Coast Guard:

Comprehensive Blueprint Needed to Balance and Monitor Resource Use and Measure Performance for All Missions

GAO-03-544T: Published: Mar 12, 2003. Publicly Released: Mar 12, 2003.

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Jayetta Hecker
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The September 11th attacks decidedly changed the Coast Guard's priorities and markedly increased its scope of activities. Homeland security, a long-standing but relatively small part of the Coast Guard's duties, took center stage. Still, the Coast Guard remains responsible for many other missions important to the nation's interests, such as helping stem the flow of drugs and illegal migration, protecting important fishing grounds, and responding to marine pollution. For the past several years, the Coast Guard has received substantial increases in its budget to accommodate its increased responsibilities. GAO was asked to review the Coast Guard's most recent level of effort on its various missions and compare them to past levels, analyze the implications of the proposed 2004 budget for these levels of effort, and discuss the challenges the Coast Guard faces in balancing and maximizing the effectiveness of all its missions.

The most recent levels of effort for the Coast Guard's various missions show clearly the dramatic shifts that have occurred among its missions since the September 11th attacks. Predictably, levels of effort related to homeland security remain at much higher levels than before September 11th. Levels of effort for two major nonsecurity missions--search and rescue and aids to navigational--are now relatively consistent with historical levels. By contrast, several other missions--most notably fisheries enforcement and drug interdiction--dropped sharply after September 11th and remain substantially below historical levels. Although the Coast Guard has stated that its aim is to increase efforts in the missions that have declined, continued homeland security and defense demands make it unlikely that the agency, in the short run, can deliver on this goal. The 2004 budget request contains little that would appear to substantially alter the existing levels of effort among missions. The initiatives in the proposed budget relate mainly to enhancing homeland security and search and rescue missions. Although the 2004 budget request represents a sizeable increase in funding (9.6 percent), the Coast Guard still faces fundamental challenges in meeting its new security-related responsibilities while rebuilding its capacity to accomplish other missions that have declined. Given the likely constraints on the federal budget in future years, it is important for the Coast Guard to identify the likely level of effort for each of its missions; lay out a plan for achieving these levels; and tie these levels to measurable outputs and goals, so that the agency and the Congress can better decide how limited dollars should be spent.

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