A Coast Guard Station Fort Myers Beach 45-foot Response Boat—Medium Law Enforcement-boatcrew terminated the voyage of a 48-foot uninspected passenger vessel with eight passengers aboard Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019. The vessel was located in the vicinity of San Carlos Bay, Florida. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class David Micallef)

Coast Guard Says it Needs More Manpower, but GAO Slams it for Poor Workforce Assessment

The U.S. Coast Guard recently told Congress that it doesn’t have enough people to meet its mission demands. However, a February 26 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says the service doesn’t have a complete picture of the workforce needed for meeting its mission demands. GAO’s review found that the Coast Guard only has current workforce assessments for a very small number of its unit types.

Since 2006, the Coast Guard has implemented organizational changes to improve its effectiveness and efficiency. During this time, the Coast Guard also created a workforce assessments process to determine the number of personnel and skills required to meet mission needs. In April 2018, the Coast Guard reported to Congress that it was operating below the workforce necessary to meet its mission needs. GAO was consequently asked to review its modernization and workforce assessment efforts.

The review found that the Coast Guard realigned its mission planning and mission support functions through modernization efforts, but did not consistently apply key practices for agency reorganization in implementing the effort. 

Of seven key practices, the Coast Guard did not apply two and partially applied three. For example, the Coast Guard did not measure its progress in achieving the goal of modernization, as key practices recommend. Coast Guard documents for organizational change and associated guidance do not require such practices to be followed.

Regarding staffing requirements, although the Coast Guard has informed Congress that it needs to increase its workforce, GAO found it has assessed a small portion of its workforce needs. Its preferred tool for assessing workforce needs is its manpower requirements determination process, which includes manpower requirements analyses (MRA) and is completed with a manpower requirements determination (MRD). Coast Guard guidance states that MRAs are to be updated every five years, and according to its April 2018 Manpower Requirements Plan, the Coast Guard’s goal is to complete MRDs for all of its 58,000 personnel and 158 unit types. However, the Coast Guard had completed MRAs for 13 percent of its workforce and MRDs for two percent over the past five calendar years.

GAO points out in its new report that the Coast Guard’s plan does not include time frames and milestones for how it will achieve its workforce assessment goal, and information on the resources it needs to complete MRDs for all positions and units has not been updated in 10 years. By updating its plan to complete manpower requirements determinations and obtaining information on the resources needed to achieve its workforce assessment goal, GAO says the Coast Guard will be better positioned to ensure that it has the right number of people with requisite skills in the right units to meet its mission demands and to inform Congress of its manpower needs.

The new report includes six recommendations, all of which the Coast Guard, via the Department of homeland Security (DHS), has agreed with.

The Coast Guard should establish a systematic mechanism to track implementation and measure the Coast Guard’s progress in achieving organizational change goals.  The Coast Guard estimates completing the effort by December 31, 2020. 

The Coast Guard should establish a mechanism to periodically seek and monitor employee satisfaction with organizational change efforts. DHS responded that feedback mechanisms are already in place, but GAO says  current surveys do not capture employee perspectives as organizational changes are implemented. GAO will further investigate current documentation to determine what further action is required to meet this recommendation.

The Coast Guard should update its Manpower Requirements Manual with guidance for how to execute its manpower requirements determination process, and take steps to ensure the process is implemented.  The Coast Guard estimated completing the effort by September 30, 2020. 

The Coast Guard should track and document the extent to which it has completed manpower requirements analyses and determinations for each unit type. The Coast Guard estimated completing the effort by December 31, 2020.

The Coast Guard should update its April 2018 Manpower Requirements Plan to include time frames and milestones for completing manpower requirements analyses and determinations for all positions and units. The Coast Guard estimated completing the effort by March 31, 2022.

The Coast Guard should determine the resources its manpower requirements determination program needs, both staff and funding, to achieve its goal of completing manpower requirements determinations for all positions and units.  The Coast Guard estimated completing the effort by September 30, 2020. 

This is not the first time GAO has berated the Coast Guard for its workforce assessment efforts. In November 2019, GAO recommended that the Coast Guard assess its workforce needs for deployable special forces

The Coast Guard uses specialized forces to protect ports and waters from terrorism, drug activity, or environmental disasters. These forces often rely upon similar skill sets, so most of the specially trained units can perform similar if not the same missions.

However, GAO found this can potentially result in overlapping responsibilities and underutilized units. For example, one unit from Seattle was sent to San Francisco for a mission when there was already another local unit equipped to handle it.

In his State of the Coast Guard Address in March 2019, commandant, Adm. Karl Schultz said the workforce was the cornerstone of success, and that efforts would be taken to make it more inclusive and diverse and for the Coast Guard to become more “people-centric”.

“When asked about our Service, we tend to talk about our missions and operations, or our platforms,” he said. “But if you want to truly understand the Coast Guard, look to the men and women of our Service – they define our strength, our character, and are the foundation of our military readiness.”

Read the full report at GAO

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Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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