Coast Guard: Actions Needed to Improve Data Quality and Transparency for Reporting on Mission Performance and Capital Planning

GAO-18-408T Published: Mar 07, 2018. Publicly Released: Mar 07, 2018.
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Fast Facts

In the past, we've reported on ways to improve Coast Guard programs, performance, and capital planning by increasing data quality and transparency.

For example, in December 2017, we found that the Coast Guard needs more information to calculate commercial fishing vessel safety statistics. Knowing more about related accidents, injuries, and fatalities could help the Coast Guard accomplish its maritime safety mission.

We testified before Congress on this and other data issues affecting the Coast Guard.

Coast Guard Ships

Photographs of two Coast Guard ships.

Photographs of two Coast Guard ships.

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What GAO Found

GAO's prior work recommended multiple actions to improve the Coast Guard's program management by improving the quality of data it uses to manage and report on its mission performance. Specifically, GAO recommended actions such as collecting more complete data and clarifying the data limitations to facilitate more effective program management. For example, in December 2017, GAO found that more information is needed to calculate vessel safety statistics that could enhance the Coast Guard's knowledge about accident, injury, and fatality trends involving commercial fishing vessels. Having more complete information could be useful to carrying out its marine safety mission, and GAO recommended, among other things, that the Coast Guard ensure that data collected during commercial fishing vessel incident investigations is accurately captured. In 2018, the Coast Guard reported taking initial steps to capture more accurate data.

Coast Guard Ships

Coast Guard Ships

GAO's prior work also identified areas where the Coast Guard could improve the transparency of the data it uses for reporting on its mission performance as well its capital planning purposes. For example, in an October 2017 report on performance goals, GAO found the Coast Guard's Annual Performance Report (APR) has not been released publicly since 2011. Consequently, there has not been full visibility over performance across all of the Coast Guard's missions. Coast Guard officials stated that a decision by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) leadership to limit the number of performance goals shared publicly had deterred the Coast Guard from public release of its APR. GAO recommended that APRs be available on the Coast Guard's website; the Coast Guard plans to publicly release future APRs. In addition, previous GAO reports found that the Coast Guard's annual 5-year capital investment plan, which projects acquisition funding needs for the upcoming 5 years, did not consistently reflect current total cost estimates or the effects of tradeoffs made as part of the annual budget cycle. GAO made recommendations to help the Coast Guard plan for future acquisitions and the difficult trade off decisions it will face given funding constraints. The Coast Guard agreed, but it is unclear when it will complete the 20-year plan.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Coast Guard, a component of DHS, serves as the principal federal agency responsible for maritime safety, security, and environmental stewardship in U.S. ports and waterways. To ensure that the Coast Guard is effectively fulfilling its missions, agency managers must have accurate information and base decisions on sound analyses for effective program management.

This statement discusses Coast Guard actions needed to (1) improve the quality of data used for program management and (2) improve the transparency of its data for reporting on mission performance and planning.

This statement is based on relevant products GAO issued from June 2014 through December 2017 on Coast Guard strategic planning and management issues, as well as related recommendation follow-up conducted through February 2018. GAO reviewed applicable laws, regulations, policies and guidance. GAO also interviewed Coast Guard officials responsible for administering these programs and obtained information on how they used data to inform decisionmaking. GAO interviewed a range of stakeholders, including federal and industry officials.

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GAO is not making new recommendations in this statement but has made them to the Coast Guard and DHS in the past on improving its program management through, among other things, better quality and more transparent data. DHS and the Coast Guard agreed with these recommendations and reported actions or plans to address them.

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