Coast Guard:

Actions Needed to Close Stations Identified as Overlapping and Unnecessarily Duplicative

GAO-18-9: Published: Oct 26, 2017. Publicly Released: Oct 26, 2017.

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What GAO Found

GAO found that the U.S. Coast Guard has a sound process for analyzing its boat stations that includes clear and specific steps for analyzing the need for stations using terms that can be readily defined and measured. In 2013, following this process, the Coast Guard and its contractor identified 18 unnecessarily duplicative boat stations with overlapping coverage that could be permanently closed without negatively affecting the Coast Guard's ability to meet its 2-hour search and rescue (SAR) response standard and other mission requirements. The process was designed to ensure the Coast Guard met or exceeded requirements to maintain SAR coverage and to account for such factors as boat downtime and surge capacity to respond to certain incidents. Further, the boat station analysis did not consider potential SAR responses by the Coast Guard's air stations and facilities, which can provide additional overlapping coverage. Coast Guard officials said that the closures would, among other things, help improve operations by consolidating boat station caseloads to help ensure personnel were active enough to maintain training requirements.

Overlap of Coast Guard Search and Rescue Coverage Provided by Boat Stations, Air Stations, and Air Facilities as of May 2017

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In 2017, the Coast Guard affirmed that its leadership believes the 2013 study remains valid, but so far the agency has not taken actions to implement the closures identified by its sound process. Instead, the Coast Guard is recommending conversion of some year-round stations to seasonal stations that would operate during the summer. Coast Guard officials stated that seasonal closures are preferable to no action, given its limited resources, the significant overlapping SAR coverage, and potential to improve operations. However, permanently closing unnecessarily duplicative stations may better position the Coast Guard to improve its operations. It could also achieve up to $290 million in cost savings over 20 years, if stations were permanently closed.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Coast Guard, within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is charged with preventing loss of life, injury, and property damage in the maritime environment through its SAR mission. It maintains over 200 stations with various assets, such as boats and helicopters (depending on the station), along U.S. coasts and inland waterways to carry out this mission, as well as its other missions such as maritime security. Resource limitations and changes to operations require the Coast Guard to periodically reexamine the need for these stations. GAO was asked to review these efforts.

This report addresses, among other objectives, the extent to which the Coast Guard has (1) a sound process for analyzing the need for its boat stations and (2) taken actions to implement its boat station process results. GAO reviewed Coast Guard laws, standards, and guidance; analyzed Coast Guard data on station locations and SAR coverage; and analyzed the process and criteria used to evaluate its station needs and compared it with established evaluation design practices and internal control standards. GAO also interviewed Coast Guard officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making three recommendations, including one recommendation that the Coast Guard close unnecessarily duplicative stations that its analysis identified. DHS concurred with the recommendations and stated it plans to act to eliminate unnecessary duplication.

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

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: In 2017, GAO reported that a 2014 Coast Guard contracted analysis of selected air stations and air facilities identified overlap and unnecessary duplication but it did not comprehensively review all air stations and air facilities. The analysis determined that certain air facilities (Newport, Oregon, and Charleston, South Carolina) provided overlapping search and rescue coverage, some of which was unnecessarily duplicative. Coast Guard officials used the results of this analysis to support proposed closures of the air facilities in the President's Fiscal Year 2014 Budget. However, shortly before their planned closure date, the Coast Guard encountered strong opposition to the closures at the local, state, and Congressional levels, and did not close them. The Coast Guard agreed with GAO's recommendation that it establish and follow a sound air station optimization process and comprehensive analysis to determine what changes may be needed. In its December 2017 60-Day letter response, DHS said the Coast Guard will utilize the FY 2020 Planning, Programming, Budget, and Execution cycle to identify efficiencies in air station optimization and that the cycle is proceeding as planned. However, the response did not say whether the Coast Guard will act on findings and permanently close stations identified as overlapping, unnecessarily duplicative, and unnecessary, if any are identified. As of August 2018, the agency has not taken action to address it.

    Recommendation: The Commandant of the Coast Guard should establish and follow a sound air station optimization process similar to its process for analyzing boat stations to allow it to comprehensively analyze its need for air stations and air facilities and determine what changes may be needed. (Recommendation 1)

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

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: In 2017, GAO reported that the Coast Guard has a sound process for analyzing its boat stations that includes clear and specific steps for analyzing the need for stations using terms that can be readily defined and measured. A 2013 analysis of Coast Guard stations identified unnecessary duplication and recommended certain stations that could be permanently closed without negatively affecting the Coast Guard's ability to meet its 2-hour search and rescue response standard and other mission requirements; however, as of August 2017 the Coast Guard had not closed any stations, nor developed a plan with time frames for closing stations even though Coast Guard leaders said the results of the analysis remain valid. Closing unneeded stations has historically been difficult due to public concern about the effect of closures on local communities and other factors. In some cases over the years, Congress has intervened and enacted federal laws that have affected Coast Guard's proposed closures. Nevertheless, the Coast Guard agreed with GAO's recommendation that it establish a plan with target dates and milestones for closing stations. In its December 2017 60-Day letter response, DHS said the Coast Guard Office of Boat Forces continues to evaluate the optimal number, location, and configuration of stations to better meet mission requirements, and is finalizing analysis of operational needs in Coast Guard Districts One (D1) and Five (D5). As of August 2018, the agency has not taken action to address it.

    Recommendation: The Commandant of the Coast Guard should establish a plan with target dates and milestones for closing boat stations that it has determined, through its 9-step process and subsequent analysis, provide overlapping search and rescue coverage and are unnecessarily duplicative. (Recommendation 2)

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

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: In 2017, GAO reported that the Coast Guard has not taken action to implement the results of its analyses which recommended station closures even though it has completed requirements to pursue some station closures. For example, a 2013 analysis of Coast Guard stations identified unnecessary duplication and recommended certain stations that could be permanently closed without negatively affecting the Coast Guard's ability to meet its 2-hour search and rescue response standard and other mission requirements. However, as of August 2017 the Coast Guard had not closed any stations, nor developed a plan with time frames for closing stations even though Coast Guard leaders said the results of the analysis remain valid. GAO reported that the Coast Guard had not closed stations because past efforts to close stations (eight attempts since 1973) were met with resistance from affected communities and instances where the Congress intervened. Nevertheless, the Coast Guard agreed with GAO's recommendation that it establish a plan with target dates and milestones for closing stations. In its December 2017 60-Day letter response, DHS said that once analyses of the need for and locations of boat stations are completed for Coast Guard Districts One and Five, the Coast Guard will commence Congressional engagement and public outreach regarding any operational changes to D1 and D5 stations, if any, including processing feedback from stakeholders before making final decisions on recommended changes. As of August 2018, the agency has not taken action to address it.

    Recommendation: The Commandant of the Coast Guard should take action to close the stations identified according to its plan and target dates. (Recommendation 3)

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

 

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