Coast Guard:

Assessing Deployable Specialized Forces' Workforce Needs Could Improve Efficiency and Reduce Potential Overlap or Gaps in Capabilities

GAO-20-33: Published: Nov 21, 2019. Publicly Released: Nov 21, 2019.

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

 

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The U.S. Coast Guard uses specialized forces to protect ports and waters from terrorism, drug activity, or environmental disasters. These forces often rely upon similar skill sets, so most of the specially trained units can perform similar if not the same missions.

However, we found this can potentially result in overlapping responsibilities and underutilized units. For example, one unit from Seattle was sent to San Francisco for a mission when there was already another local unit equipped to handle it.

We recommended the Coast Guard assess the extent of unnecessary overlap to save money and streamline specialized units.

Coast Guard personnel conduct specialized training in Florida.

Two Coast Guard boats on the water

Two Coast Guard boats on the water

Additional Materials:

Contact:

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

 

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

What GAO Found

In reorganizing its Deployable Specialized Forces (Specialized Forces) in 2013, the Coast Guard generally applied three of five key practices for agency reorganization, including establishing goals and outcomes, engaging stakeholders, and addressing longstanding management challenges, such as training shortfalls. However, the Coast Guard did not fully apply the other two key practices—using data and evidence and addressing potential overlap and duplication within the Specialized Forces workforce. For example:

  • The Coast Guard has not assessed the overall Specialized Forces workforce needs, as this practice recommends. Officials from some units stated that they experienced periods of underutilization, while other units with the same or similar capabilities turned down operations for lack of available personnel.
  • GAO identified some overlap among the capabilities of the different Specialized Forces units and the Coast Guard missions they support—in some cases Specialized Forces units were co-located with other Specialized Forces units with many of the same capabilities and similar missions. In August 2019, Coast Guard officials acknowledged that the 2013 reorganization did not conduct an analysis of potential overlap or duplication of capabilities and agreed that overlap or gaps in Specialized Forces capabilities could exist.

Assessing workforce needs and the extent to which unnecessary overlap or duplication may exist among Specialized Forces would help ensure that the agency effectively allocates resources and uses them efficiently.

Coast Guard Personnel Conducting a Drug Interdiction Operation

HL_5 - 103271-01

Why GAO Did This Study

The U.S. Coast Guard, within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is the principal federal agency charged with ensuring the security and safety of the waters under U.S. jurisdiction. To help carry out its missions, the Coast Guard maintains Specialized Forces units with the capabilities needed to handle drug interdiction, terrorism, and other threats to the U.S. maritime environment. The Coast Guard reorganized the command structure of these units in 2007 and again in 2013.

The Maritime Security Improvement Act of 2018 included a provision for GAO to evaluate Specialized Forces units and provide a report to Congress. This report examines the extent to which the Coast Guard addressed key practices and considerations for assessing reorganization of its Specialized Forces units. GAO assessed the Coast Guard report and associated workforce planning documentation and data used for its 2013 reorganization and analyzed the extent to which the agency applied key practices. GAO also analyzed guidance and data on Specialized Forces capabilities and operations to identify potential overlap or gaps and interviewed agency officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO makes two recommendations to DHS. First, GAO recommends that the Coast Guard conduct an analysis of its Specialized Forces' workforce needs, with which DHS concurred. Second, GAO recommends that the Coast Guard assess the extent to which unnecessary overlap or duplication exists. Although DHS did not concur, GAO continues to believe the findings documented in the report support the recommendation.

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

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: In November 2019, GAO reported that the Coast Guard did not fully apply a leading practice for using data and evidence when it reorganized its Deployable Specialized Forces because it had not assessed its overall Specialized Forces workforce needs, as recommended by this practice. The Coast Guard, through DHS, concurred with GAO's recommendation that it conduct a comprehensive analysis of its Specialized Forces' workforce needs. In its May 2020 180-day letter response, DHS stated that the Coast Guard identified its Maritime Safety and Security Team as the highest priority Specialized Forces unit for workforce analysis and that it is scheduled to be completed by the end of fiscal year 2021 but noted that the overall completion of all five unit types is subject to available funding and is not estimated to be completed until September 20, 2025. As GAO reported in November 2019, officials from some of these units stated that they experienced periods of underutilization, while other units with the same or similar capabilities turned down operations for lack of available personnel. Without a comprehensive analysis in place, the Coast Guard does not have the assurance that it has the requisite number of personnel in the right units to conduct the required missions. GAO will continue to monitor Coast Guard actions to address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Coast Guard should conduct a comprehensive analysis of its Deployable Specialized Forces' workforce needs. (Recommendation 1)

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

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: In November 2019, GAO reported that the Coast Guard did not address potential overlap and duplication within its Specialized Forces. GAO identified some overlap among the capabilities of the different Specialized Forces units and the Coast Guard missions they support. The Coast Guard did not agree with the recommendation in its November 2019 response to GAO's draft report. At that time, DHS stated that GAO's conclusions illustrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the corresponding missions of Specialized Forces units. However, in technical comments provided in March 2020, the Coast Guard indicated that as of February 2020 it had not conducted the analysis necessary to fully identify potential overlap among the units. The Coast Guard stated that it is planning to begin analyzing the units this fiscal year. In its May 2020 180-day letter response, DHS stated that given current funding constrains and competing mission requirements, the Coast Guard could not consider conducting analyses not directly tied to improving mission outcomes. GAO continues to maintain that overlapping capabilities among units could indicate inefficiencies in how units are used as well as missed opportunities for use in others. Further, it is unclear why DHS and the Coast Guard simultaneously agreed to conduct the comprehensive workforce analyses of its Specialized Forces in the same 180-day letter (in response to recommendation #1 for this report), analyses that could inform an assessment of the extent to which unnecessary overlap and duplication exists among these units, while declining to address this recommendation. Without a comprehensive analysis in place, the Coast Guard does not have the assurance that it has the requisite number of personnel in the right units to conduct the required missions. GAO will continue to monitor Coast Guard actions to address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Coast Guard should assess the extent to which unnecessary overlap or duplication exists among Deployable Specialized Forces' capabilities. (Recommendation 2)

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

 

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