oversight

Coast Guard: Better Process Needed to Justify Closing Search and Rescue Stations

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-03-06.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                       United   States   General   Accounting   Office


        GAO            Report to Congressional Requesters




’

:.
        March   1990
                       COASTGUARD
                       Better Process Needed
                       to Justify Closing
                       Search md Rescue
                       Stations




    r
B-238523

March 6,199O

The Honorable Frank Lautenberg
Chairman, Subcommittee on Transportation
   and Related Agencies
Committee on Appropriations
I Jnited States Senate

The Honorable William Lehman
Chairman. Subcommittee on Transportation
Committee on lZppropriations
House of Representatives

The Honorable John B. Rreaux
Chairman, Subcommittee on Merchant Marine
Committee on Commerce, Science.
   and Transportation
I Jnited States Senate

The Honorable W. .J. Tauzin
Chairman, Subcommittee on Coast Gitard
  and Navigation
Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries
House of Representatives

This report, required by the Department of Transportation and Related Agencies
Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 1989 (PI,. 100-457, Sept. 30, 1988) discusses the Coast
Guard’s process and criteria used to justify closing search and rescue stations.

As arranged with your offices, unless you publicly announce its contents earlier, we plan no
further distribution of this report until 30 days after the date of this letter. We will then send
copies to the Secretary of Transportation; Commandant of the Coast Guard; Director, Office
of Management and Budget; and other interested parties.

This work was performed under the direction of Kenneth M. Mead, Director, Transportation
Issues, who can be rcachc>d at (202) 275-l 000. Other major contributors are listed in
appendix III.



             1’

    m&l Peach
.J. Dexter
Assistant, Comptroller General
                           Executive   Summuy




                           Further, poor documentation raised uncertainties as to whether the cri-
                           teria were applied consistently. Finally, the data which the Coast Guard
                           based its closure decisions on were inaccurate or incomplete.

                           Coast Guard officials told GAO that the quality of the 1988 decision pro-
                           cess was strongly influenced by the need to make decisions quickly
                           because of budgetary constraints. GAO noted that the Coast Guard has
                           experienced funding shortages before and has attempted to make reduc-
                           tions to its SAR activities without success in recent years. Such decisions,
                           including the 1988 decisions, are politically sensitive, thereby making it
                           more imperative that congressional decision makers are convinced that
                           the Coast Guard’s decisions are based on a sound process that includes
                           criteria that adequately address its SAR, as well as other missions. The
                           Coast Guard should apply the criteria consistently to all stations nation-
                           wide; ensure that the data are complete and accurate; and document the
                           decision process.



Principal Findings

Decisions Based on Prior   As the Congress debated the fiscal year 1988 Department of Transporta-
                           tion and Related Agencies appropriation bill, Coast Guard officials rec-
Studies
                           ognized that the appropriation amount being considered would create a
                           funding shortfall. Since the bill was not passed until almost 3 months
                           into the fiscal year (1988), they needed to move quickly to save as much
                           money as possible during the remainder of the fiscal year. As a result,
                           the Coast Guard headquarters staff developed a list of 34 candidate sta-
                           tions for closure or reduction baaed primarily on 2 studies. One, a 1985
                           Great Lakes consolidation study, recommended closing or reducing oper-
                           ations at certain stations in the Great Lakes area. The other, a 1986
                           Gramm-Rudman-Hollings budget reduction study for fiscal years 1986
                           and 1987, recommended closing or reducing operations at 25 boat sta-
                           tions, including 7 that were in the Great Lakes study.

                            By primarily using the studies as the basis for its 1988 decisions, the
                            Coast Guard did not review the need for all stations and did not factor
                            in conditions that changed since the studies were completed. Iipdated
                            information may have affected the need for continued Coast Guard SAR
                            presence. For example, the 1985 Great Lakes consolidation study pro-
                            posed that Air Station Chicago be closed. The study stated that the City



                            Page 3                           GAO/RCED-9098   Search and Rescue Station   Closings
                          ExecutiveSummary




Data Incom .plete and     GAO  also found that the data which the agency based its closure deci-
                          sions on were incomplete and inaccurate. Specifically, the decision mak-
Inaccurate                ers (1) did not have complete information on alternative sources of SAR
                          assistance because this information was not maintained at headquar-
                          ters; (2) considered data in the determination of the need for services
                          that were, in some cases, inflated because stations were credited with
                          saving lives when they did not; and (3) used incorrect information on
                          the ability to maintain a 2-hour response standard because normal delay
                          periods for getting underway and searching, and delays caused by
                          inclement weather were not included in its calculations.

                          Applying evaluation criteria to data containing errors and omissions
                          could result in the selection of the wrong stations for closure or reduc-
                          tion. For example, fiscal year 1986 SAR data credited 1 station on Lake
                          Michigan, which was not considered for closure in 1988, with saving 25
                          lives. However, 16 of the 25 lives had actually been saved by Air Station
                          Chicago or nonfederal SAR units in the area.


                                  recommends that the Secretary of Transportation
Recommendations           GAO


                        . improve the process used in deciding on SAR station closure and reduc-
                          tions by establishing formal instructions which identify the criteria to be
                          applied in making closure decisions, direct decision makers to apply
                          selection criteria consistently to all stations under consideration for clo-
                          sure, and require complete documentation of the reasons for the
                          selections;
                        . improve the criteria used in the selection process by adding, at a mini-
                          mum, to the criteria a measurement of the impact that closures and
                          reductions have on saving lives and carrying out other Coast Guard mis-
                          sions; and
                        . require that complete, current, and accurate data be made available and
                          used in the application of the criteria.


                                discussed the contents of this report with Coast Guard officials. The
Agency Comments           GAO
                          officials were in general agreement with the report, and GAO incorpo-
                          rated their clarifying comments as appropriate. However, as requested,
                          GAO did not obtain official agency comments on a draft of this report.




                          Page5
Appendixes   Appendix I: GAO Performed Work at the Following Coast                             34
                 Guard Locations
             Appendix I: Coast Guard’s Recommended SAR Changes in                              35
                 Operational Status, 1985-88
             Appendix III: Major Contributors to This Report

Table        Table 3.1: Application of the Criteria the Coast Guard
                  IJsed to Justify Station Selection for Closure or
                 Reduction




                                 -
             Abbreviations

             DOT       Department of Transportation
             GAO       General Accounting Office
             OMH       Office of Management and Budget
             SAK       Search and rescue


             page 7                           GAO/ItCEJHM%98   Search and Rescue Station   Cl&ngs
                          Chapter 1
                          Introduction




                          According to a former Commandant of the Coast Guard, recreational
                          boating was a limited concern of the Congress prior to World War II
                          even though Coast Guard SAR activities did respond to recreational
                          boater mishaps. Recreational boating mushroomed after World War II.
                          For example, 131,000 motorized recreational boats were sold in 1950,
                          but 22 years later, sales totaled 438,000. Recreational boating and the
                          construction of marinas have continued to escalate through the 1970s
                          and 198Os, according to Coast Guard officials. Retailers enjoyed their
                          best year in 1988, selling about 749,000 recreational craft. The National
                          Marine Manufacturer Association estimated that owned recreational
                          boats had grown from about 9 million in 1970 to about 15 million in
                          1988. Construction of new Coast Guard SAR stations has been primarily
                          responsive to this phenomenal growth, with some located at small boat
                          harbors.

                          Since 1844, the Coast Guard and its predecessor agencies have estab-
                          lished over 400 SAR stations. About 200 of these stations have been
                          closed, destroyed by storms, or transferred to other government agen-
                          cies Coast Guard officials offer a number of reasons as to why the
                          larger boating population does not require commensurate growth in SAR
                          stations, such as stricter construction standards for boats, a better edu-
                          cated and trained boating public, and better SAR facilities and
                          technology.


                          Safety of life and property at sea has traditionally been the primary
Current Coast Guard       objective of the Coast Guard. The agency has three major strategies
SAR Program               directed toward the accomplishment of this objective:

                      . Developing, in cooperation with other domestic and foreign agencies and
                        organizations, distress prevention measures such as vessel construction
                        standards, maritime regulations, and techniques for alerting others.
                      l Executing SAR missions through a communication network that controls
                        Coast Guard vessels and aircraft as well as other available non-Coast
                        Guard assets.
                      . Pursuing an active liaison, both at the national and international level,
                        to develop an effective global SAR system.

