GAO: Challenges Remain for Coast Guard Response Readiness

Expanded homeland security duties in response to 9/11 have presented challenges the Coast Guard does not seem prepared to meet, according to a new report from the Government Accounting Office (GAO).

For years, the primary function of the Coast Guard was to perform search and rescue missions along U.S. coasts and waterways. A review in 2001 indicated that station readiness – the ability to execute mission requirements in keeping with standards – was declining. As the Coast Guard was attempting to address those issues, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 occurred and with them came changing responsibilities for the Coast Guard.

The report from GAO, "Station Readiness Improving, but Resource Challenges and Management Concerns Remain," found that the Coast Guard "does not know yet the extent to which station readiness needs have been affected by post-September 11 changes in mission priorities." GAO points out that "increases in homeland security operations have clearly affected activities and presumably affected readiness needs as well."

Following the attacks, stations in and near ports received the bulk of port security duties, which increased workloads substantially. The Coast Guard is still in the process of defining long-term activity levels for homeland security "and has yet to convert the homeland security mission into specific station readiness requirements," according to GAO.

Many long-term readiness needs have been mitigated as a result of increased staffing, more training, new boats and more personal protective equipment which were acquired as part of the response to 9/11. However, stations have been unable to meet current Coast Guard standards in the areas of staffing and boats, which the report calls "an indication that stations are still significantly short of desired readiness levels in these areas."

Also, because Coast Guard funding practices for PPE have not changed, stations might not have enough funding for sufficient amounts of PPE in the future.

"The Coast Guard does not have an adequate plan in place for addressing remaining readiness needs," says the report. "The Coast Guard's strategic plan for these stations has not been updated to reflect increased security responsibilities, and the agency lacks specific planned actions and milestones. Moreover, the Coast Guard has yet to develop measurable annual goals that would allow the agency and others to track stations' progress."

The GAO recommends that once security requirements have been defined, the Coast Guard:

  • Revise strategic plans to reflect new security responsibilities and to include specific actions and other mechanisms for meeting station needs.
  • Develop annual station goals
  • Revise practices for funding the purchase of personal protection equipment.

To view a full copy of the report, visit www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-05-161.

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