Coast Guard Shore Infrastructure:

Applying Leading Practices Could Help Better Manage Project Backlogs of at Least $2.6 Billion

GAO-19-82: Published: Feb 21, 2019. Publicly Released: Feb 21, 2019.

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There is a vast, aging Coast Guard infrastructure along the shore that includes piers, docks, and other facilities. The Coast Guard estimated that its backlog of construction and improvement projects would take $1.7 billion and 395 years to address. That doesn't include the Coast Guard's maintenance backlog, which would bring the total cost to at least $2.6 billion.

While the Coast Guard has a culture of “making do” with the resources it has, these backlogs pose financial, safety, and mission performance risks.

We made 6 recommendations to help the Coast Guard better manage its resources to address shore infrastructure challenges.

The Coast Guard "makes do" with this temporary boat maintenance facility at Base Alameda in California.

A small boat on a trailer in front of a canvas structure

A small boat on a trailer in front of a canvas structure

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Nathan Anderson
(202) 512-3841
andersonn@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

About 45 percent of the Coast Guard's shore infrastructure is beyond its service life, and its current backlogs of maintenance and recapitalization projects, as of 2018, will cost at least $2.6 billion to address, according to Coast Guard information. The deferred maintenance backlog included more than 5,600 projects, with an estimated cost of $900 million. The recapitalization and new construction backlog had 125 projects, with an estimated cost of at least $1.77 billion as of 2018 (see figure). GAO's analysis of Coast Guard data found that as of November 2018 there were hundreds of recapitalization projects without cost estimates—the majority of recapitalization projects. Coast Guard officials told GAO that these projects are in the preliminary stages of development.

Value of Coast Guard's Backlog of Recapitalization and New Construction Projects, Fiscal Years 2012-2018

Value of Coast Guard's Backlog of Recapitalization and New Construction Projects, Fiscal Years 2012-2018

Note: The arrows are intended to characterize the uncertain costs due to the lack of Coast Guard cost estimates associated with those projects.

The Coast Guard's process for managing its shore infrastructure did not fully meet 6 of 9 leading practices that GAO previously identified. Of the nine leading practices, the Coast Guard met three, partially met three, and did not meet three. For example, the Coast Guard generally has not employed models for predicting the outcome of maintenance investments and optimizing among competing investments, as called for in leading practices. In one instance, the Coast Guard used a model to optimize maintenance for its aviation pavement and, according to Coast Guard officials, found that it could save nearly $14 million by accelerating investment in this area (e.g., paving runways) sooner rather than deferring such maintenance. Coast Guard officials told us that such modeling could be applied within and across all of its shore infrastructure asset types, but the Coast Guard did not implement the results of this model and does not require their use. Without requiring the use of such models, the Coast Guard could be missing opportunities to achieve cost savings and better manage its maintenance backlogs.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Coast Guard, within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), owns or leases more than 20,000 shore facilities, such as piers, docks, boat stations, air stations, and housing units, at more than 2,700 locations. In June 2017, the Coast Guard testified to Congress that it had a $1.6 billion recapitalization backlog for its shore infrastructure, which had a replacement value of about $20 billion.

GAO was asked to review the Coast Guard's management of its shore infrastructure. This report examines: (1) what is known about the condition and costs of managing the Coast Guard's shore infrastructure, and (2) the extent to which the Coast Guard's process for managing its shore infrastructure meets leading practices.

To answer these questions, GAO reviewed relevant laws and Coast Guard annual reports on its shore infrastructure, analyzed Coast Guard data, and interviewed Coast Guard officials. GAO also compared Coast Guard policies and procedures, and actions taken during fiscal years 2012 through 2018 to manage its shore infrastructure, against the leading practices that GAO previously identified for managing public sector maintenance backlogs.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making six recommendations, which DHS agreed to implement, including that the Coast Guard align its management of its shore infrastructure backlogs with leading practices by requiring the use of models for predicting the outcome of, and optimizing among, competing investments for maintenance projects.

For more information, contact Nathan Anderson at (202) 512-3841 or andersonn@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2019, GAO reported that the Coast Guard partially met a leading practice for conducting condition assessments as a basis for establishing appropriate levels of funding requests, but that the Coast Guard's assessments do not follow a standardized or consistent process, which contributed to inconsistencies in the information collected. The Coast Guard, through DHS, concurred with GAO's recommendation that it develop a plan with milestones and timeframes for standardizing the Coast Guard's facility condition assessments. In April 2020, the Coast Guard detailed that it had developed a new standardized assessment format, began conducting these assessments, and provided details of milestones and timeframes for conducting the assessments. These actions will better position the Coast Guard with more consistent data to prioritize and plan its shore infrastructure projects. As a result, this recommendation is closed as implemented.

