Coast Guard: Actions Needed to Ensure Investments in Key Data System Meet Mission and User Needs
The Coast Guard tracks and supports its activities with its Marine Information for Safety and Law Enforcement data system. It contains information on over 700,000 vessels and more. Earlier efforts to upgrade the system did not deliver all planned improvements, such as an ability to reduce duplicate records.
Problems persist. For example, users told us duplicate entries created uncertainty on whether vessels or their operators had earlier safety violations or warranted inspection. We also identified data errors and missing records.
We made 4 recommendations, including that the Coast Guard address the causes of system data issues.
Coast Guard vessel
What GAO Found
The U.S. Coast Guard's (Coast Guard) Marine Information for Safety and Law Enforcement (MISLE) system is generally able to support agency operations by tracking and aggregating mission activity data, such as commercial vessel inspection results. But the system has some capability gaps, and MISLE users GAO spoke to described numerous challenges with the system. For example, they reported:
challenges using MISLE due to duplicate or incomplete records in the system, which can affect the ability of personnel to conduct activities such as vessel inspections. Users told GAO that duplicate or incomplete records can create a risk that Coast Guard personnel may not have full vessel histories when inspecting vessels to resolve prior safety deficiencies; and
being unable to complete work in MISLE while conducting operational activities, since users can only access the system from a workstation connected to the Coast Guard network. Field personnel told GAO it can require rework when they return to their workstations to enter information into MISLE from paper records.
MISLE system managers stated they are aware of these challenges, have begun to address some of them, and agree that MISLE requires further investments to meet user needs.
The Coast Guard has policies, procedures, and training mechanisms to help ensure reliable data; however, GAO's analysis identified multiple data issues, including data errors, incomplete or missing records, and inconsistent data entry. For example, about 20 percent of the fiscal year 2018 records of search and rescue operations showed a negative response time, which Coast Guard officials attributed to data entry errors. The Coast Guard has not assessed the causes of such data errors, and its recent efforts to address certain data issues do not include plans for such an assessment. Such an assessment could help the Coast Guard identify how to ensure more reliable MISLE data.
The Coast Guard has taken steps to update MISLE since its 2001 release; however, it has not followed its own processes to manage subsequent investments. In its most recent upgrade to MISLE, which began in 2008, the Coast Guard did not follow key systems development processes nor deliver some planned functionalities, such as the ability to remediate duplicate vessel records and input data in mobile capacities. The Coast Guard has initiated further efforts to obtain or develop undelivered functionality since the release of the upgraded system in 2015. However, in its fiscal year 2019 operational analysis of MISLE, the Coast Guard identified additional major system deficiencies and user dissatisfaction that it reported require consideration as it pursues system enhancements. Yet, the agency has not taken steps to assess mission needs across the system. By developing an updated mission needs statement for MISLE as a whole, and by identifying and analyzing alternatives to objectively select solutions in accordance with departmental systems engineering guidance, the Coast Guard would be better positioned to address user needs and to more efficiently manage its various investments to improve MISLE.
Why GAO Did This Study
The Coast Guard, within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is the principal federal agency responsible for maritime safety and security. The Coast Guard maintains and uses MISLE—a data system that tracks and reports results data for nearly all Coast Guard missions.
GAO was asked to review the status of MISLE and efforts to update it. This report examines (1) the extent to which MISLE supports Coast Guard operations and decision-making; (2) the extent to which the Coast Guard has policies, procedures, and training to ensure reliable MISLE data; and (3) Coast Guard efforts to enhance, upgrade, or replace MISLE since 2008. GAO reviewed Coast Guard plans and performance documents, policies and procedures related to MISLE data entry; select performance data for four missions from fiscal years 2014 through 2018, the most recent data available; and Coast Guard and DHS systems engineering life cycle and acquisition frameworks. GAO also interviewed Coast Guard field and headquarters MISLE users.
