Guard ship—the Fast Response Cutter (FRC)—improved cost and quality by requiring the shipbuilder to pay to repair defects. The Coast Guard paid upfront for the warranty, which amounted to 41 percent of the total defect correction costs. The figure below shows the amount, as a portion of the millions of dollars required to address defects, shipbuilders and the government paid to correct defects for the ships GAO reviewed and the difference in defect-correction arrangements.

Comparison of Costs Borne by Government and Shipbuilder for Correction of Shipbuilder-Responsible Defects for the Six Ships GAO Reviewed

Comparison of Costs Borne by Government and Shipbuilder for Correction of Shipbuilder-Responsible Defects for the Six Ships GAO Reviewed

Although the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and the Department of Defense guidance instruct programs to, respectively, consider and document the use of a warranty, the use of warranties is not mandatory, and the Navy does not consider using them for ship contracts. In contrast, the Coast Guard's FRC warranty, as well as that planned for another upcoming ship class, fosters quality performance by following the FAR warranty provisions. The Navy may be missing opportunities for savings by not considering use of warranties. Further, the Navy has no stated objective for its guarantees, and guidance for contracting officers is minimal as to when or how to use a guaranty. While the FAR does not apply to guarantees, according to federal internal control standards, government programs require objectives and guidance to ensure that they achieve the desired results. Without a clear objective and guidance for using a guaranty and for determining when a warranty is appropriate in shipbuilding, Navy contracting officers do not have the information they need to make informed decisions regarding which mechanism is in the best interest of the taxpayer.

Why GAO Did This Study

The U.S. government spends about $17 billion per year building ships to support national defense and homeland security. Defects often become evident shortly after a ship is delivered. Warranties and guarantees are both mechanisms to fix defects for which shipbuilders are responsible.

  • Warranties give the government a contractual right to direct the correction of defects at the contractor's expense.
  • Guarantees are Navy-specific contractual mechanisms that provide for the correction of defects; but unlike warranties are not covered in the FAR.

The House report accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 included a provision for GAO to review warranties and guarantees in government shipbuilding programs. This report assesses the extent to which (1) warranties and guarantees reduce the government's exposure to additional costs and risks of poor quality and (2) how the Navy and Coast Guard use acquisition regulations and guidance to implement warranties and guarantees. GAO reviewed the Navy's and Coast Guard's guaranty or warranty practices and policies and selected six case studies, comprised of four Navy ships—representing ships built in the last five years—and two vessels the Coast Guard most recently purchased.

Skip to Recommendations


DOD with the Navy should take steps to structure contracts so shipbuilders cannot earn profit for correcting defects for which they are responsible; determine whether a warranty is appropriate; and establish a guaranty objective and guidance. DOD partially concurred with the recommendations and it plans to complete a study by September 2016.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense To improve the use of warranties and guarantees in Navy shipbuilding, the Secretary of the Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy, in arrangements where the shipbuilder is paid to correct defects, to structure contract terms such that shipbuilders do not earn profit for correcting construction deficiencies following delivery that are determined to be their responsibility.
Closed – Implemented
Under direction of the Secretary of the Navy, based on GAO's recommendation, in January 2018 the Navy finalized guidance that prohibits the Navy from allowing the shipbuilder to earn profit for correcting defects for which the shipbuilder is responsible. Although the extent of cost savings associated with this action cannot be measured, these steps should help the Navy lower costs to the taxpayer since shipbuilders will no longer earn profit to fix these defects.
Department of Defense To improve the use of warranties and guarantees in Navy shipbuilding, the Secretary of the Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to establish and document a clear objective for using a guaranty, and then create guidance for contracting officers that illustrates how to implement a guaranty that meets this objective. This guidance should describe how contracting officers should use aspects of the guaranty, including determining an appropriate limitation of liability, to achieve the objective and include considerations as to when a guaranty should be a separate contract line item.
Closed – Implemented
In January 2018, the Navy finalized guidance that clarifies the objective (or purpose) for using guarantees-a contract provision that applies to a specified period of time under which the shipbuilder retains responsibility for correcting construction defects that arise on the ship after delivery and provides guidance about how to use a guaranty. This guidance should help the Navy better ensure the effectiveness of its guaranty in its shipbuilding contracts.
Department of Defense
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
To improve the use of warranties and guarantees in Navy shipbuilding, the Secretary of the Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy, for future ship construction contracts, to determine whether or not a warranty as provided in the FAR, provides value and document the costs, benefits, and other factors used to make this decision. To inform this determination, the Navy should begin differentiating the government's and shipbuilder's responsibility for defects and track the costs to correct all defects after ship delivery.
DOD partially concurred with our recommendation. It agreed to study policy changes with regard to warranties, but disagreed that DOD needs additional cost data to inform its decisions, and questioned whether warranties are suitable for ship acquisitions. In January 2018, the Navy issued guidance to help contracting officers determine when and how to use a warranty or guarantee, but the Navy has attempted to collect only two warranty cost proposals and, going forward, Navy officials stated that they do not have plans to systemically collect such data. As of March 2022, the Navy's position was unchanged. To fully implement this recommendation, the Navy needs to collect additional data to determine cases in which warranties could contribute to improvements in the cost and quality of Navy ships.

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