Fast Facts

Marine inspections help the Coast Guard ensure that ships are following safety, security, and environmental laws.

To address its long-standing challenges in employing enough experienced marine inspectors, the Coast Guard has initiatives underway, including hiring, improving training, and acquiring technology to expedite inspections.

But the demand for inspections has consistently exceeded the supply of inspectors.

We recommended ways to better predict—and meet—the Coast Guard's inspector needs. For example, the Coast Guard could use more industry data on the ships that will need inspections, and more internal data on potential retirements.

A Coast Guard marine inspector uses a tablet to document inspection information.

inspector at a shipyard

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The safe operation of vessels is critical to the maritime sector, which contributes nearly $5.4 trillion annually to the U.S. economy. The U.S. Coast Guard uses a tool called the Sector Staffing Model to assess its marine inspection staffing levels at operational field units for the upcoming year. GAO's analysis of the tool's data shows that the supply of marine inspectors has consistently not met the estimated need (see fig.). However, the Coast Guard collects and analyzes limited data to forecast future workforce and industry trends that could affect the supply and demand for marine inspectors. For example, the Coast Guard collects industry data to forecast workforce needs for certain vessel types (e.g., cruise ships) but not others (e.g., freight vessels). Further, the Coast Guard does not regularly collect and analyze other data, such as future potential retirements, that could affect the supply of marine inspectors. Collecting additional data to forecast future trends in the maritime industry and its marine inspection workforce would enhance the Coast Guard's ability to identify potential future workforce needs.

Percentage of Coast Guard Marine Inspection Workforce Staffed Compared with the Sector Staffing Model's Full Capacity Estimates, 2012 through 2020

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The Coast Guard has initiatives as part of its workforce improvement plan to address long-standing marine inspection workforce needs, but they are at varying stages of completion. For example, the Coast Guard began implementing initiatives to address challenges in four key areas—training and skills, technology, workforce staffing levels, and workforce structure. Specifically, in 2020 and 2021, the Coast Guard developed new training courses, deployed a mobile application that allows remote access to its inspection database, and added 65 new marine inspector positions to help address its shortfall of over 400 inspectors. Other initiatives remain ongoing. However, the Coast Guard has not established performance measures with targets for its marine inspection workforce improvement plan and associated initiatives that would identify desired outcomes and provide a means to measure how its efforts help close workforce gaps over time. Doing so would better position the Coast Guard to determine the effectiveness of its efforts to address its marine inspection workforce challenges.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Coast Guard serves as the principal federal agency responsible for marine safety. A key element of this mission is the marine inspection program, which employs marine inspectors to conduct vessel inspections. However, for decades, the program has faced challenges maintaining an adequate staff of experienced marine safety personnel.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 includes a provision for GAO to review marine inspection workforce issues. This report examines the extent to which the Coast Guard has (1) assessed its marine inspection workforce needs and (2) addressed these needs.

To address these objectives, GAO reviewed Coast Guard policies, workforce assessments, and performance plans; analyzed staffing level data from 2012 through 2020 (the years with comparable data); and interviewed Coast Guard officials.

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Recommendations

GAO is making five recommendations to strengthen the Coast Guard's workforce planning efforts, including to collect additional data to forecast future industry and workforce trends and to establish performance measures with targets and to use them to assess outcomes. The Department of Homeland Security concurred with these recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
United States Coast Guard The Deputy Commandant for Operations should collect additional data on the marine inspection workforce and maritime industry to forecast future workforce needs. (Recommendation 1)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
United States Coast Guard The Deputy Commandant for Operations should require military and civilian marine inspectors to update their competency information in the Coast Guard's human resources database and specify when to make such updates. (Recommendation 2)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
United States Coast Guard The Deputy Commandant for Operations should update time frames and milestones for the marine inspection workforce pyramid initiative through full implementation. (Recommendation 3)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
United States Coast Guard The Deputy Commandant for Operations should develop performance measures with targets for the marine inspection workforce improvement plan and associated initiatives. (Recommendation 4)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
United States Coast Guard The Deputy Commandant for Operations should assess the outcomes of the marine inspection workforce improvement plan and associated initiatives. (Recommendation 5)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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