PANAMA CITY — Insider knowledge could have been the reason Austal USA won a huge contract with the US Coast Guard on Eastern Shipbuilding, according to Congressman Neal Dunn.
In a letter Dunn sent Wednesday to Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Dunn says Eastern Shipbuilding alleges a former Coast Guard commander with access to “non-public information” wrote the proposal. of Austal USA for the $3 billion contract it won. on the Panama City shipbuilder on June 30. The letter was forwarded to the News Herald through Dunn’s office.
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The $3 billion contract includes the rights to vessels 5 through 15 under the Coast Guard’s 25-vessel Offshore Patrol Cutter program. Eastern has been commissioned to build the first four ships in the program, three of which are under construction.
The Panama City company also secured the rights to the first 11 cutters in 2016, but that contract was reduced to four after Hurricane Michael destroyed much of Bay County in October 2018.
“This allegation is deeply troubling,” Dunn wrote in an email. “Government contracts should be awarded fairly. They should be awarded to the company that can do the best job. millions of dollars in the United States.”
More allegations against Austal USA
In addition to Eastern’s claims, Austal USA, an Alabama-based foreign shipbuilder, has been investigated by the US Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission and Australian security regulators for its practices. financial and procurement, according to an Associated Press article from February 2021.
In his letter, Dunn writes that after the former commander of the Coast Guard retired, he “was immediately employed by Austal USA” to write its 11-ship contract proposal. He also worked to help the company “win” the contract, Dunn says.
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Dunn also says that after reviewing documents from Eastern Shipbuilding’s protest against the Coast Guard’s decision, “there appears to be compelling evidence to suggest that (the former commanding officer) had direct access to proprietary information, sensitive and non-public while working for the Coast Guard.”
Eastern alleges the former commanding officer gathered the information while involved in the Coast Guard contract for the first four ships, as well as helping prepare for the bidding process for ships five through 15.
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Dunn asked the US Department of Homeland Security to immediately investigate the allegations.
“It appears that there are facts demonstrating the existence of serious ethical and conflicting issues of which the Coast Guard was either unaware or knew of but did not resolve,” he wrote. “As a former military officer, integrity and accountability are essential to the trust the American people have in the military.
“…Cases or appearances of impropriety in any form call that confidence into question. This is one of those cases which should not be lightly dismissed.”