Skip to main content

Coast Guard: Action Needed to Evaluate Efforts to Address Sexual Assault and Harassment

GAO-24-107388 Published: Mar 06, 2024. Publicly Released: Mar 06, 2024.
Jump To:

Fast Facts

Investigations and reports have shown sexual assault and harassment to be persistent problems in the Coast Guard for decades.

We testified that the Coast Guard has taken action on this over time—including reviewing its policies, practices, and culture, and reporting on areas that could be improved. In November 2023, the agency started work on new efforts to address these issues. For example, it is updating its sexual assault prevention, response, and recovery plan and plans to train service members on it later this year.

But the Coast Guard hasn't developed an evaluation plan to assess whether its efforts are working—which we recommended doing.

A male coworker leaning over a female coworker who is seated in front of a laptop

Skip to Highlights


What GAO Found

The Coast Guard has taken action to address sexual assault and harassment but has not developed a plan to assess its efforts. In a 2020 internal investigation called “Operation Fouled Anchor,” the Coast Guard examined 102 separate allegations of sexual assault from 1990 to 2006 at the Coast Guard Academy and concluded that the academy often mishandled these cases. More recently, service members reported a total of 263 sexual harassment allegations between September 2020 through April 2023, according to Coast Guard data. After media reporting on Operation Fouled Anchor in June 2023, the Commandant directed a 90-day review of policy processes, practices, and service culture relevant to countering sexual assault and harassment in the Coast Guard. The resulting report identified areas for organizational improvement to ensure a culture of accountability and transparency. In November 2023, the Commandant directed the Coast Guard to implement 33 initial actions by certain dates to address the findings of the review and help ensure service members have an experience free from sexual assault and harassment (see figure). The actions span six categories, including training, the academy, and information and data. According to Coast Guard officials, they have completed five actions as of February 2024.

Number of Coast Guard Planned Actions Each Month to Respond to Sexual Assault and Harassment and Selected Examples

The Commandant-directed actions include administering a Coast Guard-wide survey and analyzing survey results. However, the service has not developed an evaluation plan to assess the results of its 33 initial actions. According to Coast Guard officials, they have had discussions about assessing the results of the actions but have not developed plans or mechanisms to do so because measuring culture change is difficult. However, these officials identified certain resources, such as employee surveys and Department of Defense officials, that could prove useful in this effort.

Developing an evaluation plan and mechanisms for assessing the effectiveness of actions taken to improve its culture of accountability and transparency would better ensure that Coast Guard has the information it needs to evaluate whether the actions are helping service members have an experience free from sexual assault and harassment. Further, taking these steps would help ensure the service is improving its culture, which could assist in the recruitment and retention of its workforce.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Coast Guard is a maritime military service within the Department of Homeland Security that employs more than 55,000 personnel. Sexual assault and harassment have a negative effect on the victims, negatively affect retention, and disrupt mission readiness.

This statement discusses the Coast Guard's recent efforts to address sexual assault and harassment.

GAO analyzed Coast Guard documents, interviewed agency officials, and reviewed prior GAO reports on Department of Defense and Coast Guard efforts to prevent sexual assault and harassment. We also compared Coast Guard efforts to the Commandant instruction on internal controls as well as federal internal control standards.


Previously, GAO has made four recommendations to the Coast Guard regarding implementation of laws pertaining to sexual assault. The Coast Guard has fully addressed one of them and GAO continues to monitor implementation.

In this statement, GAO recommends that the Coast Guard develop an evaluation plan and mechanisms for assessing the effectiveness of actions taken to help ensure service members have an experience free from sexual assault and harassment.

The Department of Homeland Security provided technical comments, which we incorporated as appropriate.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
United States Coast Guard The Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard should develop an evaluation plan with mechanisms for assessing the effectiveness of actions taken to help ensure service members have an experience aligned with Coast Guard's core values and free from sexual assault and harassment. (Recommendation 1)
Coast Guard reported in April 2024 that they plan to develop relevant metrics to measure cultural change through various surveys, reports, and other sources. Officials plan to use surveys such as the Defense Organizational Climate Survey (DEOCS), Federal Employee Viewpoints Survey, Workplace and Gender Relations Survey, and Service Academy Gender Relations Survey to assess whether the Service is providing a safe work environment for all its members. According to Coast Guard officials, the estimated completion date is February 2025. We will continue working with the Coast Guard to monitor the progress of these plans.

Full Report

Office of Public Affairs


AssaultCriminal investigationsCultureHomeland securityMilitary forcesMilitary personnelProgram transparencySexual assaultsSexual harassmentAgency evaluations