Coast Guard:

Observations on Agency Performance, Operations and Future Challenges

GAO-06-448T: Published: Jun 15, 2006. Publicly Released: Jun 15, 2006.

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Stephen L. Caldwell
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The Coast Guard's fiscal year 2007 budget request total $8.4 billion, an increase of 4 percent ($328 million) over the approved budget for fiscal year 2006 and a slowing of the agency's budget increases over the past 2 fiscal years. This testimony, which is based on both current and past GAO work, synthesizes the results of these reviews as they pertain to meeting performance goals, adjusting to added responsibilities, acquiring new assets (especially the Deepwater program--to replace or upgrade cutters and aircraft, and the Rescue 21 program--to modernize rescue communications), and meeting other future challenges.

According to the Coast Guard, the agency's fiscal year 2005 performance, as self-measured by its ability to meet program goals, was the highest since the terrorist attacks in September 2001. Even with the need to sustain new homeland security duties, respond to particularly destructive hurricanes, and cope with aging assets, the Coast Guard reported meeting or exceeding performance targets for 7 of 11 mission programs, and it anticipates meeting the target for 1 more program once final results for the year are available. In particular, based on our discussions with Coast Guard and other officials, as well as our review of pertinent documents, the Coast Guard's response to Hurricane Katrina highlighted three elements key to its mission performance: a priority on training and contingency planning, a flexible organizational structure, and the agency's operational principles. Three organizational changes appear to be helping the Coast Guard adjust to added responsibilities. First, according to agency officials, a realigned field structure will allow local commanders to manage resources more efficiently. Second, according to the Coast Guard, a new response team for maritime security is expected to provide greater counterterrorism capability. Finally, new and expanded partnerships inside and outside the federal government have the potential to improve operational effectiveness and efficiency. While some progress in acquisition management has been made, continued attention is warranted. Within the Deepwater program, additional action is needed before certain past recommendations can be considered as fully implemented. Also, the program recently had difficulties in acquiring Fast Response Cutters to replace aging patrol boats. For the Rescue 21 program, deficiencies in management and oversight appear similar to those that plagued the Deepwater program, leading to delays and cost overruns, and demonstrating that the Coast Guard has not translated past lessons learned into improved acquisition practices. Two additional future challenges also bear close attention: deteriorating buoy tenders and icebreakers that may need additional resources to sustain or replace them, and maintaining mission balance while taking on a new homeland security mission outside the agency's traditional focus on the maritime environment.

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