Coast Guard:

Timely Actions Needed to Address Risks in Using Rotational Crews

GAO-15-195: Published: Mar 6, 2015. Publicly Released: Apr 6, 2015.

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Jennifer A. Grover
(202) 512-7141
groverj@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

The Coast Guard has delayed the feasibility test for using the crew rotation concept (CRC) to achieve increased operational days at sea with its National Security Cutters (NSC) until 2019. In 2006, the Coast Guard decided to use the CRC for its NSCs and that implementation would begin in 2011. However, the Coast Guard has postponed CRC testing because of delays in NSC deliveries and needed structural enhancements. In fiscal year 2013, the Coast Guard began implementing an interim plan to increase the NSCs' operational performance, not by rotating crews, but by adding crew members to help bear the increased workload. However, the added crew members do not have the skill mix recommended by a 2011 manpower requirements analysis. Without the appropriate crew members with the right skill mix, the NSCs may not be able to complete all mission requirements or required maintenance.

The Coast Guard has not fully addressed a variety of risks that could affect the success of its planned CRC feasibility test and goal to increase NSC operational days away from home port (DAFHP) from 185 to 230 days per year using the CRC. Further, the Coast Guard could not provide us with complete details about whether the CRC plan, to be completed by the end of 2017, will include actions to address and effectively mitigate various risks, to include

determining the appropriate number and skill mix of NSC crew members and support personnel and whether they will be in place in time for the CRC test;

incorporating actual NSC maintenance needs when developing NSC maintenance schedules and goals;

testing the CRC under realistic circumstances, such as addressing the misalignment of the crewing concept to be tested as compared to the NSC homeporting plan;

addressing the potential impacts of wide variations between alternative deployment schedules using the CRC; and

implementing a training infrastructure and providing training support for off-cycle rotating crews.

As the Coast Guard continues to develop its CRC plan, establishing interim milestones for carrying out the actions needed to address and effectively mitigate these risks would help ensure that it addresses the risks in a timely manner.

The Coast Guard's current measure does not accurately quantify the operational performance of the NSC fleet. The Coast Guard primarily uses the DAFHP measure across its major cutter fleet; however, this measure includes days when a cutter is undergoing maintenance away from its home port and, as a result, will likely overstate the number of operational days. The Coast Guard has known of the measure's limitation for years and is exploring alternatives. However, since the CRC plan is premised on achieving 230 DAFHP per year—and that other Coast Guard vessels, such as the Offshore Patrol Cutter, also plan to use the DAFHP metric—implementing alternative measures prior to CRC testing will better ensure the test results are benchmarked against a more appropriate goal to quantify the operational performance of its fleet of NSCs and its planned fleet of Offshore Patrol Cutters.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Coast Guard is in the process of replacing its 12 aging high-endurance cutters with 8 NSCs. The NSCs are to achieve increased operational performance compared to the legacy cutters they are replacing, in part, by using rotating crews.

GAO was asked to assess the Coast Guard's use of the CRC to increase NSC operational performance. This report examines (1) the extent to which the Coast Guard has made progress in testing the CRC and increasing the NSCs' operational performance, (2) the extent to which the Coast Guard has addressed risks affecting the CRC test and implementation, and (3) the extent to which the Coast Guard's performance measure allows it to accurately measure NSC operational performance.

GAO analyzed NSC acquisition and planning documents; DAFHP data from fiscal years 2011 to 2014; and studies on aspects of CRC implementation, such as scheduling, and interviewed Coast Guard officials and senior officers of all three NSCs deployed as of October 2014.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends, among other things, that the Coast Guard (1) fulfill its recommended NSC staffing requirements, (2) specify mitigating actions to address risk factors identified in this report, (3) develop interim milestones for the mitigation actions to be taken, and (4) develop a timeframe for implementing alternative operational performance measures prior to CRC testing. The Department of Homeland Security concurred with GAO's recommendations.

For more information, contact Jennifer A. Grover at (202) 512-7141 or groverj@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: In August 2015, the Coast Guard stated that funding to fulfill the staffing requirements recommended in the 2011 manpower requirements analysis for the National Security Cutter is under review and is expected to be determined by February 2016. On January 24, 2017, the Coast Guard noted that it expects the crew increase to be reflected in the FY 2017 Appropriation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the NSCs can be operated and maintained in the most demanding environments based on mission and maintenance requirements prior to implementation of the CRC, the Coast Guard should, as expeditiously as possible under its capacity limits and fiscal constraints, fulfill the staffing requirements recommended in the 2011 manpower requirements analysis, including ensuring that while implementing the interim 210 Plan, the NSCs operate with sufficient numbers of crew members who possess the recommended mix of skills and abilities.

