The Future of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship

thumbnail_defenseSince 2004, the Navy has been working on acquiring a new class of ship intended to provide surface combat capabilities near the shore (the littoral zone). The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) was intended to have lower acquisition costs and to use innovative manning, training, and maintenance concepts. These concepts would minimize crew size and reduce operating costs over the long term. While previous surface combat ships had specialized equipment built into them for different missions, the LCS was designed to be reconfigurable for 3 different types of missions. As this new ship program continues to produce ships, we have been reporting on concerns and risks related to the Navy’s purchase and deployment of the LCS.

What is the Littoral Combat Ship?

The LCS’s major innovation is the reconfigurable ship (“seaframe”) and the specialized sensors, weapons, and other equipment that can be used with it (“mission packages”). There are 3 mission packages available for the LCS, each performing a different type of mission:

  • surface warfare;
  • mine countermeasures; or
  • anti-submarine warfare.

The ability to switch the mission packages on the seaframes was intended to give the Navy flexibility in operations.

The Navy is currently buying two variations of the LCS—the Freedom variant and the Independence variant. Each variant has a different design and was built at a different shipyard. 

GAO-14-749 fig1

Excerpted from GAO-14-749            

Lessons Learned from First Overseas Deployment

The Navy deployed the USS Freedom, the first Freedom variant ship, from San Diego to Singapore for 10 months in 2013—the first overseas deployment for any LCS. The Freedom was equipped to conduct the surface warfare mission. We reported on the deployment and the overall costs of the LCS. Here are some of our major findings:

  • Operations and maintenance: The deployment showed that the Navy could implement some of the concepts needed to operate and maintain LCS ships. However, it has not yet addressed remaining risks in areas such as managing crew workload, training sailors, maintaining ships effectively, and finalizing needed logistics support.
  • Mechanical problems: The USS Freedom spent more time in port than at sea due to mechanical problems, resulting in high workloads for the relatively small crew.
  • Annual per-ship costs: Navy data indicate that the annual per ship costs for LCS are nearing or may exceed those of other surface ships, including those with greater size and larger crews, such as frigates and destroyers.

In another report, we found:

  • Gaps in operational knowledge: Significant gaps remain in the Navy’s knowledge of how LCS will operate and what capabilities it will provide—issues we initially raised in our July 2013 report.
  • Capability limitations: Initial LCS seaframes face capability limitations resulting from weight growth during construction. Navy and shipbuilder processes for managing ship weight have slowed the resolution of the problem.
  • Acquisition strategy risks: The Navy’s strategy of buying ships while key concepts and performance are still being tested increases the risks of costly retrofits and reduced capability.

We made a number of recommendations in this report, including advising the Navy to slow production of LCS until it resolved some of these issues. In March 2014, the Secretary of Defense directed the Navy to contract for no more than 32 of the 52 ships originally planned, citing concerns with the ship’s capabilities. The Secretary directed the Navy to study alternatives to the LCS.

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United States Partners with African Countries to Counter Terrorist Threats

thumbnail international affairsFrom the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa, to recent al Qaeda and Boko Haram attacks in Northwest Africa, events have suggested that both regions are vulnerable to terrorism and violent extremism. The United States provides training and equipment to military and law enforcement agencies in partner countries, and works with local populations at risk of becoming involved in violent radicalization. We issued two reports this year on U.S. regional programs in East Africa and Northwest Africa. These programs are helping improve the ability of African countries to counter terrorist groups, but both need stronger program management from the State Department to meet their goals and protect taxpayer dollars.

Hear our podcast with Charles Michael Johnson, Jr., a director in GAO’s International Affairs and Trade team, who led this work:

East Africa

The Partnership for Regional East Africa Counterterrorism (PREACT) focuses on building the capacity to combat terrorism in Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. These countries have faced terrorist attacks from al Qaeda and al Shabaab, as shown below.

fig1 Excerpted from GAO-14-502

We reported that the United States has allocated nearly $100 million for the PREACT program. These funds are part of nearly $1 billion the United States has allocated since 2009, to assist partner countries in addressing terrorist threats in East Africa.

PREACT funds activities such as:

  • investigative training for Somali police units;
  • providing communications equipment to the Ethiopian military; and
  • computer literacy training for teachers in Kenya working with youth at risk for radicalization.

Northwest Africa

The Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP), established in 2005, focuses on the northwest African countries of Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tunisia. Since 2009, groups including al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb and Boko Haram, among others, have conducted terrorist attacks in the region.

Excerpted from GAO-14-518

TSCTP-funded activities include:

  • training and equipping partner nation counterterrorism units;
  • providing vocational training for at-risk youth; and
  • encouraging youth to reject violent extremism through public diplomacy.

Areas for Improvement:

In our reports, we found that the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development lacked some information about program activities and the status of program funds needed to make decisions. For example, because the managing bureau at State was unaware of over $3 million in federal funding for PREACT, it missed the opportunity to use those funds before their appropriation expired. We made several recommendations in these reports, including steps to improve program management to ensure that the millions of taxpayer dollars spent on these programs are being appropriately utilized.

For more information on U.S. efforts to combat terrorism, as well as our work on counternarcotics, and security assistance to partner countries, see our key issue page on Countering Overseas Threats.

