A Coast Guard Station Key West 33-foot Special Purpose Craft—Law Enforcement boatcrew, a Coast Guard Cutter Isaac Mayo boatcrew, and a Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations marine unit intercept a 26-foot rustic vessel in the Florida Straits Tuesday, July 17, 2018 with 28 Cuban migrants aboard. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

DHS Needs Methodology to Compare Coast Guard, CBP Marine Operational Costs, Says GAO

With shared responsibility between the U.S. Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection and efforts to better integrate and coordinate their actions, the Department of Homeland Security should develop a way to compare costs of the components’ marine operations, the Government Accountability Office said.

The vast majority of CBP’s Air and Marine Operations (AMO) missions from fiscal years 2016 through 2018 have been for law enforcement activities. For the Coast Guard, training missions accounted for 52 percent of total mission hours at air stations and 43 percent at boat stations.

DHS compares cost per flight for CBP and Coast Guard air operations, but does not conduct cost-per-float assessments on marine operations.

“Development and implementation of a standard cost per vessel underway hour methodology would help ensure that DHS has key information to support its ongoing initiatives to support integration and consolidation of nearby air and marine operating locations,” said the GAO report.

The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 included a provision for GAO to review DHS’s air and marine operations, including CBP and Coast Guard air and marine mission activities, DHS assessments of components’ operating locations, agency documentation, and visits to air and marine operating locations. GAO went to northern, southwest, and southeast border operational points in three states.

“We assessed the reliability of mission activity and results data by checking for missing data and obvious errors; reviewing guidance, documents, and summary data; and interviewing AMO, Border Patrol, and Coast Guard officials about how the data were compiled. We found AMO and Border Patrol mission activity and results data were sufficiently reliable for our reporting purposes of providing summary mission activity and results across operating locations,” states the report to Congress from GAO Homeland Security and Justice Director Rebecca Gambler. “We found Coast Guard’s mission activity data were sufficiently reliable for our reporting purposes of providing summary mission activity data across operating locations. We found Coast Guard’s mission results data for the total of number of lives saved and assisted across air and marine operating locations were sufficiently reliable for our reporting purposes.”

The Coast Guard collects data and reports on its air and marine mission activities by tracking flight hours, float hours, and mission hours — the number of hours an aircraft or vessel spends conducting missions associated with each type of mission activity.

CBP’s AMO has a fleet of more than 100 boats to supports the border security mission, and records each type of mission activity — law enforcement, search and rescue, disaster or humanitarian support, training, and maintenance — for flight and float hours. Additionally, the Border Patrol operates a fleet of over 200 riverine vessels for use between ports of entry; stations reported a total of 230,961 riverine float hours from fiscal years 2016 through 2018, while AMO reported 99,728 float hours.

Coast Guard air stations reported a total of 284,081 flight hours from fiscal years 2016 through 2018, while boat stations reported a total of 724,425 float hours. In addition to training, missions included recreational boat safety, ports, waterways, and coastal security missions, and search and rescue missions.

“DHS headquarters officials identified actions to improve air and marine mission coordination between CBP and Coast Guard. These include ongoing actions to deploy technology to facilitate coordination and information-sharing,” the report said.

In addition to collaborative efforts, technology and communication equipment, and joint operations, CBP and Coast Guard use other coordination mechanisms, such as liaison officers, facility and resource sharing, and coordination procedures. Component officials who met with GAO “identified challenges with technology and communication equipment used to coordinate air and marine mission activities between agencies.”

“Officials also stated that personnel at operating locations lack access to interoperable radios to communicate with partner agencies within their area of operations. In its fiscal year 2020 congressional budget justification, CBP identified actions to improve communication with partner agencies through replacing mobile radios on aircraft and vessels to improve communication during air and marine mission activities,” the report continued. “DHS officials also identified actions to address coordination challenges, including deployment of technology on AMO and Coast Guard aircraft to allow integration and sharing of surveillance technology during mission activities.”

In July 2019, DHS began an OCRSO-led study of CBP and Coast Guard air and marine operating locations, which officials said will support DHS’s efforts to implement its air and maritime initiatives in its agency reform plan.

In 2015, DHS developed and implemented a standard cost per flight hour reporting methodology in response to the explanatory statement accompanying the DHS Appropriations Act. “DHS has not, however, developed a standard cost per float (vessel underway) hour methodology or incorporated such a methodology in its study plan for assessing benefits and costs for consolidating air and marine operating locations. OCRSO officials stated that a standard DHS cost per vessel underway hour methodology has not been developed due to differences among components in marine operations for calculating costs. Further, OCRSO officials stated that unlike the standard cost per flight hour methodology that includes fewer asset types, it would be challenging to develop a standard vessel underway hour methodology due to the numerous different types of CBP and Coast Guard vessels which vary in size and capabilities, such as number of engines with differing fuel and maintenance requirements,” the report continued.

“According to CBP officials, it has not developed a standard cost per vessel underway hour methodology due to lack of DHS-wide guidance which limits the ability to compare costs among DHS’s components due to differences in financial data and agency operations. To develop a cost per vessel underway hour methodology, DHS could use Coast Guard’s reimbursement rate methodology, which was used to develop its cost per flight hour methodology. For example, Coast Guard developed and implemented a reimbursable rate methodology for its vessel types, some of which are similar to vessels used by AMO and Border Patrol.”

GAO recommended that the Under Secretary for Management “develop and implement a mechanism to compare component marine operating costs across components and locations, including a cost per vessel underway (float) hour methodology.”

DHS concurred with GAO’s recommendation and described planned actions to support development and implementation of a cost per vessel underway hour methodology across components.

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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