Coast Guard:

Actions Needed to Enhance Performance Information Transparency and Monitoring

GAO-18-13: Published: Oct 27, 2017. Publicly Released: Oct 27, 2017.

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Jennifer Grover
(202) 512-7141
groverj@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

The U.S. Coast Guard's (Coast Guard) performance goals generally align with its 11 statutory missions. However, GAO found that the goals representing 5 of the 11 missions do not fully address all related mission activities. For example, despite the Coast Guard's mission to interdict all illegal drugs, the agency's two performance goals related to that mission are for cocaine interdiction only, excluding many other substances. Developing new goals to address missions, or describing how existing goals sufficiently assess mission performance, could better convey the Coast Guard's progress in achieving its missions to decision makers and the public. The Coast Guard also does not report all of its performance goals in publicly available documents, limiting congressional and public awareness of the Coast Guard's ability to meet its missions.

Figure: Elements of the Coast Guard's Performance Assessment Process

HL_5 - 100561

The Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have processes intended to ensure the reliability of performance data for the seven selected goals that GAO reviewed. However, the Coast Guard does not consistently document its data limitations for internal and external audiences. For example, the Coast Guard did not document limitations with its performance goal regarding the number of detected incursions of foreign fishing vessels violating U.S. waters. While the Coast Guard reported taking steps to address data limitations with two of the seven selected performance goals that GAO reviewed, the extent of such limitations are not clearly documented. Assessing the extent to which performance data limitations are documented could provide greater transparency regarding the reliability of these data.

Additionally, for the same selected seven goals, GAO found that the Coast Guard documented an explanation for why it did or did not meet each performance goal reported to DHS, as well as corrective actions for each unmet goal. However, the Coast Guard's corrective actions were not measurable and did not include time frames for implementation. For example, the Coast Guard did not report measureable actions or time frames for evaluating whether additional resources were needed to address its cocaine interdiction goal. The Coast Guard also did not document its efforts to monitor whether the corrective actions it developed for unmet performance goals were implemented or evaluate whether they had the intended effect. Documenting these efforts could enable the Coast Guard to determine whether these actions have been implemented, if they have mitigated any performance gaps, and continue to plan and prioritize its operations to target performance gaps, which is consistent with federal standards for internal control.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Coast Guard, within DHS, is responsible for, among other things, protecting the marine environment and guarding the nation's vast coastline and ports. Using performance goals—comprised of measures, timeframes, and targets—the Coast Guard assesses and communicates its performance.

The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015 included a provision for GAO to review the Coast Guard's performance goals. This report examines: (1) the extent the Coast Guard developed and reported goals that align with each of its missions and address core activities, (2) the extent the Coast Guard and DHS have processes to ensure that data for selected goals are reliable, and (3) the explanations and corrective actions the Coast Guard reported for selected met and unmet goals during fiscal years 2011 through 2015. GAO reviewed applicable laws, policies, and guidance. GAO reviewed the reliability and results of 7 of the Coast Guard's 38 performance goals to include a variety of performance results, data sources, and missions, and interviewed Coast Guard and DHS officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that the Coast Guard develop new performance goals or describe how existing goals are sufficient, publicly report its goals, assess the extent limitations in performance data are documented, document measurable corrective actions and implementation time frames, as well as document efforts to monitor implementation of corrective actions. DHS concurred with all five recommendations.

For more information, contact Jennifer Grover at (202) 512-7141 or groverj@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: In October 2017, the Coast Guard concurred with our recommendation and stated that it will add new measures in future Annual Performance Reports (APRs) and explain what is measured and what is not, as appropriate. In February 2018, the Coast Guard provided GAO with its updated fiscal year 2017 APR. After reviewing the fiscal year 2017 APR we found that it did provide an explanation on why the Coast Guard's two performance goals related to its drug interdiction mission focus on cocaine interdiction, and do not capture performance data for any other illegal drugs. The explanation is consistent with the intent of our recommendation. However, the APR did not include additional goals or an explanation why certain aspects of mission performance are measured while others are not for the 4 other performance goals we previously identified as not fully addressing all related mission activities. In order to fully implement the recommendation as intended, in instances in which performance goals do not fully address all of the respective mission activities, the Coast Guard's APR should include an explanation of the Coast Guard's rationale for why certain aspects of mission performance are measured while others are not.

