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US Coast Guard lacks systematic process to improve surge operations, GAO reports

The US Coast Guard (USCG) needs to develop a better system to improve the way it conducts surge operations, according to 21 September report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

“The coastguard must often rely on surge operations to reduce the impacts of catastrophic events, such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria in 2017,” the GAO said in its report ‘Coast Guard: A More Systematic Process to Resolve Recommended Actions Could Enhance Future Surge Operations'.

The GAO noted, “The coastguard documents lessons learned and best practices from surge operations – developing recommendations to improve future surges. But, the coastguard does not have a systematic process in place to track, update, and resolve all recommendations. We recommended that it establish such a process.”

From 2007 to 2020, the USCG conducted 23 major surge operations – high-intensity, short-notice emergency responses to catastrophic events such as hurricanes or oil spills. During these surges, the USCG deployed varying numbers and types of personnel, aircraft, and vessels based on event severity and duration.

Besides developing lessons learned and recommendations based on surge operations, the GAO reported that the coastguard also has processes for assigning recommended actions to appropriate headquarters offices and field units.

“However, GAO's analysis of coastguard data on major surge operations shows that it has not met its goals of (1) resolving 80% of recommended actions or (2) resolving the actions within 18 months of being assigned,” the report said.

The GAO's analysis also found coastguard headquarters offices have a higher proportion of unresolved recommended actions compared with field units.

Without a more systematic process, the coastguard may not address identified issues that could affect its ability to conduct future surge operations, the GAO said.

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