GAO Report on Coast Guard Defense Missions

September 22, 2021 11:13 AM

The following is the Sept. 15, 2021, Government Accountability Office report Coast Guard: Information on Defense Readiness Mission Deployments, Expenses, and Funding.

From the report

One of the six armed forces, the U.S. Coast Guard is a multimission maritime military service within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It is responsible for implementing 11 statutory missions. One mission—Defense Readiness—requires the Coast Guard to maintain the training and capability needed to integrate with Department of Defense (DOD) forces.

The Coast Guard deploys vessels, aircraft, and personnel to support DOD geographic combatant commands. For example, the Coast Guard’s Patrol Forces Southwest Asia command in Bahrain—the largest unit outside the United States—supports DOD’s U.S. Central Command with six cutters and the personnel to operate and maintain them.4 The Coast Guard’s defense role has garnered attention in recent years. Notably, in May 2021, one of its Bahrain-based cutters fired warning shots at Iranian naval vessels while escorting a Navy submarine through the Strait of Hormuz.

Section 8247 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2021 included a provision for GAO to review Coast Guard resource allocations for its Defense Readiness mission.5 To address this provision, this report describes the Coast Guard’s deployment of vessels and aircraft and associated operating expenses for its Defense Readiness mission compared with those for its other statutory missions for fiscal years 2011 through 2020—and how they relate to its funding for these years.

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To determine Coast Guard deployments, we analyzed Coast Guard vessel and aircraft operational hour data for each of its 11 statutory missions and commitments of forces to support DOD combatant commands for fiscal years 2011 through 2020. We also analyzed documentation, such as Coast Guard annual operational plans. To determine the Coast Guard’s operating expenses and funding, we analyzed the service’s Mission Cost Model operating expense estimates for its 11 statutory missions, appropriations, and DOD reimbursements for fiscal years 2011 through 2020. We determined that control activities and quality information were significant for ensuring the reliability of the data. We interviewed relevant agency officials, reviewed related documentation, and assessed the data for missing data and obvious errors. We determined that the vessel and aircraft operational hour data and Mission Cost Model estimates were sufficiently reliable for the purposes of analyzing resource use over time.

We also interviewed officials from Coast Guard headquarters and its Atlantic and Pacific Area commands for perspectives on Defense Readiness deployments, operating expenses, and funding levels and the reasons for any trends during the period.9 We interviewed DOD officials to obtain their perspectives on Coast Guard support for DOD.

We conducted this performance audit from January 2021 to September 2021 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives.

The Coast Guard’s Defense Readiness mission is to ensure Coast Guard personnel, vessels, and aircraft are capable and equipped to support DOD operations—specifically those identified in a 2008 Memorandum of Agreement between DHS and DOD. As part of its Defense Readiness mission, the Coast Guard carries out operations and exercises, including securing Washington, D.C. airspace and providing force protection for the Navy.

The Coast Guard funds its defense operations through appropriations for Operations and Support (operations), appropriations for defense-related activities, and reimbursements from DOD. Notably, the Coast Guard does not develop its operations budget–-the section of the Coast Guard budget it uses to fund operations—by mission. Rather, it bases the budget on cost categories, such as vessels, aircraft, and personnel. Officials explained that this is because these are key cost drivers and perform multiple statutory missions.

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