                          The Coast Guard currently maintains a SAR system on the coasts, Great
                          Lakes, and other inland lakes and waterways subject to the jurisdiction
                          of the United States. The system consists of more than 170 shore facili-
                          ties that operate over 1,800 small boats (hereinafter referred to as “boat
                          stations”) and 26 air stations with over 200 aircraft. These facilities are


                          Page 9                           GAO/RCED9O-98   Seamh and Rescue Station   Closings
                      Chapter1
                      Introduction




                      lives (85.1 percent) of those at risk of death in fiscal year 1986, and
                      7,002 lives (86 percent) of those at risk of death in fiscal year 1987.


                      In line with the Coast Guard’s multi-mission responsibilities, SAR stations
Coast Guard SAR       could be involved in a number of programs beyond the traditional safety
Stations Have         at sea mission. These other programs include military readiness, drug
Additional Missions   interdiction, aids to navigation, bridge administration, boating safety,
                      port safety and security, marine environmental response, and enforce-
                      ment of laws and treaties. Depending on the geographical area, some
                      stations are tasked with only a few missions, while others are responsi-
                      ble for a greater number of missions. For example, some stations, such
                      as St. Clair Flats, Michigan, have little or no drug interdiction activities
                      and only participate in the recreational boating safety program in addi-
                      tion to SAR missions. Others, such as Fort Lauderdale, Florida, are heav-
                      ily involved in drug interdiction and participate in the enforcement of
                      laws and treaties, marine environmental response, port safety and
                      security, and recreational boating safety programs in addition to SAR
                      missions.


                      Over time, the need for SAR stations at particular locations can change as
History of Coast      changes occur in boating activity, in boating equipment, and in the capa-
Guard Closure         bilities of other SAR service providers such as local police and fire
Attempts              departments. The Coast Guard’s decisions to retain or to cease SAR oper-
                      ations, particularly those with low SAR activity, have also been influ-
                      enced by efforts to save money or by funding shortages which
                      prevented the agency from maintaining operations at previous levels.
                      The Coast Guard, Department of Transportation (DOT) Inspector Gen-
                      eral, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have all recom-
                      mended additional station closures and reductions over the past decade.
                      However, in the past 16 years, the Coast Guards decisions to close or
                      reduce operations at SAR stations based on changing conditions, saving
                      money, or meeting funding shortfalls have been politically sensitive
                      because they raised perceptions of potential adverse impacts on the
                      agency’s ability to save lives and property.

                       On at least six occasions since 1973, SARstations were closed or consid-
                       ered for closure. In 1973, 1982, and 1985, the Coast Guard proposed
                       closing or reducing SAR stations, but did not carry out their plans
                       because of political pressure. On the other three occasions, the Coast
                       Guard proceeded with closure and reduction actions without congres-
                       sional intervention. The following summarizes the six occasions when


                       page11                          GAO/RCED-90-98SearehandReseueStationClosings
                             Chapter 1
                             Introduction




                             under Gramm-Rudman-Hollings were not required and, therefore, the
                             selected stations were never closed or reduced.


                             The Congress required, in the Department of Transportation and
Objectives, Scope, and       Related Agencies Appropriations Act for fiscal year 1989 (P.L. No. 100-
Methodology                  457, 102 Stat. 2125 (1988)), that the Comptroller General report to the
                             Congress the results of his evaluation of the criteria the Coast Guard
                             used to close SAR operations, and his recommendations with respect
                             thereto. We discussed the objectives, scope, and methodology of our
                             work with staff from both the Senate and House Appropriation Commit-
                             tees. Accordingly, we

                         l   assessed the process and criteria the Coast Guard told us it used to
                             select SAR stations for closure and determined whether the criteria were
                             applied consistently to all stations and
                         l   determined whether other criteria could or should have been used to
                             determine which stations to close.

                             We interviewed Coast Guard officials to determine the criteria and pro-
                             cess used in selecting SAR stations for closure. In addition, we traced the
                             closure process through applicable documents and interviews to deter-
                             mine if the criteria were applied consistently to all SAR stations. We also
                             identified and analyzed additional closure criteria which could have
                             been used in the decision-making process by interviewing Coast Guard,
                             state, and local SAR officials. Furthermore, we compared the.Coast
                             Guard’s rationale for closing or curtailing operations at a given station
                             with how that rationale might apply to other stations. In addition, we
                             obtained the legislative history of the Coast Guard’s SAR program to
                             determine its authority to open, close, and operate SAR stations.

                             To gain a perspective on how well the closure criteria measured SAR
                             needs in different locations, we visited Coast Guard districts, group
                             headquarters, and boat and air stations in the West and Gulf coasts as
                             well as the Great Lakes to collect information concerning the fiscal year
                              1988 closures and SAR case data. During our work, we interviewed a
                             number of Coast Guard officials at headquarters and various field loca-
                             tions concerning the fiscal year 1988 closure process, the criteria used to
                             make the closure decisions, and the validity of the criteria and support-
                             ing data. (We visited 4 of the 15 stations selected for closure or reduc-
                             tion. See app. I for a listing of all field locations visited.) During our
                             visits, we also interviewed SAR officials to discuss alternative criteria.



                             Page 13                          GAO/RCED9@98   Search and Rescue Station   Closings
Chapter 2

Coast Guard’s Closure and Reduction Decisions
Did Not Consider All SAR Stations

                        Coast Guard officials had very little time to make the fiscal year 1988
                        SAR station closure and reduction decisions. They recognized, almost 3
                        months into the fiscal year, that the appropriation amount being consid-
                        ered would create a funding shortfall and therefore they needed to move
                        quickly to save as much money as possible during the remainder of the
                        fiscal year. As a result, the Coast Guard’s decision process was based on
                        outdated information and/or did not consider all stations, which made it
                        difficult for the Coast Guard to convince the Congress that such politi-
                        cally sensitive actions were justified.


                        In December 1987, almost 3 months into the fiscal year, the Coast Guard
Decision Process Used   recognized that a serious funding shortfall might occur in fiscal year
in 1988 Closures        1988. Headquarters staff members were asked by the Commandant to
Greatly Influenced by   recommend actions that would reduce expenditures. Realizing that only
                        cutting day-to-day operating costs, such as fuel and maintenance, would
Time                    not be enough to make up the funding shortfall, the Commandant
                        directed the Coast Guard staff to consider reducing costs by closing or
                        reducing shore activities, such as SAR and marine safety operations, and
                        by decommissioning ships and Vessel Traffic Service systems. In order
                        to maximize the savings that could be achieved during the remaining
                        months of fiscal year 1988, closure and reduction decisions and actions
                        had to be made rapidly. On December 22, 1987, one week after the
                        expenditure reduction process was started, the Congress passed the
                        Department of Transportation and Related Agencies Appropriations Act
                        of 1988, which contained $72 million less for operating expenditures
                        than the President’s request of $1.964 billion. Unanticipated increased
                        costs of $17 million for overseas purchases and $14 million to absorb the
                        fiscal year 1988 pay raise brought the shortfall to $103 million,

                        In order to reduce costs for SAR activities, headquarters staff developed
                        a list of 34 candidate stations for closing or reduced operations based
                        primarily on two studies. One, a 1985 Great Lakes consolidation study
                        recommended closing the Chicago, Illinois, Air Station and seven boat
                        stations in the Great Lakes area; reducing operations at three other boat
                        stations to summer operations; lowering the level of readiness at one
                        other station; and replacing regular active duty personnel with reserv-
                        ists at another. The second study, a 1986 Gramm-Rudman-Hollings
                        budget reduction study for fiscal years 1986 and 1987, recommended
                        closing or reducing operations at 25 boat stations, including 7 that were
                        in the Great Lakes study. Coast Guard officials told us that staff relied
                        on the studies and ongoing program knowledge because of the limited
                        time available to make decisions. Only 3 of the 34 candidate stations


                        Page 16                         GAO/RCED-99-98   Search and Rescue Station   Closings
                         Chapter 2
                         Coast Guard’s Closure and Reduction
                         Decisions Did Not Consider All SAR Stations




                         The studies that the Coast Guard used in reaching its 1988 closure deci-
Studies the Coast        sions did not evaluate all stations providing SAR services nationwide.
Guard Used Did Not       Furthermore, after they were published-one in 1985 and one in
Consider All Stations,   1986-some conditions at the stations had changed. The 1985 Great
                         Lakes consolidation study was undertaken because of OMB'S direction in
and Some Station         1984 to save $5 million annually by eliminating 150 Coast Guard posi-
Characteristics Had      tions in the Great Lakes area. The study considered the number of SAR
Changed                  responses, severity of the situations involved in the responses, and the
                         cost of each response in evaluating closures and reductions at the 49
                         stations on the Great Lakes only, or about 25 percent of the Coast
                         Guard’s SAR stations.