GAO is making four recommendations, including that the Coast Guard (1) assess and address the causes of data errors and inconsistent data entries, (2) develop a mission needs statement, and (3) identify and analyze alternatives to select solutions to meet mission needs. The Coast Guard concurred with all recommendations and said it plans to replace MISLE.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|United States Coast Guard||The Commandant of the Coast Guard should ensure that the Deputy Commandant for Mission Support assesses and addresses the causes of data errors and inconsistent entries in MISLE as identified by program offices and MISLE users, including reviewing MISLE training and data validation processes. (Recommendation 1)||
The Department of Homeland Security concurred with this recommendation and said that it will assess the data errors and inconsistencies reported by program offices and users to address the cause of both in the short-term, or as a long-term strategy for correction. In January 2021, the Coast Guard reported it had completed a review of data errors and inconsistencies reported by program offices. According to the Coast Guard, it has submitted, for preliminary review by the Non-Major Acquisition Oversight Council, a MISLE function designed to merge duplicate records. The Coast Guard said that it will reassess data errors and inconsistent entries following completion of the project, which the Coast Guard calls the MISLE Merge Initiative. As of September 2022, the Coast Guard had not begun work on the merge initiative, stating that work had been delayed due to competing priorities and resource constraints. Coast Guard officials stated that they expect work on the merge initiative to begin in the first quarter of fiscal year 2023. We are monitoring Coast Guard's progress on the merge initiative and plan to follow up in fiscal year 2023 for an update. The Coast Guard said that it will reassess data errors and inconsistent entries following completion of the MISLE Merge initiative.
|United States Coast Guard||The Commandant of the Coast Guard should ensure that the Deputy Commandant for Mission Support uses the results of its 2019 Standardization Team assessment of command centers to develop a plan for improving the consistency and accuracy of MISLE data identified in its report. (Recommendation 2)||
The Department of Homeland Security concurred with this recommendation and said that MISLE program managers are reviewing the standardization team's assessment and recommendations for MISLE improvements. As of July 2022 , Coast Guard officials said that they had not made any decisions about changes to improve MISLE in response to the 2019 Command Center Standardization Team's assessment and recommendations. In 2021, Coast Guard officials said that the Coast Guard's longer-term solution is to replace MISLE entirely, but work on MISLE's replacement will not commence until fiscal year 2023, which is the first year the Coast Guard will be able to secure funding for the project. These officials cited resource constraints as obstacles for addressing the standardization team's assessment and recommendations in the near term.
|United States Coast Guard||The Commandant of the Coast Guard should ensure that the Deputy Commandant for Mission Support and the Deputy Commandant for Operations use the processes outlined in the SELC to identify needed enhancements across the MISLE system by developing an updated mission needs statement. (Recommendation 3)||
The Department of Homeland Security concurred with this recommendation and determined in May 2020 that MISLE needs to be replaced. In January 2021, the Coast Guard said that it had established an integrated product team to analyze and document the capability gaps, mission needs, and operational requirements for a case management system to replace MISLE. As of July 2022 , the Coast Guard completed the initial step in the process-the March 2021 development of a capability-based assessment, which was designed to assess the processes and resources needed to effectively manage and conduct cases throughout a majority of Coast Guard offices. Based on this assessment, Coast Guard officials stated that the agency expects to complete a mission needs statement for the new system by August 2022. We continue to monitor the Coast Guard's progress on the status and results of the mission needs statement for the new system.
|United States Coast Guard||The Commandant of the Coast Guard should ensure that the Deputy Commandant for Mission Support and the Deputy Commandant for Operations use the processes outlined in the SELC to identify and analyze alternatives, and objectively select the preferred solution for MISLE to meet approved mission needs. (Recommendation 4)||
The Coast Guard concurred with this recommendation and determined in May 2020 that MISLE needs to be replaced. In January 2021, the Coast Guard said that it had established an integrated product team to analyze and document the capability gaps, mission needs, and operational requirements for a case management system to replace MISLE. As of July 2022 , the Coast Guard reported completing the initial step in the process with its March 2021 development of a capability-based assessment, which was designed to assess the processes and resources needed to effectively manage and conduct cases throughout a majority of Coast Guard offices. Coast Guard officials also stated that the agency had completed an initial draft of a mission needs statement for the system and expected to finalize the statement by August 2022.Officials also stated in July 2022 that they planned to start the development of a concept of operations for the system that month, with a targeted completion date of March 2023. Finally, the Coast Guard received $20 million in funds for fiscal year 2022 for the development of the new system. However, Coast Guard officials stated that it is still too early in the development process to determine when the agency will be ready to identify and analyze these alternatives for development. We continue to monitor Coast Guard's progress on the development of the concept of operations and requirements documents.