Force Structure:

Navy Needs to Fully Evaluate Options and Provide Standard Guidance for Implementing Surface Ship Rotational Crewing

GAO-05-10: Published: Nov 10, 2004. Publicly Released: Nov 10, 2004.

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The Navy has traditionally maintained overseas presence by deploying ships for 6 months. Rotating crews aboard ships that remain deployed for longer periods is an alternative the Navy could pursue to increase the utilization of ships. Senior Navy officials have also cited crew rotations as a way to reduce part of the Navy's plans for a larger force structure and reportedly free billions of dollars for other priorities. On its own initiative, GAO examined the Navy's efforts to evaluate and implement several rotational crewing options and the impacts of ship maintenance on extended rotational crewing deployments.

The Navy has initiated change by demonstrating that rotating crews aboard surface ships on extended deployments may be a feasible alternative to traditional 6-month ship deployments. To effectively institutionalize and implement change, best practices show that a comprehensive analytical framework provides useful information to decision makers. However, the Navy has not established such an analytical framework--consisting of formal measurable goals, objectives, and metrics--that could be used to assess the feasibility of various rotational crewing options and determine their impact on operational requirements, ship condition, and crew morale. Further, the Navy has not systematically collected or developed accurate cost data to perform complete cost-effective analyses. Absent such information, the Navy may not know the full impact of rotating crews on surface ships, the extent to which the various options should be implemented, or whether it is getting maximum return on investment. Because rotating crews on surface ships is evolving as an alternative, the Navy has not provided effective guidance when implementing the practice and has not systematically leveraged lessons learned. Effective guidance and sharing of lessons learned are key tools used to institutionalize change and facilitate efficient operations. While the Navy has well-established crew rotation policies and procedures for ballistic missile submarines that include appropriately documenting a ship's condition and turnover procedures for accountability, it has not provided comparable guidance to surface ships. As a result, the Navy unnecessarily risks repeating mistakes that could decrease warfighting effectiveness and crew morale. Furthermore, the impact of ship maintenance on the implementation of rotational crewing has not been fully assessed. Effective maintenance strategies help ensure ships can perform their missions without adverse impacts on crew morale. It is a challenge to ensure the mission capability of ships that are deployed for longer periods because most maintenance and repair is usually completed between 6-month deployments. While rotating crews has enabled the Navy to keep ships deployed for up to 24 months, the service has not fully examined all issues related to the best maintenance strategies that could affect a ship's condition and crew's morale. Absent effective strategies, the Navy risks degrading long-term ship condition and discouraging crew support for rotational crewing.

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 ensure that the nation's multibillion-dollar investment in Navy ships yields the greatest possible benefits at the lowest possible total cost, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to systematically collect, record, and disseminate lessons learned pertaining to rotational crewing in the Navy Lessons Learned System to enhance knowledge sharing.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We recommended that the Secretary of Defense direct the Secretary of the Navy to systematically collect, record, and disseminate lessons learned pertaining to rotational crewing in the Navy Lessons Learned System to enhance knowledge sharing. DOD concurred with our recommendation. The Navy has taken several actions. First, it has institutionalized the use of the Navy Lessons Learned System (NLLS) as a means to collect, record and disseminate lessons learned on rotational crewing. Second, it has provided visibility to these lessons by establishing rotational crewing as a "Fleet Operational Issues" link on the NLLS web page. Thirdly, the NLLS site has focused attention on lessons learned by publishing a "Highlights" summary of rotational crewing as part of its "Monthly Lessons Highlights" bulletin, accessible by the internet or via electronic mail subscription.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the nation's multibillion-dollar investment in Navy ships yields the greatest possible benefits at the lowest possible total cost, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to provide guidance that specifies standard policies and procedures for rotating crews to ensure consistent management of and accountability for ship operations during the rotation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We recommended that the Secretary of Defense direct the Secretary of the Navy to provide guidance that specifies standard policies and procedures for rotating crews to ensure consistent management of and accountability for ship operations during the rotation. DOD concurred with our recommendation. During planning for the Atlantic Fleet DDG Sea Swap Initiative the Commander, Naval Surfaces Forces, promulgated standard policies and procedures for conducting Sea Swap in the form of a Concept of Operations (CONOPs). The CONOPS provided an overview of the vision, purpose and plan for implementing the Atlantic Fleet Destroyer (DDG) Sea Swap Initiative and identified issues that needed to be addressed during implementation, as well as many of the important roles and responsibilities and considerations for deciding where they should be assigned. Additionally, the CONOPs described crew rotation schedules, procedures, and training processes; addressed operational considerations for the deploying ship and crews, as well as the non-deploying ships and crews supporting the Fleet Response Plan (FRP); documented planned turn-over procedures for both ships and crews, both in the forward-deployed theater of operations and in the Atlantic Fleet Area of Operations; and, discussed processes for placing the non-deploying ships in a caretaker status during Sea Swap crew turnover periods.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the nation's multibillion-dollar investment in Navy ships yields the greatest possible benefits at the lowest possible total cost, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to systematically evaluate the feasibility and cost-effectiveness for current and potential application of several rotational crewing alternatives for its surface forces by (1) establishing formal measurable goals, objectives, and metrics for assessing feasibility, costs, and other factors, including crew quality of life; and (2) systematically collecting and developing complete and accurate cost data, including ship total ownership costs, in order to perform accurate cost-effectiveness analyses.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Navy has taken steps towards systematically evaluating the feasibility and cost-effectiveness for current and potential applications of rotational crewing on surface ships. For example, the Atlantic DDG Sea Swap initiative used a comprehensive data collection and analysis plan for collecting, analyzing, and evaluating data and for reporting results. However, the Atlantic Fleet DDG Sea Swap Experiment Analysis Plan did not include a thorough cost-effectiveness analysis (see GAO-08-418). The Navy plans to leverage the findings from the Atlantic DDG Sea Swap initiative to support the multi-crewing constructs for Littoral Combat Ship and being considered for DDG-1000.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the nation's multibillion-dollar investment in Navy ships yields the greatest possible benefits at the lowest possible total cost, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to conduct a study of the maintenance processes used for all ships involved in rotating crews and examine, as part of the study, opportunities to mitigate the crews' concerns about maintenance workload to improve their quality of life.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We recommended that the Secretary of Defense direct the Secretary of the Navy to conduct a study of the maintenance processes used for all ships involved in rotating crews and to examine, as part of this study, opportunities to mitigate the crews' concerns about maintenance workload to improve their quality of life. In conducting the Atlantic Fleet DDG Sea Swap Initiative, the Navy developed and implemented a rigorous methodology to examine the maintenance processes for ships in the experiment to determine the impact of maintenance and repair associated with rotational crewing. As part of this study, the Navy also developed and implemented a rigorous methodology to assess the impact of maintenance workload associated with Sea Swap on crew quality of life. The Navy plans to leverage the findings from this study to support multi-crewing constructs planned for Littoral Combat Ship and DDG-1000.

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