Coast Guard: Actions Needed to Improve Strategic Allocation of Assets and Determine Workforce Requirements

GAO-16-379 Published: May 24, 2016. Publicly Released: Jun 14, 2016.
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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Coast Guard developed and uses the Standard Operational Planning Process to annually allocate asset (aircraft and vessels) resource hours to field units for meeting missions, but the headquarters' Strategic Planning Directions used in this process do not provide field units with strategic, realistic goals. Rather, headquarters' Strategic Planning Directions allocate maximum resource hour capacities for each asset—such as 700 hours per Jayhawk helicopter per year. As shown below, these asset allocations have consistently exceeded actual asset resource hours used by field units. By better incorporating data on assets' actual use that field units provide to Coast Guard headquarters—such as Operational Performance Assessment Reports —to inform asset allocation goals in its Strategic Planning Directions, the Coast Guard would better ensure that it effectively communicates strategic intent to its field units and makes more informed asset allocation decisions that are aligned with its strategic goals.

Comparison of Total Asset Resource Hours Allocated in Strategic Planning Directions to the Actual Asset Resource Hours Used, Fiscal Years 2010 – 2015

Comparison of Total Asset Resource Hours Allocated in i Strategic Planning Directions

Note: In fiscal year 2014, lower resource hour use was planned because of anticipated budget reductions as a result of sequestration. Hours for assets used exclusively for training were excluded.

The Coast Guard has developed management tools, such as manpower requirements analyses, to help it determine workforce requirements and help align its personnel with its missions. However, a Coast Guard official responsible for these analyses stated that the Coast Guard cannot meet the demand for these analyses because it does not have sufficient staff and a system to help analyze and prioritize the manpower requirements analyses that need to be completed. Without a systematic process for prioritizing the most important manpower requirements analyses to complete, consistent with leading program management practices, the Coast Guard does not have reasonable assurance that the highest priority missions are fully supported with the appropriate number of staff possessing the requisite mix of skills and abilities.

Why GAO Did This Study

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Coast Guard has been charged with expanded missions. Further, constrained budgets in recent years have underscored the importance of strategically allocating its assets and personnel to meet these missions.

GAO was asked to review the Coast Guard's resource allocation process. This report addresses the extent to which the Coast Guard: (1) employs an effective process to strategically allocate assets to meet its missions, and (2) has determined workforce requirements and addressed identified personnel needs.

GAO reviewed Coast Guard planning and workforce requirements documents and asset performance data for fiscal years 2010 through 2015. GAO also discussed the planning process and personnel needs with Coast Guard officials at headquarters; as well as at the two Area and nine District Commands.

