Coast Guard:

Station Readiness Improving, but Resource Challenges and Management Concerns Remain

GAO-05-161: Published: Jan 31, 2005. Publicly Released: Jan 31, 2005.

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For years, the Coast Guard has conducted search and rescue operations from its network of stations along the nation's coasts and waterways. In 2001, reviews of station operations found that station readiness--the ability to execute mission requirements in keeping with standards--was in decline. The Coast Guard began addressing these issues, only to see its efforts complicated by expanded post-September 11, 2001, homeland security responsibilities at many stations. GAO reviewed the impact of changing missions on station needs, the progress made in addressing station readiness needs, and the extent to which plans are in place for addressing any remaining needs.

The Coast Guard does not yet know the extent to which station readiness needs have been affected by post-September 11 changes in mission priorities, although increases in homeland security operations have clearly affected activities and presumably affected readiness needs as well. Following the attacks, stations in and near ports received the bulk of port security duties, creating substantial increases in workloads. The Coast Guard is still in the process of defining long-term activity levels for homeland security and has yet to convert the homeland security mission into specific station readiness requirements. Until it does so, the impact of these new duties on readiness needs cannot be determined. The Coast Guard says it will revise readiness requirements after security activity levels have been finalized. Increased staffing, more training, new boats, more personal protection equipment (such as life vests), and other changes have helped mitigate many long-standing station readiness concerns. However, stations have been unable to meet current Coast Guard standards and goals in the areas of staffing and boats, an indication that stations are still significantly short of desired readiness levels in these areas. Also, because Coast Guard funding practices for personal protection equipment have not changed, stations may have insufficient funding for such equipment in the future. The Coast Guard does not have an adequate plan in place for addressing remaining readiness needs. The Coast Guard's strategic plan for these stations has not been updated to reflect increased security responsibilities, and the agency lacks specific planned actions and milestones. Moreover, the Coast Guard has yet to develop measurable annual goals that would allow the agency and others to track stations' progress.

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 help ensure that the Coast Guard and Congress have the information necessary to effectively assess station readiness needs and track progress in meeting those needs, and that multimission station personnel receive sufficient personal protection equipment to perform essential and hazardous missions as specified by Congress, the Secretary of Homeland Security should, in consideration of any revised homeland security requirements, direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to revise the Boat Forces Strategic Plan to (1) reflect the impact of homeland security requirements on station needs and (2) identify specific actions, milestones, and funding needs for meeting those needs.

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

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2005 GAO recommended, among other things, that the Coast Guard revise the Boat Forces Strategic Plan to reflect the impact of homeland security requirements on station needs and to identify specific actions, milestones, and funding needs for meeting those requirements. In response to GAO's recommendation, the Coast Guard revised its Boat Forces Strategic Plan to reflect a strategic approach for determining requirements, assigning human capital, and measuring performance. The Strategic Plan states that the goals and initiatives outlined in this plan are captured in the Office of Boat Forces Business Plan. GAO reviewed the business plan and found that it describes the process used by the Office of Boat Forces to align its efforts with the Boat Forces Strategic Plan and to provide the required capabilities for the office to meet its mission requirements. Though GAO reviewed the business plan and strategic plan, we did not review the extent to which the Coast Guard is carrying out processes described in these plans. The business plan outlines the Office of Boat Forces mission requirements, including homeland security requirements, along with specific strategic initiatives (explaining what needs to be done) and milestones (explaining key steps for how it will be done). The Coast Guard stated via email that specific funding information is not provided in the business plan, as that data would become quickly dated. However, the business plan does indicate several potential sources of funding to meet the goals outlined in the plan and that the Office of Boat Forces will economically execute the Boat Forces Spend Plan.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the Coast Guard and Congress have the information necessary to effectively assess station readiness needs and track progress in meeting those needs, and that multimission station personnel receive sufficient personal protection equipment to perform essential and hazardous missions as specified by Congress, the Secretary of Homeland Security should, in consideration of any revised homeland security requirements, direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to develop measurable annual goals for stations.

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

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2005 GAO recommended, among other things, that the Coast Guard develop measurable annual goals for stations. In response to GAO's recommendation, the Coast Guard has prepared a business plan for the Office of Boat Forces. This plan describes strategic goals, objectives, and initiatives, and the categories of measures and specific performance measures that the office will use to assess progress in meeting strategic objectives and initiatives. It also describes how the Coast Guard intends to analyze the measures. Specifically, the Coast Guard organizes measures into the categories of Performance, Effort, Readiness, and Progress. Examples of performance measures within those categories include "injuries per boat hour," "mishaps per boat hour," and "program boat hours versus mission-required boat hours." The performance measures in turn inform readiness measures (which are human capital capacity; capability capacity; and consumption of capacity) that inform and are informed by mission requirements. We did not review specific targets for any of the performance measures or determine the extent to which the Coast Guard was meeting its targets. The Coast Guard also reported in its revised Boat Forces Strategic Plan that the Office of Boat Forces developed a new system to track specific actions, tasks, and funding requirements that will be linked to milestones, initiatives, objectives, and goals. The plan further states that the format of this system is designed to meet the intent of Congress, address GAO and other oversight-agency recommendations, and provide a planned sequence of initiatives to execute.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the Coast Guard and Congress have the information necessary to effectively assess station readiness needs and track progress in meeting those needs, and that multimission station personnel receive sufficient personal protection equipment to perform essential and hazardous missions as specified by Congress, the Secretary of Homeland Security should, in consideration of any revised homeland security requirements, direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to revise the processes and practices for estimating and allocating station station personal protection equipment funds to reliably identify annual funding needs and use this information in making future funding decisions.

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

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2005 GAO recommended, among other things, that the Coast Guard revise the processes and practices for estimating and allocating station Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) funds to reliably identify annual funding needs and use this information in making future funding decisions. The Coast Guard has taken several actions to address this recommendation. First, according to officials, to address potential shortages of PPE at stations, the Coast Guard allocates PPE funds based on the number of designated positions at stations. Each station is funded for PPE purchase, repair, and replacement based on the number of its designated positions. Further, personnel are required to take their PPE with them when they transfer to another station. Second, although PPE needs for personnel temporarily assigned to stations are not automatically identified, if stations use all of their PPE funding and need additional funding, they can request this through "end-of-year" funding accounts. According to officials, requests for end-of year monies to fund PPE receive high priority. Third, Coast Guard officials said the agency has developed an object code to track expenditures for PPE purchase, repair, and replacement. Individual stations also maintain their own records to track PPE purchases and replacement. Fourth, third-party teams annually audit the PPE gear assigned to station personnel. Fifth, in fiscal year 2009 the Coast Guard began issuing PPE to students at the Boatswain's Mate A school prior to their assignment at a station. Further, to measure discrepancies between required and funded levels of PPE, the Coast Guard has identified the performance measure "PPE Funded versus PPE Required" in the Boat Forces Strategic Plan and Office of Boat Forces Business Plan as a metric within the goal area of Capabilities.

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