Fast Facts

The Coast Guard has more than 20,000 shore facilities—such as boat stations and piers—that are often vulnerable to damage from natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes.

While the Coast Guard has improved some of its facilities to make them more resilient, it can do more to stay on top of the risk. For example, DHS’s guidance suggests prioritizing projects by how crucial the asset is to the mission. The Coast Guard, however, hasn’t assessed the majority of its infrastructure—including piers, which are mission critical.

We recommended that the Coast Guard improve how it assesses and prioritizes its resilience projects.

Hurricane Harvey damaged the Coast Guard station in Port Aransas, Texas, in 2017

A damaged Coast Guard station affected by Hurricane Harvey

A damaged Coast Guard station affected by Hurricane Harvey

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What GAO Found

Since 2005, the U.S. Coast Guard's main actions to improve resilience have been to repair or rebuild shore infrastructure to higher building standards after it has been damaged by extreme weather events. The Coast Guard has received more than $2 billion in supplemental appropriations since 2005 to improve resilience after severe storms (see figure). The Coast Guard has also developed new guidance requiring that repairs and new construction meet higher building standards to make it more resilient. Further, in 2015, the Coast Guard began an assessment of certain occupied buildings to identify their vulnerabilities to ten natural hazards, such as hurricanes and earthquakes. As of 2018, this assessment covered approximately 16 percent of the Coast Guard's shore infrastructure. The Coast Guard aims to complete the assessment in 2025.

Coast Guard Station Sabine Pass, Texas, Rebuilt to Be More Resilient in 2013

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Coast Guard processes to improve shore infrastructure resilience do not fully align with the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) key steps for critical infrastructure risk management. These steps are described in DHS's Critical Infrastructure Risk Management Framework, which recommends that DHS components, among other things, identify critical infrastructure, assess risks, and implement risk management activities. While the Coast Guard has identified some vulnerable shore infrastructure through its ongoing assessment, it has not identified all shore assets that may be vulnerable, such as piers and runways; or assessed operational risks affecting its ability to complete missions with these assets. In addition, the Coast Guard has not taken steps to develop mitigation strategies for buildings already identified as vulnerable. Moreover, Coast Guard data show a growing backlog of at least $2.6 billion in recapitalization, new construction, and deferred maintenance projects that compete for finite funding. However, Coast Guard officials were unable to verify that they have consistently selected projects to also enhance resilience. Coast Guard officials stated that they have not used the DHS framework and have instead focused on implementing their ongoing vulnerability assessment. Fully aligning its processes with the DHS framework would better position the Coast Guard to reduce its future fiscal exposure to the effects of extreme weather events.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Coast Guard, within DHS, owns or leases more than 20,000 shore facilities such as piers, boat and air stations, and housing units at over 2,700 locations. This infrastructure is often positioned on coastlines where it is vulnerable to damage from extreme weather. Noting the importance of protecting critical infrastructure from such risks, in 2013 DHS updated its risk management guidance for enhancing infrastructure resilience—which is the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb and recover from, or successfully adapt to adverse events.

GAO was asked to review Coast Guard efforts to improve the resilience of its shore infrastructure. This report (1) describes Coast Guard actions to improve shore infrastructure resilience since 2005, and (2) examines the extent to which its processes to improve shore infrastructure resilience follow DHS's key steps for critical infrastructure risk management. GAO reviewed and analyzed Coast Guard guidance and data on assessed infrastructure and interviewed Coast Guard officials. GAO also compared Coast Guard policies, procedures, and actions to manage shore infrastructure against DHS's framework for managing risks to critical infrastructure.

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GAO recommends that the Coast Guard revise its processes for improving shore infrastructure resilience to more fully align with key steps of the DHS critical infrastructure risk management framework. This should include, for example, identifying critical infrastructure, assessing risks, and implementing risk management activities. DHS concurred with our recommendation.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
United States Coast Guard 1. The Commandant of the Coast Guard should ensure that the Deputy Commandant for Mission Support implements risk management processes that more fully align with the five key steps outlined in DHS's Critical Infrastructure Risk Management Framework to better guide agency shore infrastructure investment decisions. This should include (1) setting goals and objectives, (2) identifying critical infrastructure, (3) assessing and analyzing risks and costs, (4) implementing risk management activities, and (5) measuring the effectiveness of actions taken. (Recommendation 1)
The Coast Guard concurred with the spirit of GAO's recommendation to formalize its shore infrastructure risk management processes. As noted in their formal comment, the Coast Guard was mandated by the DHS Under Secretary for Management to follow risk management guidance outlined in the DHS Resilience Framework in March 2018. The Coast Guard reported that progress towards implementing GAO's recommendation is expected to be concurrent with the development and implementation of the Component Resilience Plan in accordance with the DHS Resilience Framework. According to the Coast Guard, the DHS-mandated Component Resilience Plan assigns a mission criticality level and resilience factor to each shore facility based on a criticality assessment, inter-dependencies between mission essential assets and functions, and risk. It will then align its current resilience factor formulation to that defined through the process in the DHS Resilience Framework. Risks identified through the Framework will be managed through a strategic combination of risk acceptance, mitigation, engineering, and operational controls. The Coast Guard stated that it intends to complete these multiple efforts by the end of 2021. In a March 2020 update, the Coast Guard stated that its Office of Civil Engineering was developing the Work Plan, newly named the 2020 Civil Engineering Program Work Plan: Initiatives and Tactics and said it would include goals and objectives for identifying and addressing infrastructure resilience gaps and resource needs in alignment with the Coast Guard's Component Resilience Plan. The Coast Guard expected to publish this Civil Engineering Work Plan by July 31, 2020, after which it said it would begin implementing and measuring the effectiveness of the actions identified in the Work Plan. In June 2020, the Coast Guard reported that it now anticipates finalizing the Civil Engineering Work Plan by September 30, 2020.

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