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DHS report highlights gaps in Coast Guard readiness, performance

Nov. 2, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
The Coast Guard scored high marks for its environmental-response efforts in 2012, according to a recent report. Here, Coast Guardsmen deploy oil-spill cleanup equipment off Oahu in December.
The Coast Guard scored high marks for its environmental-response efforts in 2012, according to a recent report. Here, Coast Guardsmen deploy oil-spill cleanup equipment off Oahu in December. (Coast Guard)
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Though it improved in some areas of performance during 2012, the Coast Guard largely failed to meet its mission targets last year, according to a report by the Department of Homeland Security.

The Coast Guard met 11 of its 23 mission performances measures, which included nine of 12 non-homeland security targets and two of nine homeland security goals, according to an annual mission performance report by DHS, released in September.

Missed targets included those involving commercial passenger casualties, drug interdiction and defense readiness. The service was more successful in migrant interdiction and environmental response, though the metrics used to measure the service’s performance aren’t always realistic, Coast Guard officials say.

“Some measures with aspirational targets, such as saving 100 percent of people in imminent danger, are not expected to be met,” said Lt. Cmdr. David Kessler, an operations research analyst with the Coast Guard Office of Performance Management and Assessment.

Monitoring the mission

According to the report, the service funded nearly the same amount of homeland and non-homeland security missions; in the end, it spent about 4 percent more time on homeland security.

“The objective of this review was to determine the extent to which the USCG is maintaining its historical level of effort on non-homeland security missions,” according to the report. “To address our objective, we reviewed the resource hours the USCG used to perform its various missions.”

In 2012 the Coast Guard met two of three of its targets to reduce casualties, a non-homeland security mission, which is measured by an average number taken over the previous five years.

The Coast Guard tracks deaths and injuries in three categories: commercial mariners, commercial passengers and recreational boaters. The service fell short of its goal for commercial passenger casualties — totaling 256 where the target was “less than 215.”

It was the second straight year the service fell short of that target, though it has consistently met the others in the past. The service met its targets in the other categories:

■ Recreational boating deaths/injuries: 3,792 in fiscal 2012, with a goal of fewer than 3,972.

■ Commercial mariner deaths/injuries: 426 in fiscal 2012, with a goal of fewer than 455.

Marine environmental response is another key, non-security mission. Hours spent on response efforts dropped by 34 percent last year, while at the same time, the service stayed within its goals for average number of chemical and oil spills over the past five years.

Though the service sets goals for such response efforts, whether these kinds of events occur is largely out of its control. Often, a Coast Guard response can influence the outcome of an incident, Kessler said, but not completely prevent it.

“The Coast Guard tries to set targets that are ambitious, yet realistic — built from reliable baselines,” he said. “In developing such expectations, we do not presume every target will be attained each year.”

Tracking migrants, drugs

That thinking also applies to slowing the flow of cocaine and migrants entering the U.S., which saw some successes and failures last year. The targets are largely aspirational as Kessler explained — it’s difficult to know the exact amount of either that enter the country every year.

The service exceeded its goal of intercepting 43 percent of the total migrant vessels that law enforcement came across last year, coming in at 53 percent. However, it fell short of the 74 percent goal set for all interdictions, including those carried out by other law enforcement agencies.

‘The numbers of illegal migrants entering the U.S. by maritime means, particularly non-Cubans, is subject to estimating error due to migrant efforts to avoid law enforcement,” Kessler said. “Arrival numbers for Cubans tend to be more reliable than other nationalities as immigration law encourages self-reporting of arrival.”

The Coast Guard sets an annual goal for removing cocaine from noncommercial vessels, comparing the amount it seized with numbers from the federal government’s Consolidated Counterdrug Database, which tracks the flow of drugs into the country.

According to the mission performance report, the service only recovered 13 percent of the cocaine brought into the country this way, short of its 17 percent goal. Though the service hasn’t reached its cocaine interdiction goal for the past four years, the 2012 number is up slightly from 12 percent in 2011.

Readiness woes

The report also found a significant hole in overall defense readiness, which DHS measured by assessing the readiness of the service’s high-endurance cutters, patrol boats and port security units: Calculations put the Coast Guard at a 27 percent readiness level, which fell short of this year’s 36 percent goal.

According to the Coast Guard, that low readiness level has a lot to do with the high endurance cutter fleet, which is in need of significant upgrades.

Kessler pointed out that financial woes are the root of many of the service’s gaps in mission performance, despite efforts to increase readiness.

“Examples of these initiatives include initiatives to improve the condition and serviceability of the Coast Guard’s in-service surface fleet and the aging fixed- and rotary-wing air assets,” he said. “Recapitalizing these assets will improve the Coast Guard’s ability to meet performance targets.”

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