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Recommendations

GAO is making three recommendations to the Coast Guard, including to incorporate field unit input to inform its allocation decisions and to develop a systematic process that prioritizes the most critical manpower requirements analyses to complete. DHS concurred with the recommendations and stated it is taking actions, such as including field unit input into its planning process and prioritizing manpower requirements analyses of unstudied units, as resources permit.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
United States Coast Guard To improve transparency in allocating its limited resources, and to help ensure that its resource allocation decisions are the most effective ones for fulfilling its missions given existing risks, the Commandant of the Coast Guard should document how the risk assessments conducted were used to inform and support its annual asset allocation decisions.
Closed – Implemented
In June 2016, we reported that the Coast Guard does not maintain documentation on the extent to which risk factors have affected the allocation of asset resource hours to missions through its annual Strategic Planning Directions. To address this deficiency, we recommended that the Coast Guard document how risk assessments are used to inform and support its annual asset allocation decisions. In response, the Coast Guard updated policies, procedures, roles, and responsibilities for its Standard Operational Planning Process and its Global Force Management. It incorporated these updates in Commandant Instruction (COMDINST) 3120.4B, which the Coast Guard issued on December 9, 2021. This document highlights a number of primary objectives, to include Section 1.f.: "Incorporate risk-informed methods and processes at the strategic and operational levels to inform decisions regarding mission prioritization, evaluation of mission performance targets, and force allocation to respond to dynamic shifts in mission demand." The Coast Guard noted that the objective/ principle in Section 1.f. is intended to satisfy GAO's recommendation and added that the objective is achieved through several products that are designed to document risks, to include: (1) Area Major Cutter Support Memo: Provides Area resourcing estimates of District mission support requirements during the resource allocation process. The memo should explain the basis of how support levels were determined, intended employment, and operational risk if the projected major cutter support level cannot be fully sourced. (2) Operational Performance Assessment Reports (OPAR): Transparent feedback mechanism that provides a quarterly assessment of operations, mission performance, resources expended, capability gaps, and recommendations to improve operational planning and effectiveness. (3) Planning Assessment (PA): Deputy Commandant for Mission Support, Area Commanders, District Commanders, and the Assistant Commandant for Capability each provide an assessment to address anticipated operational and mission support environments. (4) Risk Assessment: The Intelligence Coordination Center provides an annual assessment to inform planners and stakeholders of trends and analysis that may influence local, regional, or global Coast Guard mission management and response postures. (5) Strategic Priorities & Planning Guidance (SPPG): Provides direction and serves as year-long guidance for Strategic Planning Direction resource allocation and apportionment recommendations or adjustments as required by the dynamic nature of global missions. By taking these steps that, collectively, address the GAO recommendation, the Coast Guard is better positioned to ensure that its asset allocation decisions are the most effective ones for fulfilling its missions given existing risks.
United States Coast Guard To ensure that high priority mission activities are fully supported with the appropriate number of staff possessing the requisite mix of skills and abilities, the Commandant of the Coast Guard should develop a systematic process that prioritizes manpower requirements analyses for units that are the most critical for achieving mission needs.
Closed – Implemented
In May 2016, we reported on the U.S. Coast Guard's actions to determine its workforce requirements and align its personnel with its missions. We reported that the Coast Guard had made progress in determining workforce requirements, but did not have a plan to prioritize remaining work. Coast Guard officials told us that based on their current staffing levels, it could take 10 years to complete manpower requirements analyses (MRA) for all units. They told us that they were working on a strategy to prioritize and complete these MRAs, but as of February 2016 had not made progress on this strategy or established a process for prioritizing the MRA workload. As a result, the Coast Guard did not have reasonable assurance that the highest priority missions were fully supported with the appropriate number of staff possessing the requisite mix of skills and abilities. We recommended that the Coast Guard should develop a systematic process that prioritizes MRAs for units that are the most critical for achieving mission needs. The Coast Guard concurred , and in response, updated its manpower requirements guidance. In April 2021 the Coast Guard published a Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTP) document with additional guidance on prioritizing MRAs for units with pressing needs. For example, it states that generally, acquisition-related units will be given top priority to comply with acquisition laws and regulations, and units that have never been assessed with an MRA will be prioritized over units requiring an updated analysis. It further states that all non-acquisition units will be evaluated using a prioritization matrix. Finally, the TTP states that the prioritization list will be used to guide assessment decisions, and should be updated annually. By issuing updated guidance on determining prioritizing which units to assess with an MRA, the Coast Guard is better positioned to ensure that it is assessing units with most pressing needs. This will position the Coast Guard to assess and staff those units with the appropriate number of staff possessing the requisite mix of skills and abilities.
United States Coast Guard To improve the strategic allocation of assets, the Commandant of the Coast Guard should incorporate field unit input, such as information on assets' actual performance from Operational Performance Assessment Reports and Planning Assessments, to inform more realistic asset allocation decisions--in addition to asset performance capacities currently used--in the annual Strategic Planning Directions to more effectively communicate strategic intent to field units.
Closed – Implemented
In June 2016, we reported that the Coast Guard uses the Standard Operational Planning Process to annually allocate asset (aircraft and vessels) resource hours to field units for meeting missions, but the headquarters' Strategic Planning Directions used in this process do not provide field units with strategic, realistic goals. Specifically, we found that the Strategic Planning Directions allocated maximum resource hour capacities for each asset even though these allocations consistently exceeded actual asset resource hours used by field units. To improve the Coast Guard's strategic allocation of assets, we recommended that the Coast Guard incorporate field unit input, such as information on assets' actual performance from Operational Performance Assessment Reports and Planning Assessments in the annual Strategic Planning Directions. In response, the Coast Guard updated policies, procedures, roles, and responsibilities for its Standard Operational Planning Process and its Global Force Management. It incorporated these updates in Commandant Instruction (COMDINST) 3120.4B, which the Coast Guard issued on December 9, 2021. This document highlights a number of primary objectives, to include Section 1.e.: "Measure operational mission performance that informs subsequent strategic, budgetary, readiness, and operational planning efforts." The Coast Guard noted that the objective/principle in Section 1.e. is intended to satisfy GAO's recommendation and added that the objective is achieved through several products, to include: (1) Area Major Cutter Support Memo: Provides Area resourcing estimates of District mission support requirements during the resource allocation process. The memo should explain the basis of how support levels were determined, intended employment, and operational risk if the projected major cutter support level cannot be fully sourced. (2) Operational Performance Assessment Reports (OPAR): Transparent feedback mechanism that provides a quarterly assessment of operations, mission performance, resources expended, capability gaps, and recommendations to improve operational planning and effectiveness. (3) Planning Assessment (PA): Deputy Commandant for Mission Support, Area Commanders, District Commanders, and the Assistant Commandant for Capability each provide an assessment to address anticipated operational and mission support environments. (4) Strategic Priorities & Planning Guidance (SPPG): Provides direction and serves as year-long guidance for Strategic Planning Direction resource allocation and apportionment recommendations or adjustments as required by the dynamic nature of global missions. By taking these steps that, collectively, address the GAO recommendation, the Coast Guard is positioned to ensure better incorporation of data on assets' actual use to inform asset allocation goals in its Strategic Planning Directions, and more effectively communicate strategic intent to its field units.

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