                         According to Coast Guard officials, the June 1986 nationwide Gramm-
                         Rudman-Hollings study instructed Coast Guard program directors to
                         identify critical and noncritical Coast Guard activities and to propose
                         ways to consolidate, centralize, regionalize, or contract out critical activ-
                         ities or to reduce, transfer, or eliminate non- or less-critical activities. No
                         standard methodology was suggested for this task, and proposed actions
                         were to be supported by the specific assumptions and criteria applied.
                         The Coast Guard could not locate documentation on the number of sta-
                         tions considered during the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings study or on the
                         criteria used to make the closure and reduction recommendations con-
                         tained therein.

                          By using the studies as a baseline for 1988 closure and reduction deci-
                          sions, the Coast Guard overlooked changing conditions which affected
                          the need for continued Coast Guard SAR presence. For example, the 1985
                          Great Lakes consolidation study proposed that Air Station Chicago be
                          closed. The study stated that the City of Chicago’s helicopters could
                          respond to SAR incident,s. However, city police said that in 1988, the city
                          was planning to phase out its helicopters. Likewise, we were told that an
                          additional 2,600 small boat slips were being constructed on Lake Michi-
                          gan in Lake County, Illinois, greatly increasing boat traffic in an area
                         just north of the air station. Consideration of this more recent informa-
                          tion might have negated the selection of Air Station Chicago for clo-
                          sure-a selection that had been based on the dated 1985 study.




                         Page 17                                  GAO/RCEDM-98   Search and Rescue Station   Closings
                            Chapter 3
                            Closure Selection Criteria Need to Be
                            Improved, Documented, and
                            Applied Consistently




                        l The need for Coast Guard services based on trends in SAR emergency
                          responses, severity of those responses, and the lives saved.
                        . Changing technology, including improvements in Coast Guard and boat-
                          ing equipment, such as communications and navigation equipment.
                        . The availability of alternative SAR resources, like the Coast Guard
                          reserves and other federal, state, and local organizations, capable of car-
                          rying out sARmissions.

                            Coast Guard officials told us that cost savings to be achieved from the
                            closures and reductions, including the cancellation of future acquisition,
                            construction, and improvement costs, were not used as criteria. But
                            according to the officials, the amount of potential or future facility and
                            equipment purchase and repair cost savings would have been considered
                            if they had needed “to break ties.” (For a description of criteria that the
                            Coast Guard reported to t,he Congress for closing and reducing SAR oper-
                            ations in fiscal year 1988. see Department of Transportation and
                            Related Agencies Appropriations for Fiscal Year 1989: Hearings on H.R.
                            4794 before the Subcommittee on Transportation of the Senate Commit-
                            tee on Appropriations, 100th Cong. 2nd Ses., S. HRG loo-853 pt. 2, pp.
                            611-612 (1988).


                            The documentation the Coast Guard provided the Congress to support
Documentation Does          its 1988 SAR station closure and reduction decisions only addressed the
Not Demonstrate That        rationale supporting the 15 stations the Coast Guard ultimately selected
Closure Criteria Were       for action. No rationale was given to support decisions to maintain oper-
                            ations at the other 19 stations considered but not selected for closure or
Applied Consistently        reduction. Our review of available documentation raises uncertainties as
                            to whether the evaluation criteria were applied consistently to all 34
                            stations considered for closure or reduction.

                            Table 3.1 was prepared from documentation the Coast Guard provided
                            the Congress to justify its fiscal year 1988 selections for closure or
                            reduction. The table shows that the available documentation raises
                            uncertainties as to whether the Coast Guard applied all of the criteria to
                            every station selected for closure or reduction. For example, while the
                            Coast Guard reported to the Congress that five criteria were used in
                            making its decisions, its documented rationale only addresses four-
                            changing technology was not addressed for any of the selected stations.
                            The Coast Guard applied from two to four of its criteria to justify its
                            decisions-the criterion of who will meet future needs was applied 16
                            times, the need for service 14 times, the 2-hour response 14 times, and



                            Page I9                                 GAO/RCED-W-98   Search and Rescue Station   Closings
                        Chapter3
                        ClosureSelectionCriteria Needto   Be
                        Improved, Documented,   and
                        Applied Consistently




                        were available to perform SARmissions. But 1 of the 19 stations
                        retained-New      Canal, Louisiana-was   also located on an inland water-
                        way near facilities with resources that could respond to SAR
                        emergencies.

                        Coast Guard officials told us that the absence of documentation showing
                        the basis of its decisions on the consistent application of criteria was
                        possibly due to two internal management philosophies. First, they said
                        the Coast Guard’s senior managers had substantial operations experi-
                        ence and, on the basis of this experience, were expected to make peri-
                        odic judgments about the needs for SARactivities as well as for any other
                        operational activities. Second, they said that the lack of documentation
                        could partially have resulted from the Coast Guard’s decision to keep
                        management discussions and closure considerations private because of
                        their sensitive nature.


                        While the 2-hour response criterion used in the fiscal year 1988 closure
Better Indicators for   and reduction decision process relates to a SARstations’ ability to save
Lifesaving              lives, it does not include factors which would provide good measures of
Effectiveness Being     lifesaving effectiveness. Such factors include trends in the locations of
                        routine and emergency SARresponses, reasons for lives lost, and the
Developed               effect of environmental conditions on needed response time.

                        The need for the Coast Guard to consider such factors was pointed out
                        in a DOT Safety Review Task Force report issued in July 1988.’ That
                        report recommended that the Coast Guard allocate personnel and
                        resources on the basis of a nationwide analysis of the nature and loca-
                        tion of SARincidents. However, the Task Force noted that the Coast
                        Guard lacked the data needed to do a nationwide trend analysis of SAR
                        data to determine where responses took place, the underlying reason for
                        distress calls, and why people died or were injured. Therefore, the Task
                        Force believed the Coast Guard was unable to allocate its personnel and
                        resources in the most effective manner. The Task Force also recom-
                        mended that the Coast Guard develop performance indicators that bet-
                        ter measured its effectiveness in saving lives because its 2-hour
                        response standard only measured readiness and did not tell anything

                        ‘TheSecretxyof Transportation  established
                                                                 a SafetyReviewTaskForceto reviewandanalyzethe
                        safetyprogramsat eachoperatingadministration within DOT.TheTaskForcereportsto the Deputy
                        AssistantSecretaryfor Safety.Thatreportaddressed five CoastGuardprogramareas:Commercial
                        VesselSafety,PortSafety,RecreationalBoatingSafety,SAR,andAidsto Navigation.Thr report
                        wornmendeda numberof management     andprogramimprovements   that theTaskForrr believed
                        wouldhelptheCoat Guarddwhargr its responsibilities  nvxerffwtwely


                        Page 21                                GAO/RCED-W-98   Search and Rescue Station   Closings
Chapter 3
Closure Selection Criteria Need to Be
Improved, Documented, and
Applied Consistently




Recreational Boating Safety-Promoting        safe boating by conducting
courtesy inspections and boating education.
Port Safety and Security-Inspecting      ports and waterways for hazard-
ous conditions and providing escort services to ships with hazardous
cargos.
Marine Environmental Response-Minimizing          damage caused by the
discharge of pollutants, such as oil, into the water.
Ice Operations-Assisting    ships in ice to minimize loss of life and
property.
Enforcement of Laws and Treaties-Enforcing         1J.S.laws and treaties on
navigable waters.

Most SAR stations participate in one or more important activities in addi-
tion to SAR. For example, a Coast Guard boat station having been
assigned the mission of responding to boaters in life-threatening situa-
tions could also be called upon to enforce fishing laws, search vessels for
illegal narcotics, or respond to an oil spill.

