Coast Guard:

Service Has Taken Steps to Address Historic Personnel Problems, but It Is too Soon to Assess the Impact of These Efforts

GAO-10-268R: Published: Jan 29, 2010. Publicly Released: Feb 25, 2010.

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During this decade, the Coast Guard has been challenged with expanded mission responsibilities, and concerns have been raised about whether sufficient personnel exist within the Coast Guard to fulfill these mission responsibilities. The terrorist attacks of September 11th resulted in additional and expanded security-related mission areas, while major natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, provided lessons learned in allocating personnel and other resources across Coast Guard units. However, the impact of expanding Coast Guard missions and the increasing nationwide need for mission-ready Coast Guard units underscored shortcomings in the Coast Guard's ability to effectively allocate resources, such as personnel, ensure readiness levels, and maintain mission competency. GAO, the Offices of Inspector General at first the Department of Transportation and then the Department of Homeland Security, the National Transportation Safety Board, Congress, and the Coast Guard itself have reported on these types of personnel concerns both before and after the 2001 attacks. Commenting on the Coast Guard's fiscal year 2009 appropriations, congressional appropriators noted in a Senate Appropriations Committee Report that while the Coast Guard workforce is approximately the same size today as it was at the end of fiscal year 1975, its present mission responsibilities are greater. For example, the congressional appropriators reported that the number of foreign vessel arrivals in the United States increased by 61 percent over the last 10 years while the number of marine inspectors responsible for inspecting these vessels decreased by 1 percent. According to the Senate Appropriations Committee Report, however, the Coast Guard has not completed the necessary human resource requirements analysis to address the increases in its personnel needs. Further, a number of GAO's reports and others have noted problems the Coast Guard has had allocating its personnel and other resources to accomplish its missions. For example, in 2008, GAO commented on the Coast Guard's inability to clearly monitor resource allocations, particularly in mission areas like marine safety where work is heavily personnel-based and not as dependent on physical assets such as ships or airplanes. There are also concerns about the competency levels of some Coast Guard personnel. Specifically, maritime stakeholders have raised issues about the competency of some Coast Guard personnel to fulfill its marine safety mission, which Coast Guard leadership agreed needed to be addressed. Interested in these issues and others, Congress requested that GAO provide information on personnel efforts undertaken by the Coast Guard. This report discusses (1) documented personnel problems experienced by the Coast Guard in the last decade, (2) Coast Guard efforts to address these personnel problems, and the extent to which these efforts conform to congressional direction or identified best practices, as appropriate, and (3) possible challenges to their implementation.

The Coast Guard has made efforts to address its personnel problems, but it is too soon to assess these efforts' impact. The Coast Guard has a well-documented history of personnel problems, identified by Congress, GAO, and marine safety industry stakeholders, among others. For example, the Coast Guard faces continuing problems in balancing homeland security and more traditional missions, such as law enforcement and marine safety. The Coast Guard has made efforts to address these problems, such as the development of servicewide mission-support and mission-specific plans, as well as the creation or expansion of data-driven management tools. However, most of these efforts are in early stages of implementation or expansion, the data are not yet available to assess them, and of the four plans GAO reviewed, one plan did not fully conform to congressional direction. For example, one servicewide effort provides a description of the processes used by the Coast Guard to manage its personnel resources. Yet this effort did not include a gap analysis of the mission areas that continue to need resources and the type of personnel necessary to address those needs, in response to congressional direction. The remaining three plans generally conformed to best practices. Other efforts involve the development of electronic tools to allow for more data-driven management decisions on personnel requirements and preparedness. For example, the Officer Specialty Management System is designed to help workforce planners monitor the officer corps and identify potential shortfalls in specific knowledge, skills, education, and experience. The tool may help determine the rotation assignments of individual officers and assist program managers with calculating the time and cost of obtaining specific specialties, but officials do not expect the system to be fully online until 2011. Furthermore, as the Coast Guard continues to develop and implement these personnel related efforts, it faces challenges due to resource constraints, data reliability problems, coordination, and leadership concerns.

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