Eastern Shipbuilding changes tactics in OPC contract challenge

An artist rendering of a 270-foot OPC. Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard via Eastern Shipbuilding.

Eastern Shipbuilding has withdrawn its formal protest of the U.S. Coast Guard’s offshore patrol cutter contract (OPC) award and has instead filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

In a statement, the Florida shipbuilder said it was forced to change tactics because the Coast Guard refused to participate in the protest process before the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

“The federal procurement process is designed to be fair and transparent. Ordinarily, the government discloses reasonable justification for its award decisions to the attorneys representing the parties in a protest,” Joey D’Isernia, president of Eastern Shipbuilding Group, said in the statement.

“The government has declined to voluntarily disclose the information that might offer that justification. As a result, we are seeking the information and justification through a different legal pathway,” he continued.

The Coast Guard declined to comment on Eastern’s lawsuit, citing its policy against commenting on pending litigation. The lawsuit itself is under seal and is not publicly available.

Eastern, located in Panama City, is building four 270-foot Heritage-class OPCs for the Coast Guard. In June, the service awarded Austal USA a contract for Stage 2 OPC construction. The initial $208 million contract could grow to $3.33 billion and 11 vessels if all contracts and options are exercised.

Eastern protested the award with the GAO before withdrawing the challenge this fall in favor of the lawsuit, which focuses on the contract award to Austal. Eastern is challenging the contract award and seeking documents related to how the Coast Guard evaluated and scored Austal’s winning proposal.

It says the Coast Guard allowed protesters to confidentially see Eastern’s winning bid for the Stage 1 OPC contract several years ago and based on that standard wants equal treatment with the Stage 2 contract.

Coast Guard on October 5 gave Austal USA approval to proceed with detail design work associated with the Stage 2 contract. The notice came after Eastern withdrew its protest with the GAO.

“Since then, our team has been focused on executing detailed design activities and ordering the materials needed to support construction of the future Pickering (WMSM 919) and follow-on ships,” Austal USA said in a statement. “We are excited that we are able to start work on this important program.”

The Coast Guard plans to build 25 OPCs, which it says will complement the capabilities of the larger national security cutters and the smaller, quicker fast response cutters. They will be used for a wide range of tactical missions, including intercepting drug smugglers, rescuing mariners and responding to disasters.

By Casey Conley