The criteria that Coast Guard SAR officials said they used for making
1988 decisions did not include the impact a closure or reduction would
have on a station’s program responsibilities, other than SAR. Because
these other missions were not a criterion, the Coast Guard did not docu-
ment the impact the closures would have on them. We found that deci-
sions may have been different if these other program responsibilities
had been considered. For example, Coast Guard officials told us that the
Mare Island and Rio Vista, California, stations were both identified as
candidates for closure. Coast Guard headquarters officials first consid-
ered Rio Vista for closure, but the local district commander later
requested that Mare Island be substituted because the Rio Vista station
would provide better geographic coverage. However, Mare Island had
additional program responsibilities of marine environmental response,
port safety and security, and recreational boating safety while Rio Vista
had only recreational boating safety as an additional responsibility.
According to one petty officer in charge of the station at Mare Island,
potential adverse impacts of its closure could include increased response
times to oil spills because a unit would have to come from a more distant
location such as San Francisco.




Page 23                                 GAO/RCEB99-98   Search and Rescue Station   Closings
    Chapter 4
    Data Used in Making Closure   Decisions   Were
    Incomplete and Inaccurate




    it from the field activities when needed. However, they did not solicit
    this information from their SAR stations during the fiscal year 1988 clo-
    sure process because they did not want to alarm the stations’ staffs
    about pending closures.

    The relationships between Coast Guard stations and other providers
    were only known in any detail at the station level, and the relationships
    exist, with few exceptions, only through informal agreements. Since a
    list of other providers of sAR services, their EARresources, and their
    readiness condition does not exist at the headquarters level where deci-
    sion makers chose stations for closure or reduction, stations with signifi-
    cant services available from other providers could remain open, while
    stations which lacked services from others could be closed. The impacts
    of making a closure decision without adequate data on alternate
    resources can be illustrated by the decision to close Air Station Chicago
    and the decision to retain operations at New Canal, Louisiana.

l The Coast Guard initially selected Air Station Chicago for closure
  because it was identified for closure in an earlier study and because it
  had low SARactivity. The Coast Guard’s intent was to provide SARser-
  vices through its neighboring boat stations at Wilmette and Calumet
  Harbor, Illinois. Chicago fire department helicopters provided a SAR
  capability in addition to that of the Coast Guard. When headquarters
  personnel made the Air Station Chicago closure decision, however, they
  did not know that the City of Chicago was planning to phase out the fire
  department helicopters. If the Coast Guard would have closed Air Sta-
  tion Chicago, it might have left a major metropolitan area without SAR
  helicopter services. According to Coast Guard officials, helicopters are
  preferred for searching because of their ability to arrive on the scene
  quickly and search vast amounts of territory in a short period of time.
  Also, since Lake Michigan is frozen over during the winter months, mak-
  ing boat operations impossible, helicopters become the only SARvehicle
  which can respond quickly to emergencies on the lake during these
  months. In addition, a Coast Guard group commander said that SAR
  depends on the fast response of helicopters at night when some boat
  st,ations go to a reduced readiness condition.
. In contrast to Air Station Chicago, Boat Station New Canal, located on
  Lake Ponchartrain, Louisiana, was supported by a sizable number of
  other Coast Guard and non-Coast Guard SARresources. These resources
  included Coast Guard helicopters from Air Station New Orleans, Coast
  Guard auxiliary boats on the lake, over 60 boats and helicopters from a
  number of sheriffs’ departments in the area, helicopters from the U.S.
  Customs Service, and more than 200 boats from the Louisiana Wildlife


    Page 25                                     GAO/RCED-99-98   Search and Rescue Station   Closings
                      Chapter 4
                      Data Used in Making Closure   Decisions   Were
                      Incomplete and Inaccurate




                      Of the 15 stations selected for closure or reduction in fiscal year 1988,9
                      were to be closed and operations reduced at the other 6. On the basis of
                      its calculations of response times, the Coast Guard reported to the Con-
                      gress that a 2-hour response could still be maintained at six of seven
                      stations it closed. The Coast Guard reported that the two other stations
                      it closed, Lake Tahoe, California, and Kennewich, Washington, were on
                      closed, inland waters and average response times after closure were not
                      applicable.

                      We calculated the approximate times for other Coast Guard stations to
                      respond to cases in the areas of the seven seaward boat stations selected
                      for closure in 1988. Our calculations, including the underway, transit,
                      and search times and the effects of realistic weather conditions on
                      response capabilities, showed that the Coast Guard would have been
                      able to respond within 2 hours for only two of the stations it decided to
                      close-four less than reported by the Coast Guard. Therefore, the Coast
                      Guard would not have been able to maintain 2-hour response capabili-
                      ties at most of the stations it closed.’ For example, Coast Guard officials
                      stated that the boat station at Fairport Harbor, Ohio, and the air station
                      at Detroit, Michigan, could respond to emergencies in the area of Ashta-
                      bula, Ohio, in 75 and 90 minutes, respectively. Our calculations showed
                      that the response times would be 188 and 153 minutes, respectively.


                      Since the primary mission of Coast Guard SAR stations is to save lives,
Statistics on Lives   the number of lives that a station saves is one of the indicators that
Saved Not Accurate    Coast Guard officials use to determine the need for services; and there-
                       fore, the need for a station. However, we found that the information
                       that the Coast Guard uses on lives saved is not accurate because it is
                      judgmental and contains some erroneous data.

                      The determination of whether a life is saved is often based on the judg-
                      ment of the Coast Guard aircraft pilot or small boat operator at the
                      scene of the incident. Coast Guard guidance for developing and report-
                      ing SAKdata states that whether a life was saved depends on the sever-
                      ity of the situation. The guidance states that a life saved means an

                      ‘To calculateresponsetimesafterstationclosure,weobtainedthedistanceto thenearestboatand
                      air statmns.Wethendetermined  thenumberof minutesthat boatsandaircraftat thosestations
                      wouldrequireto transitthedistanceat maximumspeed.Tothistransittime,weaddeda 30.minute
                      readiness timeanda 45.minutesearchtime.Thissumrepresented    a responsetimeunderidealcondi-
                      tions Response timesunderrealisticconditionswerecalculatedin thesamemanner,with theexcep-
                      tion that boattmnsitspeedswerereducedto whatCoastGuardpolicyconsidered     safein 4. to B-foot
                      sea andarcraft speedswerereducedtrynormalcruismgspeeds     statedin a CoastGuardoperations
                      manual


                       Page 27                                    GAO/RCED-90-98   Search and Rescue Station   Closings
                              Chapter 4
                              Data Used in Making Closure   Decisions   Were
                              Incomplete and Inaccurate




                              because in most SAR cases to which the station responded and claimed
                              lives saved, it only assisted the endangered pasengers by refloating or
                              towing a recreational boat after another unit had saved the passengers.
                              The other 16 lives credited to Station Wilmette Harbor were actually
                              saved by helicopters from Air Station Chicago or by boats provided by
                              non-Coast Guard participants involved in the multi-unit cases.


                              Although the Coast Guard did not use potential cost savings arising
Cost Savings Were             from SAR station closure and reduction actions as a criterion for selecting
Based on Inaccurate           the stations, the primary reason it closed or reduced operations at the 15
Estimates                     stations was to reduce fiscal year 1988 and future fiscal year expendi-
                              tures. We found, however, that at the time the Coast Guard selected the
                               15 stations, it had overstated the savings that were to be achieved.

