Would like to call attention to a couple of GAO reports. Have to admit, I have not read the full reports, the first is 51 pages, the second, 61.
Regarding the first GAO report, it has now been seven years since I last saw a public statement of how the Coast Guard uses its assets and how well we reach our goals. More information, and more transparency would be good. We should not be afraid to say some goals are not being met because we simply do not have the asset. Some performance measures probably should be classified, but that does not apply to most of what we do. That is what classified annexes are for.
Regarding the second report, closing stations is one way to save money, but it is not the only way. It forfeits the advantages of proximity and redundancy. Analytically a two hour response time may be appealing, but some times it is really not good enough. We have experienced a number of natural disasters recently, I suspect we have benefited from having some overlap in our SAR capabilities. Perhaps we should look at scaling down staffing where there is overlapping capabilities rather than eliminating facilities all together.
What GAO Found
The U.S. Coast Guard’s (Coast Guard) performance goals generally align with its 11 statutory missions. However, GAO found that the goals representing 5 of the 11 missions do not fully address all related mission activities. For example, despite the Coast Guard’s mission to interdict all illegal drugs, the agency’s two performance goals related to that mission are for cocaine interdiction only, excluding many other substances. Developing new goals to address missions, or describing how existing goals sufficiently assess mission performance, could better convey the Coast Guard’s progress in achieving its missions to decision makers and the public. The Coast Guard also does not report all of its performance goals in publicly available documents, limiting congressional and public awareness of the Coast Guard’s ability to meet its missions.
The Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have processes intended to ensure the reliability of performance data for the seven selected goals that GAO reviewed. However, the Coast Guard does not consistently document its data limitations for internal and external audiences. For example, the Coast Guard did not document limitations with its performance goal regarding the number of detected incursions of foreign fishing vessels violating U.S. waters. While the Coast Guard reported taking steps to address data limitations with two of the seven selected performance goals that GAO reviewed, the extent of such limitations are not clearly documented. Assessing the extent to which performance data limitations are documented could provide greater transparency regarding the reliability of these data.
Additionally, for the same selected seven goals, GAO found that the Coast Guard documented an explanation for why it did or did not meet each performance goal reported to DHS, as well as corrective actions for each unmet goal. However, the Coast Guard’s corrective actions were not measurable and did not include time frames for implementation. For example, the Coast Guard did not report measurable actions or time frames for evaluating whether additional resources were needed to address its cocaine interdiction goal. The Coast Guard also did not document its efforts to monitor whether the corrective actions it developed for unmet performance goals were implemented or evaluate whether they had the intended effect. Documenting these efforts could enable the Coast Guard to determine whether these actions have been implemented, if they have mitigated any performance gaps, and continue to plan and prioritize its operations to target performance gaps, which is consistent with federal standards for internal control.
The Commandant of the Coast Guard should either develop new performance goals to address mission activity gaps, or explain in the Coast Guard’s Annual Performance Report (APR) why certain aspects of mission performance are measured while others are not. (Recommendation 1)
The Commandant of the Coast Guard, in coordination with the Secretary of Homeland Security, should make the Coast Guard’s future Annual Performance Reports publicly available on the Coast Guard’s website. (Recommendation 2)
The Commandant of the Coast Guard, should coordinate with the Secretary of Homeland Security, and assess the extent to which documentation on performance data reliability, including Performance Measure Definition Forums and DHS and Coast Guard APRs, contain appropriate information on known data reliability limitations, and update these documents, as needed, based on the results of the assessment. (Recommendation 3)
The Commandant of the Coast Guard should develop and document, in its APR or elsewhere, corrective actions for unmet performance goals that are measurable and include time frames for implementation. (Recommendation 4)
The Commandant of the Coast Guard should document, in its APR or elsewhere, its efforts to monitor and evaluate the implementation of corrective actions for unmet performance goals. (Recommendation 5)
Coast Guard: Actions Needed to Close Stations Identified as Overlapping and Unnecessarily Duplicative
What GAO Found
GAO found that the U.S. Coast Guard has a sound process for analyzing its boat stations that includes clear and specific steps for analyzing the need for stations using terms that can be readily defined and measured. In 2013, following this process, the Coast Guard and its contractor identified 18 unnecessarily duplicative boat stations with overlapping coverage that could be permanently closed without negatively affecting the Coast Guard’s ability to meet its 2-hour search and rescue (SAR) response standard and other mission requirements. The process was designed to ensure the Coast Guard met or exceeded requirements to maintain SAR coverage and to account for such factors as boat downtime and surge capacity to respond to certain incidents. Further, the boat station analysis did not consider potential SAR responses by the Coast Guard’s air stations and facilities, which can provide additional overlapping coverage. Coast Guard officials said that the closures would, among other things, help improve operations by consolidating boat station caseloads to help ensure personnel were active enough to maintain training requirements.
In 2017, the Coast Guard affirmed that its leadership believes the 2013 study remains valid, but so far the agency has not taken actions to implement the closures identified by its sound process. Instead, the Coast Guard is recommending conversion of some year-round stations to seasonal stations that would operate during the summer. Coast Guard officials stated that seasonal closures are preferable to no action, given its limited resources, the significant overlapping SAR coverage, and potential to improve operations. However, permanently closing unnecessarily duplicative stations may better position the Coast Guard to improve its operations. It could also achieve up to $290 million in cost savings over 20 years, if stations were permanently closed.
The Commandant of the Coast Guard should establish and follow a sound air station optimization process similar to its process for analyzing boat stations to allow it to comprehensively analyze its need for air stations and air facilities and determine what changes may be needed. (Recommendation 1)
The Commandant of the Coast Guard should establish a plan with target dates and milestones for closing boat stations that it has determined, through its 9-step process and subsequent analysis, provide overlapping search and rescue coverage and are unnecessarily duplicative. (Recommendation 2)
The Commandant of the Coast Guard should take action to close the stations identified according to its plan and target dates. (Recommendation 3)