Giving More Than 100%–Part 1, Report of USCG Mission Performance

The Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security recently completed his “Annual Review of the United States Coast Guard’s Mission Performance (FY 2009)”.  The final report is available in Acrobat PDF format from DHS.

I’ve seen some dismay expressed over the results, particularly with regard to the allocation of resources, while Appendices C and D which discuss how the Coast Guard is meeting its measures of effectiveness have been largely ignored. These are the types of comments I have seen:

  • That the Coast Guard was no longer a SAR organization, because we spend only 8.16% of our resource hours on SAR.
  • That we were not interested in Marine Environmental Protection because resource hours have dropped to 0.41% of our total.
  • That the Coast Guard is neglecting its traditional missions because for the eighth consecutive year, the Coast Guard dedicated more resource hours to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) missions than to non-homeland security missions, confirmed because the gap between DHS and non-DHS missions performed by the Coast Guard increased from 10 percent in FY2008 to 12 percent in 2009.

The utility of  the resource allocation information provided is questionable at best. Frankly, I think it is a fraud perpetrated on the Congress at their own behest. That they accept it in this form doesn’t reflect well on Congress, and that it is offered in this way suggests that the Department of Homeland Security and the US Coast Guard have a low opinion of Congress’ attention span.

This report claims to address the annual review of the United States Coast Guard’ s mission performance required by the Homeland Security Act of 2002. When the Department of Homeland Security was created, there was a concern that traditional missions would get short shrift, so an annual report was required to make sure non-Homeland Security missions were not being neglected. A laudable goal, but is the percentage of resource hours as provided a meaningful measure?

  • Resource hours, as used here, lump together utilization of cutters, boats, and aircraft as if they were interchangeable.
  • It gives no credit to work done that doesn’t require an aircraft, cutter, or boat.
  • Apparently hours for small boats and some small cutters, are not included (see below).
  • It simply doesn’t reflect how the Coast Guard  uses its money or manpower.

Here is how the report defines “Resource Hours”:

“Resource Hours.  The Coast Guard uses resource hours— generally, the number of flight hours (for aircraft) and underway hours (for boats and cutters) used to carry out a specific mission— to determine the amount of time expended on each of its non-homeland security and homeland security missions.  During our review, we obtained data on the total number of resource hours reported by the Coast Guard from a baseline of pre-September 11, 2001 data, through Fiscal Year (FY) 2009.  The Coast Guard– calculated baseline is an annual average of resource hours based on eight FY quarters preceding September 11, 2001.  We did not verify the resource hour data reported by the Coast Guard, nor did we validate whether the Coast Guard accurately classified resource hours used for each mission.  We assessed total resource hours for the 11 individual missions in order to identify the changes in each.”

Notice there is no definition of which units are included, yet it leaves the impression that all boats are included.  The report, however, indicates that the Coast Guard expended approximately 700,000 resource hours in FY2009.  That sounds like a lot, but if you divide by the number of hours in a year you get only about 80 resource years.  We have over 200 vessels 87 feet and larger, and over 200 aircraft.  They alone should easily account for 80 resource years.  This means that our approximately 2,000 boats and cutters smaller than 87 feet are unaccounted for and were not considered.  That leaves a lot of the Coast Guard’s work uncredited.

I will be revisiting this subject to discuss the resource allocation indicated by the report and the measures of effectiveness.

17 thoughts on “Giving More Than 100%–Part 1, Report of USCG Mission Performance

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  2. Chuck,

    That’s an easy pull from CGBI. I’m sure many people will be checking on Monday morning.

    I agree that using resource hours to attribute mission “attention” is an atrocious way for us to advertise our mission performance. I haven’t had an opportunity to dig through the report, but I would be surprised if that is the primary way mission performance is presented. All of the 11 missions have performance measures mainly unrelated from hours. Because SAR is a reactive mission, it makes sense that the percentage of hours is small if the pot of total hours got bigger.

    I look forward to your follow up posts since that’ll give everyone an opportunity to take a look at the report and discuss.

    Bradley Soule

  3. Chuck,
    This is just a transformation of the system that has been in place since 1880. The Coast Guard, and its predecessors, have used used the scientific method of 19th century history to prove its worth. The entire purpose is to show participation by the use of numbers and statistics. It does not matter if the numbers are true or that they mean anything. It is a sterile presentation.