                              The Coast Guard estimated in January 1988 that the 15 SAR station clo-
                              sures and reductions would satisfy about $5.1 million of the Coast
                              Guard’s $43 million fiscal year 1988 budget shortfall-a    reduction of
                              $4.5 million in personnel costs and a reduction of $577,000 in operations
                              and maintenance costs. It made its closure decisions in an effort to save
                              this $5.1 million. However, in April 1988, the Coast Guard found that it
                              had overstated the $5.1 million cost savings by about $3 million for
                              three reasons: (1) personnel costs were overstated by about $10,000 per
                              position, (2) the SAR station closure and reductions occurred later than
                              estimated, and (3) costs to close the SAR stations were higher than
                              anticipated.

                      l       In calculating an annual personnel cost savings of $4.5 million to be
                              achieved through personnel reductions, the Coast Guard, for conven-
                              ience, used a standard cost figure of $30,000 per position which, accord-
                              ing to Coast Guard officials, was a “ballpark” figure of the average cost
                              of a Coast Guard position for fiscal year 1988. Officials in the Chief of
                              Staff’s office used the $30,000 to represent position costs in developing
                              cost information for all facility closings announced in 1988 because it
                              was the amount they historically used. The $30,000 per billet cost used
                              is based on the Coast Guard’s mix of officers, and enlisted and civilian
                              staff. However, no officers or civilians were assigned to the 15 stations;
                              therefore, the Coast Guard should have used a lower enlisted billet
                              standard cost of $20,800, reducing the Coast Guard’s estimated savings
                              by 5 1.2 million. Information was readily available that would have pro-
                              vided a more precise estimate of personnel savings for specific facilities.
                          l   Estimated annual savings from personnel reductions should have been
                              reduced for the portion of fiscal year 1988 that the stations remained


                               Page 29                                    GAO/RCED-90.98   Search and Rescue Station   Closings
Chapter 5

Conclusions and Recommendations


IConclusions
               role in protecting the lives of commercial fishermen, recreational boat-
               ers, and others involved in accidents on the nation’s inland and coastal
               waterways. Budget constraints, and the addition and reprioritization of
               mission responsibilities have and likely will continue to require the
               Coast Guard to evaluate and adjust SAR activities in order to achieve
               economies and efficiencies in its operations. However, while the Coast
               Guard has had numerous opportunities and reasons for improving the
               efficiency of its SAR services it has been unsuccessful, since 1973, in its
               attempts to close SAR stations because it has not been able to convince
               the Congress that such actions were justified and to dispel perceptions
               that its effectiveness in saving lives might be reduced.

               The Coast Guard’s attempt to close and reduce operations of SARstations
               in fiscal year 1988 was unsuccessful as it had been in the past because
               the rationale it provided to the Congress-which      was developed after
               the closure and reduction decisions had been made-was not convincing
               for a number of reasons. First, the Coast Guards evaluation of SAR sta-
               tions was limited in scope, mainly considering stations recommended for
               closure or reduced operations in studies that were 2 and 3 years old.
               Second, the documentation for the Coast Guard’s actions did not demon-
               strate that it applied its evaluation criteria consistently to all stations
               considered. Third, the Coast Guard’s criteria did not measure the effect
               of closures or reductions on its effectiveness in saving lives or perform-
               ing other missions. And fourth, the data the Coast Guard used in apply-
               ing its criteria were not complete or accurate.

               The Coast Guard attributes the nature of the decision process it used for
               the 1988 planned actions on the fact that it had limited time to make its
               decisions. Although the Coast Guard has experienced difficulty in exe-
               cuting SAR station closure and reduction decisions since 1973 largely
               because its planned actions have not been convincing, it has not acted to
               formalize how its decision-making process will be executed and the
               results of its decisions documented. Without applying appropriate eval-
               uation criteria to all SAR stations using complete and accurate data, and
               thoroughly documenting the results of its decision-making process, the
               Coast Guard will likely continue to have difficulty convincing the Con-
               gress that such actions are justified and will not adversely affect its
               ability to perform its SAR responsibilities.




               Page31                           GAO/RCED-9098SearchandReseueStationClosinp
Page 33   GAO/RCED-90-99   Search and Rescue Station   Closings
Appendix I

Coast Guard’s RecommendedSAR Changesin
Operational Status, 1985-88

                                                       Gramm-
                                       Proposed        Rudman-
                                       Great Lakes     Hollings                                 Actual Actions
                                       Consolidation   Proposed            $100 Million         Planned or
                                       FY 1986         Reductions,         Reduction List,      Taken,
                                       Mar. 5,1985     May 2,1986          Dec. 24,1987         Jan. 26,1988
             Lake Tahoe,                               X                   X                    X
             Calif
             Klamath River                             X                   X
             Patrol Calif
             Kaual. Hawall                                                 X                    X
             Eastoort.      Maine                      X                   X                    X
             North Superior,           X               X                   X                    X
             M1fln
             Alexandria       Bay,     X               X                   X                    X
             NY
             Ashtabula.       Ohlo     X               X                   X                    X
             Coqullle River                            X                   X                    X
             Patrol, Oreg
             Rogue Rwer                                X                   X                    X
             Patrol. Oreg
             Block Island, N J                         X                   X                    X
             Kennewck
             Wash
             BayfIeld,     WIS         X               X                   X                    X~
             Shark dwer,         N J                   X                   X                    X
             Frankfort.      Mlch      X                                   X                    X
             Mare Island,                                                  X                    X
             CalIf
             Air Statton                   X                               X                    x”
             ChIcago, III
             Air StatIon                                                   X
             Humboldt Bay
             CalIf
             Fishers      Island,                      x
             NY
             Harbor       Beach.       X
             Mich
             Juneau.       Alaska                      X
             Morlches,       N Y                       X
             New Canal         La                      x
             RIO Vista, Calif                          X                   X
             Qulllayute,      Wash                     X
             St Clalr Flats            X               X
             Uch
             St Clair Shores,          X               X
             Mlch
                                                                                                       (continued)




             Page 35                                       GAO/RCED-W-98       Search and Rescue Station   Closings
Appendix III

Major Contributors to This Report


                        Ronald J. Maccaroni,Assistant Director
Resources,              Steven R. Gazda,Assignment Manager
Community, and          John M. Nicholson, Evaluator
Economic
Development Division,
Washington, D.C.

                        Gregory G. Booth, RegionalManagementRepresentative
Chicago Regional        Robert C. Carmichael, Evaluator-in-Charge
Office                  Sheldon H. Wood, Site Senior
                        Delano B. Pulido, Evaluator




(344441)                Page 37                       GAO/RCElMCl-q   Search and llencue Station   Closi~@~
. . ,.   --..   - ..   .       ,,   .,   _,   ,_   _..   .,,   ,..
                           5

           ‘




i



i.                                                                   &quests     for copies of   GAO   reports   should be sent to:

                                                                     U.$. General Accounting       Office
                                                                     Post Office Box 6015
                                                                     Gabthersburg, Maryland       20877

                                                                     Telephone    202-275-6241

                                                                     The first five copies of each report        are free. Additional   copies are
                                                                     $2.60 each.

                                                                     There is a 25% discount      on orders for 100 or more copies mailed to a
                                                                     single address.

                                                                     orders must be prepaid by cash or by check or money order made
                                                                     out to the 2f11pa~1~;,1li~i~~~
Appendix I
Coast Guard’s Recommended SAR Changes in
OperationaI  status, 1965-68




                                            Gramm-
                          Proposed          Rudman-
                          Great Lakes       Hollings                                 Actual Actions
                          $y9;;dation       Proposed            $100 Million         Planned or
                                            Reductions,         Reduction List,      Taken,
                          Mar. 5,1985       May 2,1986          Dec. 24,1987         Jan. 26,1988
Taylor’s   Island,                          X
Md
Burlmaton.     Vt
San Juan, P.R                               X
Pascagoula,                                 X
MISS
Marquette,     Mlch       X                                     X
Sheboygan.          Wis   X                                     X
Marblehead,               X                                     X
Ohio
Holland,     Mlch         X

“Air StationChicago was removed from the flnal dlrected lkt of 15 stations that were to be closed or
reduced starting on March 1 1988




Page 36                                         GAO/RCED-9098       Search and Rescue Station   Closin6s
GAO Performed Work at the Following Coast
Guard Locations

Districts                        Long Beach, Calif.
                                 Cleveland, Ohio
                                 New Orleans, La.


                                 Milwaukee, Wis.
                                 San Francisco, Calif.
                                 Humboldt Bay, Calif.
                                 Mobile, Ala.
                                 New Orleans, La.


Air Stations                     Chicago, 111.
                                 Humboldt Bay, Calif.
                                 San Francisco, Calif.
                                 New Orleans, La.


Boat Stations                    Sheboygan, Wis.
                                 Wilmette Harbor, Ill.
                                 Calumet Harbor, Ill.
                                 Ashtabula, Ohio
                                 Marblehead, Ohio
                                 Milwaukee, Wis.
                                 New Canal, La.
                                 Mobile, Ala.
                                 Pascagoula, Miss.
                                 Destin, Fla.
                                 Pensacola, Fla.
                                 Gulfport, Miss.
                                 San Francisco, Calif.
                                 Mare Island, Calif.
                                 Rio Vista, Calif.
                                 Lake Tahoe, Calif.
                                 Humboldt Bay, Calif


Aviation    Training   Centers   Mobi1ez
                                       A1a.




