Audit Finds Issues with Readiness Tracking in Surge Sealift Fleet

The Ready Reserve Force ro/ro Cape Race, left, was listed as available during a period in which she had a no-sail deficiency (file image via Navsource / Hugh Hudson III)

Published Jan 28, 2020 7:26 PM by The Maritime Executive

In a newly-declassified audit, the Department of Defense's Office of the Inspector General reported that it found errors in how Military Sealift Command (MSC) tracks the readiness status of the U.S. surge sealift fleet. For the 15 vessels it operates itself, MSC relied upon its ship maintenance contractors to accurately report readiness, without verifying their work, the OIG alleged.  

According to the report, MSC officials told the Inspector General's office that they believed that each vessel's civilian captain was in the best position to assess the ship's capabilities, not MSC as an organization. The OIG determined that MSC did not have procedures to verify that U.S. Coast Guard ship inspection reports matched contractor-issued vessel casualty reports, nor did it have procedures to reconcile casualty reports with its electronic database of ship readiness status.

In addition, the 35 vessels managed by the U.S. Maritime Administration for MSC's benefit are tracked using a different set of criteria. This created discrepancies during the review: when the IG auditors applied MSC's readiness assessment criteria to MARAD's records, it found a vessel that would have been classified as not-available by MSC but was listed by MARAD as available for 99 days. 

The audit recommended that for the MSC-operated fleet, MSC should check the casualty-reporting paperwork its contractors submit; hold contractors accountable when their casualty reports do not match Coast Guard ship inspections reports or are not submitted as required; and reconcile casualty reports to the ship's reported status in the database to ensure accurate reporting. 

For the MARAD-operated fleet, the OIG recommended that MSC should work out standard readiness assessment criteria that can be used by both agencies. The auditors also called for MSC to develop an oversight plan to verify the readiness status of the MARAD ships. 

MSC contested elements of the IG's conclusions. While it did not object to the way that OIG classified the fleet's U.S. Coast Guard no-sail orders, MSC said that the major deficiencies that its own inspectors identified did not necessarily make a vessel non-mission-ready. MSC noted that the OIG's auditors were not familiar with the "complex engineering systems onboard [affected] ships."

"Turbo activation"

The surge sealift fleet's real-world readiness was on display during a mass activation exercise ("turbo activation") ordered by U.S. Transportation Command last September. According to TRANSCOM, 27 out of the 33 ships activated for the exercise were ready for sea within five days, just barely clearing the target of 80 percent. Of the vessels that activated on time, six experienced "mission impacting discrepancies that would delay an immediate mission tasking," bringing the ready-for-mission count down to 21. 

"The relatively low Qualitative Mission Success Rate will challenge the immediate output of the Organic Surge Fleet in executing the initial voyages of a large-scale inter-theater force deployment without delays," TRANSCOM concluded in an after-action report.