    What is needed is someone to write a gifted narrative. My old friend Dr. Dennis Noble has noted many times the talent of Sumner I. Kimball, not only as an administrator, but as a gifted writer with an astute knowledge of the Congress. Kimball also understood the power of the press. He hired professional writers to smooth out the numbers and put them in story form because Kimball knew the era’s fondness of story telling and even fable. It also presented a more clear picture of the activities of the revenue cutters and life saving stations.

    Unfortunately, the Coast Guard sees self-promotion as necessary only when the Congress tells it or from some immediate public affairs need. It is a continual process and the Coast Guard should either train writers or contract it out in the same from of Kimball.

    I did look through the report with the eye of an historian and was not impressed. As you suggested, just what scale or method was used to determine the “resource hours?” I believe someone in a first-year statistics course would have been required to explain it better — and this was probably done by someone who attended a MIT graduate school program.

  4. I saw most of the comments that provoked me to write this piece before I realized I would write about it, so I’m having a bit of a problem reconstructing negative comments.

    Bradley, I’m not familiar with CGBI, could you educate me?

    I first saw the alarm that we were not a SAR organization on Facebook, but it has been expressed on at least one blog as well.

    The most damning criticism is in regard to the small percentage devoted to Marine Environmental Protection and this is frequently connected to Deepwater Horizon with the implication that we were not minding the store, because of DHS commitments. The origin seems to be rooted in a Aug. 13, Washington Post article, “Oil spill shows difficulty the Coast Guard faces as it balances traditional tasks with post-9/11 missions”:

    A similar article here: and here

    Quoted from the article above, this seems to be the source of much of the criticism: “Some analysts said the spill highlights the need to rethink Coast Guard priorities. In the past 35 years, Congress has handed the agency at least 27 new responsibilities, according to a tally by Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee….’They just don’t have enough personnel to carry out all those missions,’ said Oberstar, who favors severing the Coast Guard from the Homeland Security Department. ‘That’s just not possible.’” With Rep. Oberstar suggesting that the CG should be taken out of DHS.

    There is a more sympathetic article here:

    Actually the Coast Guard put out a very good report which is obviously the basis for appendices C and D but with more explanation. Unfortunately, it did not get the press the DHS IG report did:…/docs/USCG_FY09_Performance_Report.pdf

    • Chuck,

      Not sure what year you retired, but CGBI is a relatively new creation in the Coast Guard. If not “new”, it’s certainly only become wide-spread in its use over the last several years. “BI” stands for Business Intelligence. It’s an enterprise system (I *think* based on IBM’s COGNOS if I recall correctly, but I could be wrong at this late hour waaaaaaay past what should be the end of my workday!) In any event, it receives or “syncs” data from other CG systems (e.g. personnel, training, operational, etc.) and provides a tremendously extensive reporting, graphing, and statistical interface for monitoring key metrics — anything from whether someone’s had their most recent dental exam to unit personnel to, as was suggested above, resource hours and other operational data. It can pull and report data based on individuals, whole units, etc.


      • Is it accessible from the outside? Doesn’t sound like it should be. I left the service about the same time as the first CG standard workstations.

      • Chuck,

        Dan was spot on. CGBI stands for Coast Guard Business Intelligence. It’s also referred to as Cubes because of the way information is displayed. It is unfortunately not available outside the service. It is incredibly useful (to the extent the entering data is correct) but it contains the raw data for every single mission and program element the Coast Guard might have an interest in.

        This is a good thread and worth continuing so I will jump over to your “Part 2” article.

  5. From 1790 to 1800 the Service gained five new jobs.
    Law enforcement, quarantine control(public health), environmental (protection of the Sea Islands), AtoN and its military function. All with ten very small cutters with tiny crews and an officer corps that spent a good deal of time writing petitions to Congress about better pay and living conditions.

    This was the beginning of the core elements of the service. To bad they did not have anyone to write about them.

  6. I am going to read the report in a minute, but here’s some initial thoughts.

    First, does this include Reserve activity? The CG Reserve has been extremely busy for the last 9 years, there are very few Reservists who have not been activated at least once, and many have done multiple activations in support of almost every Coast Guard mission.

    Second, it seems to me that it is not meaningful to break down missions so specifically. A cutter on patrol may be doing two or three missions at the same time…If she is steaming around on patrol looking for work, is that SAR, National Defense, PWCS, Fisheries, interdiction, or a little of each? Additionally, with the exception of national defense work and PWCS, we were doing all those things on a regular basis in August of 2001.