                                  Page 34                GAO/RCED-90-98   Search and Rescue Station   Closings
                      Chapter 5
                      Conclusions   and Recommendations




                      We recommend that the Secretary of Transportation
Recommendations
                  l improve the process used in deciding on SAR station closure and reduc-
                    tions by establishing formal instructions which identify the criteria to be
                    applied in making closure decisions, direct decisionmakers to apply
                    selection criteria consistently to all stations under consideration for clo-
                    sure, and require complete documentation on the basis of the selections;
                  l improve the criteria used in the selection process by adding, at a mini-
                    mum, to the criteria a measurement of the impact that closures and
                    reductions have on saving lives and carrying out other Coast Guard mis-
                    sions; and
                  . require that complete, current, and accurate data be made available and
                    used in the application of the criteria.




                      Page 32                             GAO/RCED-99.98   Search and Rescue Station   Closings
  Chapter 4
  Data Used in Making Closure Decisions   Were
  Incomplete and Inaccurate




  open. The stations did not close until after March 1, 1988, or about 5
  months after October 1, 1987-the beginning of fiscal year 1988. In
  light of when the closures actually began, estimated personnel cost sav-
  ings should have been reduced 5/12, or an additional $1.3 million.
. The Coast Guard estimated that the closure of the stations would have
  saved $577,000 in operations and maintenance costs, but Coast Guard
  accounting records show that only $273,000 of the estimated savings
  were realized. We were told that the difference could be attributed to
  costs incurred in closing the stations, and to the stations that were
  closed later than anticipated.

  Because the Coast Guard overestimated the costs of the 15 SAR station
  operations, it also overestimated the savings to be achieved by closing or
  reducing the operations at these stations. As a result, the Coast Guard
  would not have achieved the fiscal year 1988 savings it expected to
  achieve at the time it made the decision to close or reduce the 15 sta-
  tions in January 1988.




   Page 30                                  GAO/ECED-9@9S   Search and Rescue Station   Closings
        Chapter 4
        Data Used in Maldng Closure   Decisions   Were
        Incomplete and inaccurate




        individual was actually rescued from an incident involving either a mod-
        erately severe or severe situation. An incident is moderate if a threat to
        life existed and serious personal injury or loss of life would have
        occurred if action had not been taken, while an incident is severe if indi-
        viduals were either physically rescued from imminent danger or were
        lost.

        Coast Guard officers and senior petty officers that we talked with at
        headquarters, air stations, and boat stations expressed a wide range of
        views as to what constituted a life saved. For example:

l An officer at an air station told us that he would record a life saved for
  any SAR response if he hoisted a person into a helicopter.
l The petty officer in charge of a boat station said a life is saved if the
  victim is pulled out of the water.
l The petty officer in charge of another boat station said the victim would
  have to be rescued from the water or from the hull of a capsized boat.
  However, a person is merely assisted (not considered a life saved) if
  taken from an upright boat.
. The petty officer in charge of another boat station said a life is saved if
  they bring a person who could have perished to shore alive.
  The petty officer in charge of another boat station told us that a life is
    l


  saved when a person is removed from a threatening situation such as a
  boat collision, fire, or a boat taking on water.

        The program branch chief in the SAR Division at headquarters told us
        that data currently reported on the number of lives saved are inaccu-
        rate. He stated that the data were biased because people have different
        views on the severity of a situation. A program director with oar’s
        Office of Inspector General expressed similar concerns over the quality
        of Coast Guard data. He said that some routine cases are classified as
        severe and that the Coast Guard sometimes takes credit for lives saved
        when searches are for bodies. He cited a case in which a Coast Guard
        aircraft flew over a capsized catamaran and claimed several lives saved
        even though a privately owned canoe actually rescued the victims.

        We reviewed fiscal year 1986 SAR data for one air station and two boat
        stations to determine if the number of lives saved that was credited to
        these activities was correct. We found errors in the data that resulted in
        overstating the number of lives saved. For example, Station Wilmette
        Harbor, Illinois, was credited with saving 25 lives, which ranked it in
        the upper one-half on this criterion. However, our examination of SAR
        data for the station showed that it physically saved only nine people


         Page 28                                    GAO/RCED-SIMS   Search and Rescue Station   Closings
                       Chapter4
                       Data Used ln m       Closure   Decisions   Were
                       Incomplete and Inaccurate




                       and Fisheries and other local agencies in the New Orleans area. Station
                       New Canal was one of the 34 stations the Coast Guard considered but
                       did not select for closure in 1988. However, Coast Guard officials who
                       made the closure decisions did not have specific information on the
                       capabilities of other non-Coast Guard SAR providers in the area of the
                       station at New Canal. Therefore, these officials could not assess the
                       potential capabilities of these other providers or make valid compari-
                       sons of the impact of closing the station at New Canal to other stations
                       under consideration.


                       Coast Guard officials told us that maintaining the 2-hour response
Z-Hour Response        standard was a critical criterion in deciding whether a station should be
Standard Incorrectly   closed or not. However, the Coast Guard did not calculate response times
Calculated             correctly because it did not include the time needed to get underway or
                       to search for endangered persons and property. In addition, it did not
                       factor into the response time the calculation of the effects of adverse
                       weather on the ability of the SAR resource to reach the scene of the emer-
                       gency. Therefore, the Coast Guard overstated the ability of remaining
                       stations to aid persons in need of assistance after station closures.

                       The Coast Guard’s 2-hour response standard is broken down into three
                       phases: (1) equipment and personnel are to be capable of getting under-
                       way within 30 minutes of notification (underway time), (2) the person-
                       nel and equipment are to arrive on the scene or in the search area within
                       45 minutes after getting underway (transit time), and (3) units are to be
                       able to locate the persons in distress within 45 minutes after arrival in
                       the search area (search time). We found that in determining if other boat
                       or air stations could meet the response standard after a station closure,
                       the Coast Guard allocated the entire 2 hours for transit, rather than the
                       45 minutes. An official told us that a series of charts was prepared to
                       show the territorial coverage of each station using a 2-hour response
                       standard. He was unable to locate a copy of the charts; however, he said
                       they were probably based on transit times with no allowances made for
                       the time to get underway or to search for the victim in distress.

                       Coast Guard officials also assumed near maximum transit speeds in
                       their calculations even though adverse weather conditions frequently
                       reduce transit speeds and would, therefore, reduce possible territorial
                       coverage in the 45 minutes allotted to transit. According to Eighth Dis-
                       trict Standard Operating Procedures, 5-foot seas can reduce the maxi-
                       mum safe speed of the rescue boat by almost one-half.



                        Page 26                                     GAO/RCED9098   Search and Rescue Station   Closings
Data Used in Making Closure DecisionsWere
heomplete and Inaccurate

                      Coast Guard decisions to close or reduce SARoperations need to be based
                      on complete and accurate data in addition to reasonable criteria. How-
                      ever, we found that the Coast Guard decision makers (1) did not have
                      adequate information on alternative sources of SARassistance; (2) con-
                      sidered data in the determination of actual need for services that were
                      in some cases inflated because stations were credited with saving lives
                      when they only rendered assistance; and (3) used incorrect information
                      on the ability to maintain a 2-hour response standard. Because of such
                      errors and omissions, the wrong stations could be selected for closure or
                      reduction. In addition, while cost was not a criterion, the Coast Guard
                      overestimated the savings that would have been realized from closing or
                      reducing SARstation operations.


Complete Data on      ers assist the Coast Guard in saving lives and property. These other
Other Providers Not   providers permit the Coast Guard to make a more efficient allocation of
Available             Coast Guard personnel, aircraft, and boats. Although availability of SAR
                      services from other providers was a criterion in the decision to close or
                      reduce SARoperations, the Coast Guard decision makers did not have
                      complete data on (1) the locations and resources of such providers and
                      (2) the reliability of their services.