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

  2. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In July 2015, the Coast Guard provided documentation of a manpower requirements analysis and manpower requirements determination, which specify the number of shoreside-based support personnel, such as engineering and maintenance, that are needed to support 4 National Security Cutters (NSC) based in Alameda, CA (i.e., three of the four NSCs using the crew rotational concept). In March 2016, the Coast Guard stated that it would request resources, as appropriate, to ensure that these personnel are in place prior to testing and expects to close this recommendation by November 2017. On January 24, 2017, the Coast Guard noted that it is continuing to develop the final test plan.

    Recommendation: To improve the Coast Guard's ability to make informed decisions about the overall feasibility of its goal to achieve 230 DAFHP using the CRC, and to ensure the effectiveness of the scheduled CRC feasibility test, the Coast Guard's CRC plan, scheduled to be completed by December 2017, should specify mitigation actions to effectively address the risk factors identified in this report, including determining the appropriate number of NSC crew and shoreside-based support personnel with the right mix of skills and abilities and having them in place when the Coast Guard tests the CRC.

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

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In March 2016, the Coast Guard stated that an independent analysis of the time necessary to complete the NSC's center section engine overhaul--the most complex maintenance item--is complete and in the process of being reviewed by the Coast Guard. The results of this evaluation are expected in 2017. In January 2017, the Coast Guard noted that it has determined that the longest maintenance event required for the NSC class is the Center Section Overhaul (CSO) of the Main Diesel Engines, which have an overhaul periodicity of 24,000 engine hours, equating to roughly 10 years of service life. To verify whether the CSO could be completed within the roughly 135 days available for dry-dock maintenance under the Crew Rotation Concept during which the National Security Cutters (NSC) are to achieve 230 days away from home port (365-230 =135), the Coast Guard contracted a 3-Phase Study. The Coast Guard evaluated the results of the Main Diesel Engine CSO analysis and determined that 133 calendar days are required to complete a main diesel engine removal and swap. The Coast Guard provided documentation showing the analysis timeframes in February 2017, along with a more detailed discussion of the timeframes on March 3, 2017. The Coast Guard staff noted that to complete the required maintenance within 133 consecutive days, the maintenance work for the engine swap and must include a minimum of two 8-hour shifts on weekdays (Monday-Friday) and 12-hour shifts on Saturdays (for a total of 1,688 total hours). The Coast Guard staff also noted that for those years in which an engine swap-out is to occur, other required NSC maintenance is to be conducted concurrent with the engine swap-out. On the basis of the analyses and concurrent maintenance work in an engine swap-out year, the 135 consecutive days allotted for NSC maintenance should, theoretically, be sufficient, so the status of this recommendation can be changed to "Closed-Implemented."

    Recommendation: To improve the Coast Guard's ability to make informed decisions about the overall feasibility of its goal to achieve 230 DAFHP using the CRC, and to ensure the effectiveness of the scheduled CRC feasibility test, the Coast Guard's CRC plan, scheduled to be completed by December 2017, should specify mitigation actions to effectively address the risk factors identified in this report, including conducting an analysis of when and how NSC maintenance requirements could be completed within the 135 days allocated under the CRC, including using the NSCs' actual maintenance needs to inform the Coast Guard's final maintenance plans.

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

  4. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In March 2016, the Coast Guard stated it continues to analyze and develop various testing plans and will submit a final plan to increase the NSCs' days away from homeport to Congress by December 2017. On January 24, 2017, the Coast Guard noted that it continues to analyze and develop various testing plans to reach 225 DAFHP onboard NSCs. The test will be performed by Coast Guard Pacific Area during normal operations over an extended period to ensure it is operationally realistic; lessons learned will be used to inform future crewing models. The Coast Guard will submit a final test plan to Congress prior to the deadline set forth by the 2012 Coast Guard Authorization Bill (end of 2017).

    Recommendation: To improve the Coast Guard's ability to make informed decisions about the overall feasibility of its goal to achieve 230 DAFHP using the CRC, and to ensure the effectiveness of the scheduled CRC feasibility test, the Coast Guard's CRC plan, scheduled to be completed by December 2017, should specify mitigation actions to effectively address the risk factors identified in this report, including addressing the misalignment of the crewing concept to be used in the planned CRC test, as compared to the NSC homeporting plan, so that the CRC test is conducted in an operationally realistic environment and that the test results can be used to determine the optimal schedules for rotating crews and performing maintenance.

