The US Coast Guard has not fully addressed a variety of risks that could affect the success of its planned implementation of a crew rotation concept (CRC) to increase the operational performance of its national security cutter (NSC) fleet, according to a recent audit by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The Coast Guard, which operates under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is responsible for safeguarding the nation’s maritime environment. To carry out its maritime safety missions, the Coast Guard maintains a fleet of NSCs, the largest and most capable multimission cutters in the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard is currently in the process of replacing its 12 aging high-endurance cutters with 8 NSCs. In 2006, the Coast Guard determined NSCs could increase days away from home port (DAFHP) from 185 to 230 by using a CRC. Unlike the one-crew-one-cutter concept, under CRC, additional crews are created to rotate among the NSCs.
GAO stated in its audit report that, “In September 2014, senior-level Coast Guard officials stated that a key goal for the NSCs to achieve 230 DAFHP using rotational crewing was to save acquisition costs by increasing the operational performance overall while having to acquire fewer new cutters.”
Although the Coast Guard planned to implement rotating crews beginning in 2011, the Coast Guard delayed CRC feasibility testing until 2019—13 years after the Coast Guard’s initial decision to use the CRC—after experiencing delays in the delivery of the first NSC and discovering acquisition costs of the 8 NSCs had increased by $2.2 billion compared to initial estimates.
Coast Guard officials told GAO CRC testing would take two years to complete. Consequently, a determination regarding the feasibility of CRC is not expected until fiscal year 2021, some 15 years after first deciding to use the concept.
In the meantime, the Coast Guard has developed and is implementing an interim plan for its 3 operational NSCs to achieve 210 DAFHP. However, the 210 DAFHP Implementation Plan added crew members who do not possess the recommended mix of skills and abilities to help bear the increased workload instead of using rotating crews.
“In fiscal year 2013, the first full year that the goal to achieve 210 DAFHP was in place, the 2 NSCs that were operational during that time period, the Bertholf and the Waesche, did not achieve the goal of 210 DAFHP," GAO reported, pointing out that, "Coast Guard officials told us that the NSCs did not achieve 210 DAFHP because of unanticipated budget cuts because of sequestration and a 100-day system installation on the Waesche.”
In addition, the Coast Guard has yet to determine which model of rotational crewing to test and does not plan to make that decision, or finalize the CRC plan, until December 2017. As of December 2014, the Coast Guard could not provide GAO with details about whether it plans to use rotational crews to achieve 230 DAFHP.
Further, the Coast Guard could not provide GAO with complete details about whether the finalized CRC plan will include actions to address and effectively mitigate various risks including staffing, maintenance requirements, homeporting plans, crew schedules and training.
For example, as of the end of fiscal year 2014, the Coast Guard had not determined whether the NSC crew structure recommended by its manpower requirements analysis would be in place under the CRC, which may make it difficult to assign the appropriate personnel when the CRC feasibility test is to begin in fiscal year 2019.
In addition to not determining the needed number of crew members, the Coast Guard’s current measure used to determine the operational performance of the NSC fleet is not an accurate measure of time spent conducing operations because it can include time that a vessel is undergoing maintenance away from its home port. Consequently, the number of operational days will likely be overstated.
Moreover, senior Coast Guard officials said the 135 maintenance days was determined by subtracting 230 DAFHP from 365 days in a calendar year, and not based on an analysis of actual maintenance days needed.
“If these risk factors are not addressed and mitigated in a timely manner, these factors could affect the success and effectiveness of the Coast Guard’s planned CRC feasibility tests in 2019, as well as the overall feasibility of its goal to achieve 230 DAFHP using the CRC,” GAO’s audit report stated.
GAO provided 8recommendations, including the Coast Guard fulfill its recommended NSC staffing requirements, specify mitigating actions to address risk factors identified in GAO’s report, develop interim milestones for the mitigation actions to be taken and develop a timeframe for implementing alternative operational performance measures prior to CRC testing.
DHS concurred with GAO’s recommendations.
“As the Coast Guard continues to develop its CRC plan, establishing interim milestones for carrying out the actions needed to address and effectively mitigate these risks would help ensure that it addresses the risks in a timely manner,” GAO said.