                      The Coast Guard’s National Search and Rescue Manual requires districts
                      to coordinate with all providers of SARservices in their geographic areas
                      of responsibility. These other SARproviders include the Coast Guard’s
                      selected reserves and auxiliaries; other federal agencies, such as the Air
                      Force and Navy; state agencies, such as state patrols and departments of
                      natural resources; and local agencies, such as city police and sheriffs’
                      departments. Coordination with other providers of SARservices is neces-
                      sary because maritime emergencies can require resources that exceed
                      Coast Guard capabilities in the area and could help offset the loss of
                      Coast Guard resources if stations were to be closed.

                      When senior Coast Guard officials made the 1988 closure and reduction
                      decisions, they did not have data on the location of other providers of
                      SARservices, the type and number of SARresources they would provide,
                      and their reliability in responding to life or property-threatening situa-
                      tions. Headquarters officials told us that local commanders are required
                      to know the availability of other SARresources within their area, and
                      district commanders are responsible for obtaining written agreements
                      with the agencies which have resources. They said that there is no need
                      to maintain this information at headquarters because they could obtain


                      Page 24                          GAO/RCED9@98   Search and Rescue Station   Closings
                           chapter 3
                           Closure Selection Criteria Need to Be
                           Improved, Documented, and
                           Applied Consistently




                           about effectiveness, nor distinguish between emergency and more rou-
                           tine distress calls.

                           In an April 1987 report to the Congress, we also pointed out the need for
                           DOT, including the Coast Guard, to improve its operational measures of
                           effectiveness by better defining objectives, monitoring performance, and
                           allocating resources (GAO/RCEDS’I-3, Apr. 18, 1987). The Coast Guard gen-
                           erally agreed with both our findings and the Task Force’s and, at the
                           time of our review, was beginning to implement the Task Force’s recom-
                           mendations. Coast Guard officials told us that implementation of all of
                           the Task Force’s recommendations would probably not be completed
                           until 1991. However, the SAR data base is being expanded to provide
                            additional SAR information based on new information collected during
                            fiscal year 1989. Further expansion of this data base will form the
                            framework on which fulfillment of the other recommendations will
                            follow.


-ISAR Closure
      t-l,--.--- and
                 ^
                            tions for closing SAR stations in 1985, noted that (1) SAR units perform
Reduction Decisions
Reductior                   under the multi-mission concept and (2) all of the missions needed to be
Did Not Consider            examined before reducing SAR resources. However, while the Coast
                            Guard considered its three priority missions--sAR, military readiness,
Other Missions              and law enforcement-during       the first stage of its process to decide how
                            to allocate expected budget shortfalls across its various missions, it only
                            considered the SAR mission when deciding which SAR stations should be
                            closed.

                            The Coast Guard has developed various programs to respond to a wide
                            variety of maritime responsibilities, most of which are assigned by stat-
                            ute. SAR program officials point out that having a boat or air station
                            responsible for more than one of these programs enables their relatively
                            small organization to meet its many responsibilities. The Coast Guard
                            terms this assignment of more than one program to units its “multi-mis-
                            sion concept.” Programs other than SAR include:

                       l Short-range Aids to Navigation-Maintaining     buoys and other markers
                         that indicate channel boundaries and hazards.
                       . Radio-Navigation Aids-Maintaining     Coast Guard radio systems which
                         transmit signals so that mariners can establish their position at sea.
                       l Bridge Administration-Inspecting    bridges over navigable waters to
                         ensure their safe operation.



                             Page 22                               GAO/RCED-90-98   Sezvch and Rescue Station   Closings+
                                                         Chapter 3
                                                         Closure Selection Criteria Need to Be
                                                         Improved, Documented, and
                                                         Applied Consistently




                                                         the operating environment concerns 5 times. Members of Congress ques-
                                                         tioned the recommended actions for the Chicago, Illinois Air Station; and
                                                         the Shark River, New Jersey; Eastport, Maine; and Coquille River and
                                                         Rogue River, Oregon, boat stations because the Coast Guard’s rationales
                                                         did not adequately address all criteria or the safety impact of the clo-
                                                         sures and reductions.


Table 3.1: Application          of the Criteria the Coast Guard Used to Justify Station Selection lor Closure or Reduction
                                                             Coast Guard criteria
                                                                       Operating
                                                    l-hour             environment       Need for            Changing                        Will future
Station                                             standard           concerns          service             technology                      needs be met?
Lake Tahoe, Calif.                                No                      Yes                     No                    No                   Yes
Klamath      River, Calif.                        Yes                      No                     Yes                   No                   Yes
Mare Island. Callf.                               -Yes                     Yes                    Yes                   No                   Yes
Kaual. Hawali                                     Yes                      No                     Yes                   No                   Yes
Eastport.     Maine                               Yes                      No                     Yes                   No                   Yes
Frankfort,    Mrch.                               Yes                      No                     Yes                   No                   Yes
North Superior,         Mann.                     Yes                      No                      Yes                  No                   Yes
Alexandna      Bay, N.Y                           Yes                      Yes                    Yes                   No                   Yes
Ashtabula,      Ohlo                              Yes                      No                     .Yes                  No                   Yes
Coauille     Rver.      Orea                      Yes                      No                     Yes                   No                   Yes
Rogue River, Oreg                                 Yes                      No                     Yes                   No                   Yes
Block Island. R I.                                 Yes                     No                      No                   No                   YFtS
Kennewlch,       Wash                             No                       Yes                                          No                   Yes
Bayfteld,    WIS                                  Yes                      Yes                                          No                   Yes
Shark Rver.        NJ                             Yes                      No    ~-               Yes                   No                   Yes
Air 5%atlixcaio,                                  Yes                      No                     Yes                   No                   Yes

                                                         Note Klamath Rover, Callf    Coqullle Rwer, Oreg   and Rogue Rwer Oreg   are detachments   of stations
                                                         not selected for closure

                                                         Source U S Senate Hearings, CommIttee on Approprlatlons, Department of Transporiatlon      and Related
                                                         Agencies Fiscal Year 1989 Appropriations. H R 4794, pp 611-619


                                                         The Coast Guard did not provide the Congress with its rationale for
                                                         retaining the other 19 stations that were under consideration for closure
                                                         or reduction in fiscal year 1988, and it could not locate documentation
                                                         explaining what characteristics led to its retaining these stations. We
                                                         found that the Coast Guard’s rationale provided to the Congress could
                                                         have been used to justify closure or reduction of some of the 19 SAR sta-
                                                         tions that were not selected for such actions. For example, the Coast
                                                         Guard reported that it closed the Lake Tahoe, California, station
                                                         because it was on an inland, closed body of water and other resources



                                                         Page 20                                         GAO/RCEDW-98    Search and Rescue Station     Clusings
Closure Selection Criteria Need to Be Improved,
Documented, and Applied Consistently

                          Decisions to close or reduce operations at .SAR stations have been politi-
                          cally sensitive and difficult to defend. The rationale the Coast Guard
                          provided to the Congress to support its fiscal year 1988 SAR station clo-
                          sure and reduction decisions did not demonstrate that it applied its deci-
                          sion-making criteria consistently to all stations under consideration for
                          such actions. This condition exists largely because the Coast Guard does
                          not have formal policies or procedures on what criteria should be used
                          during the decision-making process, how the criteria should be applied,
                          or how recommendations should be developed or documented. In addi-
                          tion, the Coast Guard’s criteria did not include good measures of the
                          agency’s effectiveness in saving lives nor an assessment of the impact
                          the closures and reductions would have on the agency’s ability to per-
                          form its other missions. As a result, the Coast Guard’s decision process
                          does not include the methodical application of selection criteria that
                          addresses the agency’s effectiveness in carrying out its SAR responsibili-
                          ties as well as its ability to perform other assigned missions.


                          According to the Coast Guard, no documentation describing the 1988 SAR
Closure and Reduction     station closure and reduction decision-making process or criteria existed
Decision Criteria         at the time the decisions were made in late 1987 and early 1988. Instead,
Documented After          Coast Guard officials provided us with the rationale for its decisions
                          which it provided to the Congress, at Congress’ request, after the deci-
Decisions Were Made       sions had been made. In that documentation, the Coast Guard described
                          the two-stage decision process it used to address expected funding
                          shortfalls. In the first stage, the Coast Guard attempted to minimize the
                          impact of the expected shortfall on the agency as a whole by apportion-
                          ing the shortfall on the basis of such considerations as a desire to main-
                          tain geographic and funding balances in all programs. The Coast Guard
                          reported that, in the second stage, it applied criteria that considered
                          characteristics more specifically related to the individual programs.

