Coast Guard:

Coordination and Planning for National Oil Spill Response

RCED-91-212: Published: Sep 25, 1991. Publicly Released: Sep 25, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Coast Guard's activities and capabilities for ensuring that spilled oil is contained and recovered, focusing on: (1) the Coast Guard's efforts to coordinate with the private sector and others its plans to purchase oil spill response equipment to avoid unnecessary and wasteful duplication; (2) the new responsibilities the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 places on the private sector and the Coast Guard; and (3) whether those responsibilities call for a shift in emphasis in Coast Guard oil spill response activities.

GAO found that: (1) the Coast Guard is developing its equipment plans, for the most part, without preparing and using information on equipment currently owned by private contractors, regional cooperatives, and other federal agencies and also without considering those organizations' specific equipment purchases and placement plans; (2) Coast Guard officials stated that they have a general knowledge of the available private-sector resources and are able to rely on the expertise and professional judgment of Coast Guard personnel in developing equipment plans; (3) the Coast Guard's plans to buy oil spill response equipment risk duplicating private-sector investments; (4) under the act, the Coast Guard is responsible for ensuring that the private sector develops the capability and constant readiness to contain and remove spills of all sizes; (5) as the Coast Guard confirms that industry is developing the capabilities mandated by the act to clean up its own spills, it can pursue a strategy under which it would gradually reduce its inventory of equipment for containing and removing private-sector spills and focus on industry's compliance with mandated responsibilities; (6) in recognizing its responsibilities under the act, industry is planning to spend nearly $1 billion to acquire state-of-the-art response equipment, facilities, and trained personnel; and (7) the act gives the Coast Guard the authority and means to ensure that industry takes the steps necessary to fulfill its obligations.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Coast Guard has developed a computerized comprehensive database of all U.S. oil spill response resources (including equipment). Until the database is operational, actions will continue in this area indefinitely.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the Coast Guard avoids unnecessary duplication in the purchase and placement of response equipment, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to place a high priority on establishing a comprehensive inventory of existing private and public-sector response resources. The Commandant should also be directed to develop a policy requiring program officials to: (1) use this information in determining future response equipment purchase plans; and (2) closely coordinate the Coast Guard's equipment purchase plans with those of all major private- and public-sector response organizations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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