Coast Guard:

New Communication System to Support Search and Rescue Faces Challenges

GAO-03-1111: Published: Sep 30, 2003. Publicly Released: Oct 30, 2003.

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Search and rescue--one of the Coast Guard's oldest missions--involves minimizing the loss of life, injury, and property damage by aiding people and boats in distress. The Coast Guard has previously reported that its 30-year-old search and rescue communication system, called the National Distress and Response System, has several deficiencies and is difficult to maintain. Thus, the Coast Guard contracted to replace and modernize it with a new system, called Rescue 21. GAO was asked to identify the status and plans of the Coast Guard's acquisition of Rescue 21 and the technical and program risks associated with Rescue 21.

Rescue 21's original schedule, which called for it to achieve initial operating capability by September 2003, has been postponed, and the Coast Guard has not yet finalized a new schedule. This postponement was due in part to the development of the system taking longer than planned. GAO reviewed the Coast Guard's management of three risk areas associated with Rescue 21. (1) Test management: scheduled completion dates for key tests are still being determined. These key tests (formal qualification testing, system integration testing, and operational testing and evaluation) are incremental tests that the Coast Guard is planning to perform before reaching initial operating capability. Completion dates are not yet set because the Coast Guard decided to postpone initial operating capability due to delays in the original test schedule, which resulted in increased risks associated with compressing and overlapping key tests. In addition, key deliverables, including test plans, are still outstanding, and no scheduled completion dates exist. (2) Requirements management: the Coast Guard has a process in place for managing system requirements. (3) Risk management: the Coast Guard has a program in place for identifying, prioritizing, and minimizing risks. Two high risks identified by the Coast Guard are software development and environmental concerns related to the construction of new antenna sites, which may delay the implementation of Rescue 21.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To mitigate Rescue 21 risks and ensure that adequate testing occurs and all requirements are fulfilled so that the deployed system will work as specified, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commandant of the United States Coast Guard to establish a new schedule for critical testing phases and initial operating capability.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Coast Guard

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Coast Guard agreed with and implemented this recommendation. In July 2004, the Coast Guard Rescue 21 program office modified the Rescue 21 contract to establish new milestones for the critical testing phases and initial operating capability. Specifically, the contract modification included a schedule for the completion of formal qualification testing, system integration testing, operational test and evaluation, and for achieving initial operating capability.

    Recommendation: To mitigate Rescue 21 risks and ensure that adequate testing occurs and all requirements are fulfilled so that the deployed system will work as specified, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commandant of the United States Coast Guard to ensure that milestones are established for completing test plans for formal qualification testing, system integration testing, and operational testing and evaluation and that test plans address all requirements of the system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Coast Guard

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Coast Guard has fully implemented this recommendation. The Coast Guard developed test plans and completed formal qualification testing (FQT), system integration testing (SIT), and operational testing and evaluation (OT&E) for the Rescue 21 system. Coast Guard developed FQT test plans on October 17, 2003 and FQT testing was conducted between January 2004 and June 2004. At that time, 4 of the 235 allocated requirements were validated and performance issues in several areas, including fault management, archive/restore, and channel performance, were found that required additional development. FQT was repeated in June 2004, at which time the remaining 231 allocated requirements were validated. The Coast Guard conducted SIT testing between August 2004 and December 2004. During this time, additional software defects were found and Coast Guard decided to have the contractor concurrently fix the SIT problems while going into the OT&E phase. The Coast Guard developed the OT&E plan on October 4, 2004, and OT&E testing was conducted between January 2005 and March 2005. As a result, further software defects were found and Coast Guard requested additional changes to the human systems interface based on operator comments. The changes to the human systems interface were prioritized into three builds, the first of which was required by the Coast Guard before it would approve the initial operating capability. The remaining two builds are currently being negotiated with the contractor and represent additional development. Rescue 21 was deployed on December 20, 2005, with an initial operating capability and is currently being used at Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Chincoteague, Virginia. As a result of FQT, SIT, and OT&E testing, Coast Guard is taking steps to ensure that the system requirements are adequately fulfilled, so that the deployed Rescue 21 system will meet stakeholder and end-user needs.

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