The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) needs to improve its strategy for analyzing costs and expanding private sector involvement in collecting hydrographic data, says a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).
As one of its many duties, NOAA is tasked with collecting hydrographic data. This data, which is used in helping to create critical nautical charts, is either collected using NOAA’s own fleet of four survey vessels, or acquired through the private sector.
Asked by Congress to review NOAA’s hydrographic data collection efforts, the GAO closely examined how NOAA prioritizes its survey requirements, its efforts to compare the costs of how data is collected – either by its own survey assets or through the private sector – and the extent to which NOAA has strategized to maximize private sector involvement as required by law (the Hydrographic Services Improvement Act of 1998 requires NOAA to acquire hydrographic data from the private sector “to the greatest extent practicable and cost-effective”).
In assembling its report GAO said it analyzed relevant laws and agency procedures, NOAA cost comparison reports from fiscal years 2006 through 2016 and other NOAA information, such as hydrographic survey program priorities. GAO also interviewed NOAA officials and the eight survey companies that currently have NOAA contracts valued at up to $250 million combined.
Though NOAA prepares an annual report comparing the cost of collecting data using its own fleet to the cost of procuring it from the private sector, GAO found that the agency didn't completely report cost data from fiscal years 2006 through 2016, including the costs of managing private sector hydrographers, major vessel maintenance costs, vessel value deprecations and the $24.3 million acquisition cost for the new survey vessel Ferdinand R. Hassler in 2012.
In addition, the report found that NOAA has taken steps to expand the private sector’s involvement in its hydrographic survey program, but has not fully developed a strategy to do so.
NOAA, responding to a draft of the GAO report, said it agrees with its findings and that it will develop a plan for expanding its use of the private sector for hydrographic data collection after it works to improve its approach to tracking, reporting and comparing survey costs.