Coast Guard: Information on Defense Readiness Mission Deployments, Expenses, and Funding

GAO-21-104741 Published: Sep 15, 2021. Publicly Released: Sep 15, 2021.
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Fast Facts

The U.S. Coast Guard has several missions, including "defense readiness"—maintaining the training and capability to integrate with DOD's forces when needed.

The defense readiness mission accounted for a small portion of Coast Guard vessel and aircraft deployments and associated expenses from FY 2011 through 2020. But the Coast Guard also supports DOD when deploying for its other missions, such as drug interdiction, polar ice operations, and coastal security.

In the period of FY 2011 through 2020, appropriations for Coast Guard operations remained flat—with those for defense-related activities declining about 20% (adjusted for inflation).

Coast Guard and Naval Vessels Conducting Operations

Coast Guard and Naval Vessels at sea

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Why GAO Did This Study

One of the six armed forces, the U.S. Coast Guard is a multimission maritime military service within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It is responsible for implementing 11 statutory missions. One mission—Defense Readiness—requires the Coast Guard to maintain the training and capability needed to integrate with DOD forces.

The National Defense Authorization Act of 2021 included a provision for GAO to review the allocation of resources by the Coast Guard to support its Defense Readiness mission.

This report examines how the Coast Guard's deployment of vessels and aircraft and associated operating expenses for its Defense Readiness mission compare with those for its other statutory missions for fiscal years 2011 through 2020 and how they relate to its funding for these years.

GAO analyzed Coast Guard vessel and aircraft deployments and funding from fiscal years 2011 through 2020.

What GAO Found

The Defense Readiness mission accounted for a small portion of Coast Guard deployments and operational expenses from fiscal years 2011 through 2020. The Coast Guard's vessel and aircraft deployments for the Defense Readiness mission accounted for about 5 percent of deployments during this 10-year period—ranking eighth out of 11 statutory missions. However, the Coast Guard also deploys vessels and aircraft to support the Department of Defense (DOD) through its other statutory missions, including Drug Interdiction; Ice Operations; and Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security. Similarly, Defense Readiness represented an estimated 7 percent of the service's total operating expenses for fiscal years 2011 through 2020. The share of the Coast Guard's Defense Readiness estimated operating expenses was lower than those of seven of its 11 missions.

Coast Guard Vessel and Aircraft Operational Hours Expended by Statutory Mission, Fiscal Years 2011 through 2020

Note: Operational hours include the use of aircraft, cutters, and boats for the Coast Guard’s 11 statutory missions. They do not include the time personnel may spend on missions without using vessels or aircraft. We do not include hours expended for support activities, such as training and technology tests.

The Coast Guard's appropriations for operations were relatively flat or declined from fiscal years 2011 through 2020, when adjusted for inflation. Specifically, the operations appropriation—the primary funding source for operations across all missions—was $8 billion in 2011 and $8.2 billion in fiscal year 2020, when adjusted for inflation. The Coast Guard's operations appropriations also included specific funding for defense-related activities, which includes the Defense Readiness mission, as well as its other activities to support DOD. When adjusted for inflation, the Coast Guard's appropriations for defense-related activities declined about 20 percent—from $674 million in fiscal year 2011 to $530 million in fiscal year 2020. In addition to its operations appropriation, the Coast Guard receives reimbursements from DOD for specific activities, such as escorts of Navy submarines conducted by Maritime Force Protection Units and service on combatant commander staffs. About 50 percent of the reimbursements during the 10-year period ($411 million of $844.6 million) were for the Coast Guard's security escorts of navy vessels in U.S. ports. According to the Coast Guard, reimbursements are not designed to replace or cover the costs of its overall commitments to DOD.

For more information, contact Heather MacLeod at 206-654-5574 or

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