  • Questions on the content of this post? Contact Charles Michael Johnson, Jr., at
  • Comments on GAO’s WatchBlog? Contact
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Identity Theft Tax Refund Fraud

taxes thumbnailBack in January, for Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week, we identified the two major types of tax-related identity fraud: refund fraud, and employment fraud. Earlier this week, we released a new report on identity theft tax refund fraud. In the report, we examined IRS’s estimates about the extent of the problem and the need for information on the costs and benefits of options for combating it.  You can hear our podcast on this report below:


Identity Theft Tax Refund Fraud: a Refresher

Refund fraud occurs when identity thieves use a stolen Social Security number and other identifying information to file for a tax refund. In this way, identity thieves take advantage of IRS’s “look-back” method of verifying tax returns. After doing some limited reviews, IRS issues a refund and then looks back later to make sure the tax refund claimed is the real thing. IRS usually issues refunds months before it matches wage information on tax returns with information employers reported on Form W-2, as shown in the figure. This “look-back” method helps IRS get refunds to taxpayers quickly, but it can also make the tax system vulnerable to refund fraud.

fig1Excerpted from GAO-14-633

Identity Theft Refund Fraud Costs Billions

IRS’s preliminary estimates suggest that identity thieves attempted to commit $29.4 billion in identity theft refund fraud in filing season 2013 (see figure below). Of that amount, IRS estimates it paid $5.2 billion in fraudulent identity theft refunds. IRS officials expect that estimate will increase to $5.8 billion after they update their analysis. However, IRS does not know the full extent of the problem because of the challenges inherent in detecting identity theft refund fraud. For example, IRS cannot estimate the amount of identity theft refund fraud for cases where there are no duplicate returns, information returns (such as W-2 forms), or criminal investigations associated with a tax return.

fig2Excerpted from GAO-14-633

Protecting Taxpayers from Identity Theft Refund Fraud

Although IRS has developed tools to combat identity theft refund fraud, identity thieves are learning and changing their tactics—which means IRS must respond with new ways to combat fraud. While there are no simple solutions, one option we discuss in our report is matching W-2 information to returns before issuing refunds. One or more of these other steps would have to be taken to make this happen:

  • Employers would have to file W-2s sooner (or more employers would have to file W-2s electronically),
  • IRS could delay the tax filing season, or
  • IRS could delay refunds.

We found that IRS had not yet assessed the costs and benefits of moving up W-2 deadlines or pre-refund matching. However, according to IRS, this strategy could potentially have prevented a substantial portion of the fraudulent refunds in the 2013 filing season.

A future report on this topic will cover other options to help combat identity theft refund fraud.

  • Questions on the content of this post? Contact James R. White at
  • Comments on GAO’s WatchBlog? Contact
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Podcast on F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Sustainment Planning Efforts

GAO Podcast IconThe F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is intended to replace a variety of existing aircraft in the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps within the next four years. Sustaining the F-35 program over its lifecycle carries an estimated cost of approximately $1 trillion.

Hear our podcast with Cary Russell, a director in GAO’s Defense Capabilities and Management team, who led a recent review on continued planning efforts for the F-35.

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Podcast on Oil and Gas Transportation and Infrastructure Issues

GAO Podcast IconTechnology advancements, such as hydraulic fracturing, have greatly increased U.S. production of oil and natural gas. This increase poses challenges for oil and gas transportation infrastructure, such as pipeline and rail.

Hear our podcast with Frank Rusco, a director in GAO’s Natural Resources and Environment team, who led a recent review of oil and gas transportation infrastructure issues.

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Maritime Piracy Threatens Some Parts of African Coast

thumbnail_homeland_securityArghh, matey! September 19 may be International Talk Like a Pirate Day, but modern pirates continue to threaten commercial shipping lanes and fishing boats, particularly along the coasts of Africa. In 2014, we assessed the problem of piracy and the U.S. role in counterpiracy efforts off the Horn of Africa and in the Gulf of Guinea.

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Rulemaking in the Federal Government

Government thumbnail imageFederal regulation is a basic tool of government. Agencies issue thousands of regulations, or rules, each year to achieve public policy goals, such as ensuring that:

  • workplaces, air travel, foods, and drugs are safe;
  • the nation’s air, water, and land are not polluted; and
  • taxes are collected.

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GAO Receives ‘Clean Opinion’ from International Peer Review

thumbnail_gao_sealGAO has received a “clean opinion”—the best review possible—from an independent international peer review team that closely examined the agency’s quality assurance system. This year’s review cited GAO’s institutional structures and organizational culture for clearly prioritizing quality and independence, values that GAO conveys to its staff as soon as they join the agency.

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Medicare Recommendations for Healthcare Fraud Prevention and Awareness Month

Thumbnail Health CareSeptember may be Healthcare Fraud Prevention and Awareness Month, but GAO tracks this issue year round. Because the Medicare program is particularly susceptible to fraud, waste, and abuse, it has been on our High Risk list since we started compiling the list in 1990. As a result, we have made numerous recommendations to help protect and improve the program.

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Updated Green Book Standards Help Improve Government Accountability and Performance

GAO Green Book iconIn an effort to help all federal agencies improve their performance, GAO has issued the 2014 revision of Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government, also known as the “Green Book.” The book sets the standards for an effective internal control system for federal agencies, a crucial safeguard over public resources. Internal control is an organizational process that can aid agencies in working more efficiently and effectively, reporting accurately on their operations, and complying with applicable laws and regulations.

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