    Recommendation: The Commandant of the Coast Guard should direct the program managers to develop a plan with milestones and time frames for standardizing Coast Guard's facility condition assessments. (Recommendation 1)

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

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: The Coast Guard concurred with this recommendation and said it would take steps to implement it. As of April 2020, the Coast Guard continues to develop and refine its shore infrastructure measures with associated goals and estimates that it will complete these efforts in December 2020. When we confirm actions the Coast Guard has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Commandant of the Coast Guard should direct program managers to establish shore infrastructure performance goals, measures, and baselines to track the effectiveness of maintenance and repair investments and provide feedback on progress made. (Recommendation 2)

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

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: The Coast Guard concurred with this recommendation and said it would take steps to implement it. As of April 2020, the Coast Guard continues work to establish a formalized process to assess current and projected operational and mission support needs to identify and recommend disposal of unneeded land, buildings, and structures. The Coast Guard anticipates completing these efforts by December 2020. When we confirm actions the Coast Guard has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Commandant of the Coast Guard should work with Congress to develop and implement a process to routinely align Coast Guard's shore infrastructure portfolio with mission needs, including by disposing of all unneeded assets. (Recommendation 3)

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

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: The Coast Guard concurred with this recommendation and said it would take steps to implement it. As of April 2020, the Coast Guard is reviewing its existing guidance for planning boards and expects to complete these efforts in December 2020. When we confirm actions the Coast Guard has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Commandant of the Coast Guard should establish guidance for planning boards to document inputs, deliberations, and project prioritization decisions for infrastructure maintenance projects. (Recommendation 4)

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

  5. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In 2019, GAO reported that the Coast Guard generally has not employed models for predicting the outcome of maintenance investments and optimizing among competing investments, as called for in leading practices. GAO found that, in one instance, the Coast Guard used a model to optimize maintenance for its aviation pavement and, according to Coast Guard officials, found that it could save nearly $14 million by accelerating investment in this area (e.g., paving runways) sooner rather than deferring such maintenance. Coast Guard officials told GAO that such modeling could be applied within and across all of its shore infrastructure asset types, but the Coast Guard did not implement the results of this model and does not require their use. Employing models to predict the future condition and performance of facilities could potentially identify and achieve cost savings, according to leading practices. The Coast Guard concurred with GAO's recommendation that it employ models for its asset lines for predicting the outcome of investments, analyzing trade-offs, and optimizing decisions among competing investments. As of January 2020, the Coast Guard has not employed models to evaluate its asset lines. Instead, the Coast Guard reported that it is evaluating alternative models for its asset lines, and estimated that the Coast Guard will complete this analysis by December 31, 2020.

    Recommendation: The Commandant of the Coast Guard should employ models for its asset lines for predicting the outcome of investments, analyzing trade-offs, and optimizing decisions among competing investments. (Recommendation 5)

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

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: In February 2019, GAO reported that Coast Guard budget requests did not provide Congress with accurate information about its funding needs. Specifically, we found that the Coast Guard did not meet this leading practice as its budget requests (1) have not clearly identified funding allotted for routine shore infrastructure maintenance needs, and (2) have not generally addressed deferred maintenance and repair deficiencies, resulting in increases to its backlogs. Specifically, GAO found that budget requests related to shore infrastructure for fiscal years 2012 through 2019 did not provide Congress with required and complete information, as previously noted, necessary to inform decision-makers of the risks posed by untimely investments in maintenance and repair backlogs. GAO also reported that the Coast Guard annual Unfunded Priorities List does not clearly articulate prioritization decisions, including information about trade-offs among competing project alternatives, as well as the impacts on missions conducted from shore facilities in disrepair that had not been prioritized in previous years, or is it aligned with its requirements-based budget targets for shore infrastructure. DHS concurred with GAO's recommendation that the Coast Guard include supporting details about competing project alternatives and report trade-offs in Congressional budget requests and related reports. In its August 2019 180-day letter response, DHS stated that the Coast Guard Office of Budget and Programs will include additional information in the future Unfunded Priorities Lists. However, when the Coast Guard released its 2020 Unfunded Priorities List to Congress it did not contain additional details on competing priorities. GAO will continue to monitor Coast Guard budget requests and related reports, including the Unfunded Priorities Lists, for additional supporting details about competing project alternatives and trade-offs

    Recommendation: The Commandant of the Coast Guard should include supporting details about competing project alternatives and report trade-offs in Congressional budget requests and related reports. (Recommendation 6)

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

 

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