Coast Guard Programs:

Relationship between Resources Used and Results Achieved Needs to Be Clearer

GAO-04-432: Published: Mar 22, 2004. Publicly Released: Mar 24, 2004.

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The Coast Guard has responsibility for protecting America's ports, waterways, and waterside facilities from terrorist attacks. At the same time, the Coast Guard remains responsible for many other missions important to the nation's interests, such as conducting search and rescue and protecting important fishing grounds. GAO's past work found that despite substantial budget increases, the Coast Guard's extensive homeland security responsibilities resulted in a reduction in the levels at which the agency's ship, boat, and aircraft resources were applied to non- homeland security programs. GAO was asked to update and expand this work by analyzing: the trends in resource usage, the trends in performance results, and the implications of these trends.

Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Coast Guard has experienced a 32 percent increase in its budget, a 9 percent increase in personnel, and major shifts in the hours in which its ships, boats, and aircraft are used in the agency's various programs. Hours these resources are used for most homeland security programs greatly exceed their pre-September 11 levels, in part because of an infusion of new boats, with the number of hours for the ports, waterways, and coastal security program up more than twelve-fold. Conversely, with the exception of hours for ice operations, hours dedicated to each non-homeland security program remained below their pre-September 11 levels. The Coast Guard's performance results--measures used to track each program's annual progress--generally did not mirror the trends in resource use. Instead, results for programs GAO reviewed were generally stable or improved regardless of the resources applied, and nearly all of the programs that GAO reviewed met their performance targets--the goals they set out to achieve--in fiscal year 2003. Coast Guard officials said that various factors besides resources, such as increased operating efficiencies or unexpected events, also affected performance results, but they have limited information for assessing the impact of these factors. Initial steps have been taken to better develop this capability, but many are in early stages, and the Coast Guard does not have a time frame for completing the work or assurance that they will result in a systematic approach for assessing the results.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2004, GAO issued a report assessing the Coast Guard's efforts to balance its homeland security and non-homeland security missions, including the trends in resource usage, in performance results, as well as the implications of these trends for Coast Guard management and accountability. GAO recommended that the Coast Guard develop a time frame for expeditiously proceeding with plans for implementing a system that would accurately account for resources expended in each of its program areas. Since we issued these recommendations the Coast Guard has reported that it continues to improve the transparency and accuracy of its financial systems and data and as recently as 2007 had updated its Mission Cost Model. For example, the Coast Guard developed its Mission Cost Model (MCM) which the agency states accurately captures the costs of mission-direct activities and the allocation of mission-support costs as they are incurred.

    Recommendation: To provide the Coast Guard and the Congress with critical information necessary for an efficient and effective allocation of resources, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to develop a time frame for expeditiously proceeding with plans for implementing a system that will accurately account for resources expended in each of its program areas.

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

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2004, GAO issued a report assessing the Coast Guard's efforts to balance its homeland security and non-homeland security missions, including the trends in resource usage and performance results, as well as the implications of these trends for Coast Guard management and accountability. GAO recommended that the Coast Guard ensure that its strategic planning process and its associated documents include a strategy for (1) identifying intervening factors that may affect program performance, and (2) systematically assessing the relationship between these factors, resources used, and results achieved. Since we issued these recommendations, the Coast Guard has reported that it has implemented GAO's recommendation by establishing, in 2004, the National Maritime Strategic Risk Assessment (NMSRA)--a systematic process for continuous improvement for Coast Guard planning that identifies events that could prevent the Coast Guard from achieving its performance goals, identifies strategies and approaches to mitigate them, and estimates the impact that the proposed solutions will have on future maritime risks and Coast Guard readiness. For example, through its 2004 NMSRA, Coast Guard's program officials identified and proposed solutions to 21 strategic problems that they believed contribute substantially to future maritime risks and Coast Guard readiness. Since developing its first NMSRA in 2004, Coast Guard has performed the NMSRA on a biannual basis, with a second assessment conducted in 2006, and a third planned for 2008.

    Recommendation: To provide the Coast Guard and the Congress with critical information necessary for an efficient and effective allocation of resources, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to ensure that the Coast Guard's strategic planning process and its associated documents include a strategy for (1) identifying intervening factors that may affect program performance and (2) systematically assessing the relationship between these factors, resources used, and results achieved.

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

 

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