    Recommendation: The Commandant of the Coast Guard should either develop new performance goals to address mission activity gaps, or explain in the Coast Guard's Annual Performance Report (APR) why certain aspects of mission performance are measured while others are not. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Coast Guard

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 2017, the Coast Guard concurred with this recommendation and stated that it would make its future Annual Performance Report (APR) available on its public website. In February 2018, the Coast Guard reported that the fiscal year 2017 APR was completed and signed. Subsequently, in June 2018, the Coast Guard made its fiscal year 2017 APR publicly available on its website. The APR can be found by performing a search on Coast Guard's website. Officials we spoke with said that Coast Guard published the fiscal year 2017 APR in the same website location where Coast Guard had published its APRs prior to 2010. These actions help increase the transparency of Coast Guard's planned performance and actual results, and make such information more available and accessible.

    Recommendation: The Commandant of the Coast Guard, in coordination with the Secretary of Homeland Security, should make the Coast Guard's future Annual Performance Reports publicly available on the Coast Guard's website. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Coast Guard

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 2017, the Coast Guard concurred with this recommendation and stated that it will add a discussion of limitations for each measure as an appendix to future Annual Performance Reports. In February 2018, the Coast Guard reported that its fiscal year 2017 Annual Performance Report (APR) had been completed and includes an appendix with definitions for each measure, including a discussion of limitations. In addition, in June 2018, the Coast Guard provided additional documentation on its efforts to document limitations with two of the selected performance goals we reviewed--detected incursions of foreign fishing vessels and 5-year average number of recreational boating deaths and injuries. In particular, the Coast Guard provided copies of Department of Homeland Security Performance Measure Definition Form for each of these two goals, which include an explanation of the steps taken by the Coast Guard to ensure the consistency and integrity of related data. Subsequently, in August 2018, Coast Guard officials told us that after assessing the extent to which documentation on performance data reliability contains appropriate information on data limitations they found their documentation sufficient for their needs. The Coast Guard's efforts provide greater assurance that its reporting of limitations is comprehensive and provide greater transparency regarding the reliability and validity of the Coast Guard's performance data.

    Recommendation: The Commandant of the Coast Guard, should coordinate with the Secretary of Homeland Security, and assess the extent to which documentation on performance data reliability, including Performance Measure Definition Forums and DHS and Coast Guard APRs, contain appropriate information on known data reliability limitations, and update these documents, as needed, based on the results of the assessment. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Coast Guard

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: In October 2017, the Coast Guard concurred with our recommendation. In its response, it stated that while not every missed annual performance target warrants a corrective action plan, it will develop a correct actions in appropriate program plans where merited. In November 2017, the Coast Guard stated that they expect to complete annual performance plans for its mission programs in April 2018 that will include initiatives to be undertaken to address significant mission gaps. In February 2018, the Coast Guard confirmed that it was on track for completing these performance plans in April 2018. We will continue to monitor the Coast Guard's efforts to address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Commandant of the Coast Guard should develop and document, in its APR or elsewhere, corrective actions for unmet performance goals that are measurable and include time frames for implementation. (Recommendation 4)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Coast Guard

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: In October 2017, the Coast Guard concurred with this recommendation and stated that it will include in future plans a discussion of corrective action plan status changes from the previously published plans, as appropriate. In November 2017, the Coast Guard reported that it had developed a template for presenting initiatives in annual plans for its mission programs. According to the Coast Guard, the template provides for a discussion of implementation progress and status. Mission program plans are expected to be completed in April 2018. In February 2018, the Coast Guard confirmed that it was on track for completing these performance plans in April 2018. We will continue to monitor the Coast Guard's efforts to address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Commandant of the Coast Guard should document, in its APR or elsewhere, its efforts to monitor and evaluate the implementation of corrective actions for unmet performance goals. (Recommendation 5)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Coast Guard

 

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