Coast Guard:

Strategy Needed for Setting and Monitoring Levels of Effort for All Missions

GAO-03-155: Published: Nov 12, 2002. Publicly Released: Nov 19, 2002.

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The September 11th attacks affected the scope of activities of many federal agencies, including the Coast Guard. Homeland security, a long-standing but relatively small part of the Coast Guard's duties, took center stage. Still, the Coast Guard remains responsible for many other missions, such as helping stem the flow of drugs and illegal migration, protecting important fishing grounds, and responding to marine pollution. GAO was asked to review the Coast Guard's current efforts and future plans for balancing resource levels among its many missions.

As the Coast Guard adjusts to its new post-September 11th environment, it will likely take several years to determine how best to balance carrying out nonsecurity missions alongside new security responsibilities. In recent months the Coast Guard has increased its level of effort in nonsecurity activities such as drug interdiction and fisheries patrols, but some of these activities remain below earlier levels. For example, patrol boats formerly used for drug interdiction are still being used for harbor security patrols. Substantial increases in nonsecurity activities are also unlikely in the near future, because the mission-related initiatives proposed in the fiscal year 2003 budget are directed primarily at security missions. Most notably, most of the proposed 1,330 new staff would replace reserve staff activated after September 11th. The Coast Guard has not yet developed a strategy for showing, even in general terms, the levels of effort it plans for its various missions in future years. Understandably, the Coast Guard's attention has been focused on assimilating added security responsibilities. However, developing a more comprehensive strategy is now important, as a way to inform the Congress about the extent to which the Coast Guard's use of its resources--cutters, boats, aircraft, and personnel--will allow it to continue meeting its many responsibilities. Also important is designing a way to keep the Congress informed about its progress in achieving this balance. The Coast Guard has considerable data from which to develop progress reports, but this information is currently in disparate forms and documents.

Status Legend:

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  • 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 provide Congress with a useful framework for reviewing and monitoring Coast Guard activities, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to develop a longer-term strategy that outlines how the Coast Guard sees its resources--cutters, boats, aircraft, and personnel--being distributed across its various missions, as well as a time frame for achieving this desired balance among missions.

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

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In November 2002, we recommended that the Coast Guard develop a longer-term strategy that outlines how it sees its resources being distributed across its various missions and a time frame for achieving this desired balance. We reported that the Coast Guard had data from which to develop progress reports in disparate forms and documents. In response to our work, the Coast Guard developed a U.S. Coast Guard Strategic Blueprint in 2004 that outlines how the Coast Guard sees its resources--cutters, boats, aircraft, and personnel-- distributed across its various missions, as well as a time frame for achieving this balance among missions.

    Recommendation: To provide Congress with a useful framework for reviewing and monitoring Coast Guard activities, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to work with Congress to develop and implement a useful reporting format that provides a full range of input, output, and outcome measures, as well as a means to keep Congress apprised of ongoing developments that have an effect on nonsecurity missions.

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

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: As we reported in 2006 (GAO-06-816), the primary measures for the Coast Guard's six non-homeland security programs (aids to navigation, ice operations, living marine resources, marine environmental protection, marine safety and search and rescue) are generally sound, and the data used to calculate them are generally reliable. In addition, there are three key publications that DHS and the Coast Guard use to report on the Coast Guard's non-homeland security primary performance measures: the DHS Performance and Accountability Report, the DHS fiscal year budget request, and the Coast Guard's fiscal year Budget-in-Brief and Performance Report.

    Recommendation: To improve operational efficiencies and help leverage resources, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Commandant to reexamine past recommendations for operational efficiencies and, in particular, to develop an effective way to systematically share information on successful partnership efforts.

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

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to the Coast Guard, the agency is engaged in numerous efforts to effectively and systematically share information about successful partnership efforts. For example, the Coast Guard has implemented an in-house database called the Coast Guard Standard After Action Information and Lessons Learned System (CG-SAILS), which provides a single standardized means for all service members and components to submit and review after action, lessons learned, and best practices reports. These reports include lessons learned being generated by Coast Guard members as well as its partners. The Coast Guard also maintains a Central Intranet Resource that allows for its constituent communities/units that are related by similar job responsibilities to compare and share their experiences and lessons learned. At a more strategic level, the Coast Guard has implemented several senior-level bodies to ensure the passage of information and best practices between all components of the service including the Coast Guard Leadership Council and the Coast Guard's Innovation Council. Both councils were to facilitate the flow of best practices as a means to advance the efficiency of the Coast Guard. Two additional examples of the Coast Guard's partnering efforts with the public and private sectors to share information are: the Area Committees (existing in ports nationwide) that coordinate inputs, decisions, and lessons learned from marine environmental incidents, and Harbor Safety Committees (also nationwide) that meet regularly in each port area to discuss safety issues that affect that port--including safety concerns between intergovernmental and public/private parties. According to the Coast Guard, these opportunities for partnering also provide a mechanism for the involved Coast Guard unit to pass shared information both horizontally and vertically throughout the Coast Guard.

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