Marine Safety:

Coast Guard Should Address Alternatives as It Proceeds With VTS 2000

RCED-96-83: Published: Apr 22, 1996. Publicly Released: Apr 30, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Coast Guard's vessel traffic service (VTS) 2000 program, focusing on: (1) the status of the program; (2) the extent to which major stakeholders support the programs; (3) whether major stakeholders who do not support VTS 2000 acquisition and funding are interested in acquiring other VTS systems; and (4) the issues that could affect privately funded VTS systems.

GAO found that: (1) VTS 2000 presents large-scale uncertainties as to the demand for the system or how much it will cost because the Coast Guard does not have adequate information on how many ports will operate VTS 2000; (2) VTS 2000 development plans have not reached the stage where specific components have been selected for ports; (3) at many proposed locations, the economic benefits of installing VTS 2000 are unclear; (4) VTS 2000 stakeholders stated that they have had no involvement with the program; (5) support for VTS 2000 is mixed because potential stakeholders believe that it will be too expensive for their ports and users would be unfairly targeted; (6) supporters of other VTS systems believed that alternate systems would be less expensive or existing systems were sufficient; (7) ports without VTS favor adding some form of VTS capability, but are reluctant to fund it; and (8) the privatization of VTS depends on the private sector's ability to fund the system, exposure to liability, and the Coast Guard's ability to oversee the transition.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In fiscal year 1997, the Congress expressed concern over the expected cost of the VTS system and agreed to end the VTS program as presently configured. To that end, Congress authorized $1 million in fiscal year 1997 for the Coast Guard to identify minimum user requirements, user fee options, and the feasibility of public/private partnerships, and to propose a viable new program. Thus far, the Coast Guard has completed a national level outreach with representatives of various organizations and local outreach, as recommended above, with New Orleans, Tampa, San Francisco, San Diego, New York, and others. The Coast Guard policy is to continue to have interactive sessions with officials of other cities prior to implementing VTS systems in those cities.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to help ensure that the user community has adequate opportunity to provide its views by interacting more closely with key stakeholders before making a final decision on the number of ports that will receive VTS 2000 systems. This interaction could be achieved by discussing the need for the system in each location, allowing local officials to participate in designing the system's configuration, or discussing other waterway safety measures that may obviate the need for a VTS 2000 system in their port. Discussions should also include the level of support that exists for privately funded systems and factors (such as financial assistance and liability indemnification) needed to facilitate their establishment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Coast Guard contracted with the Marine Board of the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate maritime information systems implementation. The report addressed possible roles for public and private sectors and barriers that must be overcome before private VTS systems will proliferate. The report was provided to the Congress.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to report to Congress the potential for privatization and the actions needed to develop privately funded systems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Coast Guard has determined that a majority of the safety benefits attainable in a traditional VTS can be achieved at a significant savings if automatic identification systems are used in place of radar and voice communications. All future Coast Guard VTS's will use this technology.

    Recommendation: Given the high development costs for the program (estimated up to $145 million) and the large number of proposed sites that show relatively low net benefits from acquiring new VTS 2000 systems, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to determine whether the safety benefits of VTS 2000 can be achieved more inexpensively by installing other VTS systems, perhaps patterned after existing, recently upgraded Coast Guard systems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Coast Guard contracted with the Marine Board of the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate maritime information systems implementation. The report addressed possible roles for the public and private sectors and barriers that must be overcome before private VTS systems will proliferate. The report was provided to the Congress.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the operation of privately funded systems is consistent with the Coast Guard's responsibility for marine safety and the marine environment, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to determine, with input from industry and other stakeholders, the Coast Guard's appropriate role in overseeing privately funded systems and seek authorization from Congress to implement this role.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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