    Finally, I don’t understand why people keep saying we are not a SAR organization. SAR is consistently a top priority mission, which MUST be accomplished. Its not the kind of thing you can say “Lets do more SAR this week”, its a reactive mission to begin with, there must be somebody to rescue before you can rescue them. Now, if the CG was dropping the ball, and people and vessels were not being found and rescued like they are supposed to be, that would be a problem. But as far as I know, we are still doing a bang up job keeping people alive on the water. I think the reality is that some people don’t WANT to do the other missions, and prefer the lifesaver role to the killing bad guys role, which is fine, but this is the military, we do what we need to do not always what we want.

    • You hit the major points that show the weakness of this report.

      1. In looking at only major resources cutters and aircraft (it can’t really be looking at all our boat) it is missing a lot of what we do, particularly in the area of SAR with our small boats, aux, and reserves.

      2. It glosses over the multi-mission nature of the service that means we do more than one thing at a time. Don’t know if the CG invented multi-tasking, but we certainly practice it.

      3. While the measures of effectiveness were buried in the appendices they were not in the basic report where they could have given meaning to the resource allocation.

      Looks like the report was seen as a routine, must do, check the box, by the Dept IG, who admittedly made no recommendations and no attempt to verify the input the CG gave them. The report has probably out lived its usefulness as a safeguard against the DHS gutting non-DHS missions, but it has taken on significance outside that process which distorts the perception of how the CG does its missions. It is also a missed opportunity to make our case for more resources.

  7. “Its not the kind of thing you can say “Lets do more SAR this week”, its a reactive mission to begin with, there must be somebody to rescue before you can rescue them.”

    The reaction mode developed in 1915 with the assimilation of the LSS which was the true reactive organization. The cutters, since Hamilton, were to be actively on patrol and in the mid-1830s began active patrols for those in trouble at sea. This was the proactive side that has been dismissed. The Coast Guard is multi-cultural in an operational sense and always has been. The problem is that most people in the Coast Guard, past and present, do not understand, or know, the culture of the Coast Guard.

    ” I think the reality is that some people don’t WANT to do the other missions, and prefer the lifesaver role to the killing bad guys role, which is fine, but this is the military, we do what we need to do not always what we want.”

    Nothing new here. It goes back to the duality of culture. In 1929, then Commander R. R. Waesche noted that many cutter commanders did not conduct required gunnery training because it was Navy “stuff” and they considered themselves a humanitarian organization. No one has solved the conflict in outlook yet.

    The same problem came up in Vietnam when there were those who could not separate the two cultures and bring themselves to act in a military way. I recall one, a BMCS, who had performed a high feat of heroism in a life-savng role was removed from a WPB because he could not wrap his head around the possibility of taking life. We called that the “Saving Citizen Charles one day, and Killin’ Charlie the next” syndrome. Some could not do it because this was not their base training and philosophy.

    This outlook was repeated in an August 2010 USNI Proceedings article by MCPO Ray Bollinger (pp.41-44) and my rebuttal in the September issue (pp 6-7). Bollinger remarked, “The Coast Guard will not tolerate shooting a U. S. citizen who has not shown a weapon and an intention to use it on an innocent citizen or Coast Guard crew.” (p.43) Of course, this statement has much more to do with the Use of Force Policy that has been around since the 1970s. However, it also comes to play with a Service philosophy of, as Bollinger remarked, “Officer Friendly.” Bollinger also remarks, “Since Coasties are culturally ingrained not to behave over-aggressively with the American people, we minimize our hard-line profile when approaching recreational boaters who violate a security zone.”

    If a security zone is created then that implies a harder line is needed. The old cultural differences between saving and killing (if necessary) are still at hand. I have no idea where or when MCPO Bollinger served but for the most part I never saw that hesitation. Coast Guardsmen knew the differences and acted on it. Remember, we used to do boardings unarmed. Heck, on occasion in Vietnam I found a swab handle more useful than a firearm.

    I have always maintained support for the CGA because one of the purposes of that institution is to maintain the culture and history of the Service. However, if its graduates are only supporting the life-saver/environmentalist (as some have stated) outlook then they are doing a huge disservice to the people they lead.

  8. Pingback: Giving More than 100%–Part 3, The Results and Recommendations | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

  9. Pingback: Giving More than 100%–Part 2, Missions and Resource Hours | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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