Coast Guard Workforce Mix:

Phased-In Conversion of Some Support Officer Positions Would Produce Savings

RCED-00-60: Published: Mar 1, 2000. Publicly Released: Mar 1, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Coast Guard's phased-in conversion of some support officer positions, focusing on: (1) how the Coast Guard's current workforce mix compares with the workforce mix of other military services and how the workforce mix has changed since 1991; (2) how many military commissioned officer positions in administrative and support functions offer opportunities for conversion to civilian positions; and (3) what the advantages and disadvantages are of converting those military positions to civilian positions.

GAO noted that: (1) the Coast Guard employs proportionately more military personnel in its full-time workforce than the military services in the Department of Defense; (2) this mix of civilian and military personnel has remained essentially unchanged since fiscal year 1991; (3) about 800 of the 980 commissioned officer positions in the Coast Guard units GAO selected for review offer opportunities for conversion to civilian positions because they do not meet the Coast Guard's criteria for military staffing as defined in its 1989 staffing standards manual; (4) such positions include those in personnel, public affairs, civil rights, data processing, research and development, information resources management, contracting, financial management, and civil, naval, and electronic engineering; (5) Coast Guard managers in the support units housing these positions generally said that these functions did not require the skills and abilities that could be obtained only through military training or operational experience, and thus, could be performed by civilian personnel; (6) there are advantages and disadvantages to filling military positions with civilians; (7) filling the positions that GAO reviewed with commissioned officers costs the government, on average, 21 percent more than filling the same positions with comparable civilian employees because of differences in the average pay and retirement benefits, as well as the nontaxability of military allowances; (8) long-term potential annual cost savings of about $15 million to the government for converting about 800 commissioned officer positions is one significant advantage; (9) while Coast Guard officials noted that initial costs could reduce costs savings when conversions are made, the Coast Guard has recognized that civilians provide qualitative benefits such as greater continuity of service and, in some cases, greater technical expertise; (10) Coast Guard officials also identified a number of disadvantages to converting these military positions to civilian positions; (11) they believe that military officers have experience with and knowledge of the Coast Guard's operations, which enhances the officer's efficiency and effectiveness; (12) the commissioned officer positions GAO identified do not meet the Coast Guard's criteria for military staffing, and conversions could not be phased in over time without substantially affecting the Coast Guard's operations; and (13) a change of this magnitude needs to be carefully implemented to avoid any unintended consequences.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Coast Guard updated its staffing standards manual in November 2000 and is in the process of applying the revised criteria to all commissioned officer positions. By the end of the fiscal year, the Coast Guard plans to issue internal policy directions on how to proceed with converting additional positions identified do not meet the criteria. Since GAO's March 1, 2000, report, the Coast Guard had converted 45 commissioned officer positions (as of July 31, 2001) for an estimated accrued annual cost savings to the government of $778,770.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to develop a plan with milestones for examining the commissioned officer positions that GAO identified, and, after considering factors that the Coast Guard believes are important, implement the conversions by using a phased-in approach so as to minimize implementation costs and disruption to the Coast Guard. GAO would expect that the Coast Guard would identify and convert a significant number of military officer positions and make significant progress in increasing the proportion of civilians in its workforce.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Coast Guard developed and implemented a plan for reviewing its commissioned officer positions and reported on the results of its review in its annual budget submission.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to provide the appropriate House and Senate committees of jurisdiction with an annual report on the status of the conversions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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