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

  5. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In March 2016, the Coast Guard stated it continues to analyze and develop various testing plans and will submit a final plan to increase the NSCs' days away from homeport to Congress by December 2017. On January 24, 2017, the Coast Guard noted that it continues to analyze and develop various testing plans to reach 225 DAFHP onboard NSCs. The test will be performed by Coast Guard Pacific Area during normal operations over an extended period to ensure it is operationally realistic; lessons learned will be used to inform future crewing models. The Coast Guard will submit a final test plan to Congress prior to the deadline (end of 2017) set forth by the 2012 Coast Guard Authorization Bill.

    Recommendation: To improve the Coast Guard's ability to make informed decisions about the overall feasibility of its goal to achieve 230 DAFHP using the CRC, and to ensure the effectiveness of the scheduled CRC feasibility test, the Coast Guard's CRC plan, scheduled to be completed by December 2017, should specify mitigation actions to effectively address the risk factors identified in this report, including addressing the potential impacts of wide variations between alternative CRC deployment schedules.

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

  6. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In March 2016, the Coast Guard stated it continues to analyze and develop various testing plans and will submit a final plan to increase the NSCs' days away from homeport to Congress by December 2017. On January 24, 2017, the Coast Guard noted that it continues to analyze and develop various testing plans to reach 225 DAFHP onboard NSCs. The test will be performed by Coast Guard Pacific Area during normal operations over an extended period to ensure it is operationally realistic; lessons learned will be used to inform future crewing models. The Coast Guard will submit a final test plan to Congress prior to the deadline set forth by the 2012 Coast Guard Authorization Bill (the end of 2017).

    Recommendation: To improve the Coast Guard's ability to make informed decisions about the overall feasibility of its goal to achieve 230 DAFHP using the CRC, and to ensure the effectiveness of the scheduled CRC feasibility test, the Coast Guard's CRC plan, scheduled to be completed by December 2017, should specify mitigation actions to effectively address the risk factors identified in this report, including expanding the Coast Guard's training infrastructure capacity to provide crew members with the necessary training for off-cycle rotating NSC crew members under the CRC.

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

  7. Status: Open

    Comments: In March 2016, the Coast Guard stated it continues to analyze and develop various testing plans and will submit a final plan to increase the NSCs' days away from homeport to Congress by December 2017. On January 24, 2017, the Coast Guard noted that the analysis is ongoing, and will be addressed in the test plan submitted to Congress in accordance with the 2012 Coast Guard Authorization Bill (end of 2017).

    Recommendation: To ensure that the Coast Guard is making progress in a timely manner to address and effectively mitigate the risk factors identified above, the Coast Guard should develop interim milestones for the various actions to be taken on each of the risk factors as the Coast Guard completes the CRC Plan.

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

  8. Status: Open

    Comments: In August 2015, the Coast Guard stated that its analysis of alternative measures for use prior to testing the NSCs to use the crew rotational concept was ongoing and did not provide a date for completion. On January 24, 2017, the Coast Guard noted that, in the process of analyzing an alternative to DAFHP, it found that while its enterprise data management system collects the necessary data; the system didn't have an efficient way of aggregating the data for analysis. The first step to develop an appropriate enterprise measure is to improve the data management system through a software change. Once the change is complete, the system will be evaluated and tested to ensure that an aggregated report of discrete Coast Guard Cutter activity is accurate and reliable. The change will include the functionality to separate underway from in-port activity. After examining the results from the software change, the Coast Guard will evaluate an alternative to DAFHP. However, all analyses to date indicate DAFHP remains an important measure for personnel operations tempo and cutter scheduling and will not be eliminated as an available measure. The Coast Guard updated the estimated completion date for this recommendation to July 2018.

    Recommendation: Finally, to ensure that the Coast Guard is making progress in developing alternative measures that provide more accurate indicators of operational performance in a timely manner, the Coast Guard should establish time frames and interim milestones for developing and implementing these alternative measures for use prior to CRC testing. These measures could then be used for both the NSCs, as well as for other cutters, such as the Offshore Patrol Cutter, that currently use or plan to use the traditional DAFHP performance measure.

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

 

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