                          For the SAR program, the Coast Guard stated that stations were selected
                          for closure or reduction largely on the basis of whether assistance could
                          continue to be provided within 2 hours of notification of a SAR emer-
                          gency and on its general knowledge of the SAR system, which it
                          described as professional judgment. Along with the X-hour response and
                          professional judgment criteria, Coast Guard officials said they consid-
                          ered the following additional criteria:

                        . A station’s operating environment, such as open ocean versus more
                          restrictive inland lakes and rivers, the geography of shorelines, and the
                          severity of weather and water conditions.


                          Page 18                          GAO/RCED-90-98   Search and Rescue Station   Closings
Chapter 2
Cmast Guard’s Closure and Reduction
Decisions Did Not Consider Au SAR Stations




were not included in the Great Lakes consolidation study and/or the
Gramm-Rudman-Hollings study. Two of the three stations were added to
the list as a result of knowledge of their SARproductivity, and the other
was added on the basis of a district commander’s recommendation.

Documents provided by Coast Guard officials showed that the list of 34
candidate stations was reduced to 21 on December 22, 1987. Headquar-
ters SAR management and program review personnel reduced the list on
the basis of their professional judgment and general knowledge of such
SARsystem characteristics as the geography of the area around the sta-
tions, trends in boating activities, improvements in navigation and com-
munications equipment, and other organizations (e.g., local police or fire
departments and volunteer groups) that could provide SARservices.
These criteria were not documented or formally communicated in writ-
ing to decision makers.

On December 23, 1987, one day after the Congress passed the fiscal year
1988 appropriation bill, the Coast Guard’s 27 headquarters and field
admirals assembled and were informed of the staff’s proposal for reduc-
ing the cost of operations by $103 million. Of this amount, recommenda-
tions to close or reduce operations at 21 stations providing SAR
services-19 SARboat stations and 2 air stations-were       estimated to
save about $11.8 million annually. After the admirals met, 4 boat sta-
tions and 1 air station were removed from the December list of 21 sta-
tions on the basis of input from the field commanders and headquarters
staff. The criteria used to make these decisions were not documented.
On January 26,1988, a cost reduction package was announced that
included estimated annual savings for the remaining group of 16 SARclo-
sures and reductions totaling about $7.4 million. In February 1988, a
final change removed the second air station from the list because the
estimated annual savings of about $2.3 million from its closure were not
needed. (See app. II for the makeup of candidate lists).

In March 1988, the Coast Guard began implementing its decisions to
close or reduce operations at the 15 SARboat stations. However, the
Department of Transportation and Related Agencies Appropriations Act
of 1989, required the Coast Guard to reopen closed stations. The act also
prohibited the Coast Guard from using any funds appropriated by the
act to close any SARoperations until 90 days after the issuance of this
report.




 Page16                                  GAO/RCED-90-98
                                                     Search   and Rescue Station   Closings
Chapter I
Introduction




We also collected and analyzed information on the Coast Guard’s pro-
jected cost savings from closing or reducing operations at its stations.

Our work was performed during the period December 1988 to December
1989 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing stan-
dards. We discussed factual information in this report with Coast Guard
officials, who were in general agreement with the report, and we incor-
porated their clarifying comments as appropriate. However, as
requested, we did not, obtain official agency comments on a draft of this
report.




 Page 14                          GAO/RCELNO-98   Search and Rescue Station   Closings
    Chapter 1
    introduction




    the Coast Guard closed SARstations, proposed their closure, or consid-
    ered their closure:

. In 1973, the Coast Guard closed 13 stations on the Great Lakes because
  of their low workloads and the need to reduce federal expenditures. The
  Congress included in the 1973 appropriations bill $600,000, which was
  used to reopen and operate 10 of the 13 stations.
l In 1982, funding shortages led the agency to decide to close or reduce 16
  stations on the Great Lakes. The agency selected the stations because of
  their low workloads and issued orders to carry out closure and reduc-
  tion actions. However, local and congressional interests believed that
  increased boating activity on the Great Lakes and the absence of ade-
  quate SAR capabilities in areas where stations were to be closed justified
  the continuation of SARservices. After receiving pressure from local
  interests and congressional offices, the Coast Guard cancelled the orders
  affecting the 16 stations.
0 In mid-1984, OMBdirected the Coast Guard to save $5 million annually
  by eliminating 150 billets (personnel positions) in the Great Lakes area.
  In 1985, during fiscal year 1986 appropriations hearings, the Coast
  Guard proposed the closure of eight SARstations, and the reduction of
  another five stations on the Great Lakes. These proposed closures were
  never carried out, however.
0 On June 24,1985, DOT’s Inspector General issued a report on the Coast
  Guard’s SARstations summarizing operations in six districts from Octo-
  ber 1, 1980, to September 30, 1983. The report recommended that the
  Coast Guard improve SARprogram efficiency by closing 21 SARstations.
  The Coast Guard noted that before the Inspector General report was
  issued, the agency had attempted to close several of the 21 sites identi-
  fied by the Inspector General. However, congressional interest in keep-
  ing the stations open prevented their closures. The agency did, however,
  reduce staffing at some of the stations the Inspector General recom-
  mended closing.
l In October 1985, the Coast Guard developed a $230 million reduction list
  in response to a proposed Senate reduction to its fiscal year 1986 appro-
  priations. Over $40 million related to SARactivities. However, the Senate
  reduction was not enacted and the Coast Guard did not close any SAR
  stations.
. In <January 1986, the Coast Guard began to select SARstations for clo-
  sure and reduction in order to comply with the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings
  budget reduction legislation. The Coast Guard planned to reduce its total
  expenditures to between $125 million to $150 million for all programs,
  and the SARprogram was assigned a target of about $21 million. Ulti-
  mately, according to the Coast Guard, funding reductions called for


    Page 12                         GAO/RCED+O-98   Search and Rescue Station   Closings
    Chapter 1
    introduction




    staffed 24 hours a day, and most of them are required by the Coast
    Guard to dispatch at least one boat or aircraft within 30 minutes after
    notification. SARunits are directed and coordinated by rescue coordina-
    tion centers usually located at the Coast Guard’s 10 district headquar-
    ters or at the 45 Group Commands. According to the Coast Guard’s
    fiscal year 1988 SARdata, the agency responded to over 52,000 cases,
    saved 5,351 lives, and helped owners save or retrieve property valued
    at over $2 billion, in addition to performing its other missions.

    Although most SARassistance is in response to distress calls broadcast
    over marine radio, assistance can also be initiated by sources as diverse
    as aerial flares, telephone calls concerning overdue boaters, or electroni-
    cally coded alerts transmitted by satellite. SARcoordinators, most often
    the group commands, evaluate the severity of a call for assistance and
    determine the type and number of units, if any, to be dispatched to the
    distress location or to the search area if the actual location is not known.

    The Coast Guard has established SARstandards in its Operating Plan’
    which include

l   ensuring that equipment and personnel are capable of being ready to
    proceed within 30 minutes after unit notification (this standard was met
    in 83.8 percent of FARcases during fiscal years 1984 to 1986-according
    to the latest available Coast Guard data);
l   locating EAR facilities so that Coast Guard assistance can arrive on the
    scene or in the search area within 45 minutes after getting underway
    (Coast Guard data show that this standard was met in 84.1 percent of
    SARcases during fiscal years 1984 to 1986); and
l   finding the person requiring assistance within 2 hours of Coast Guard
    notification (this standard was met in 81 percent of SARcases during
    fiscal years 1984 to 1986, according to Coast Guard data).

    The SARoperating program plan also sets an effectiveness goal for SAR
    activities. It states that after receiving a request for assistance, 90 per-
    cent of those people at risk of death on waters over which the Coast
    Guard has responsibility will be saved. According to the Coast Guard’s
    SARmanagement information system, during fiscal year 1988, the Coast
    Guard was credited with saving 7,861 lives, or 85.2 percent of those
    people at risk of death. Comparable figures for other years were 5,788


    ‘TheCoastGuard’sSeuchandRescueOperatingProgramPlanservesasthe bcksfor planning,
    policydevelopment,
                    andsubsequent
                               programing actions.


    Page10                              GAO/RCED90-98   Search and Rescue Station   Closings
Introduction


                          The United States Coast Guard administers laws and regulations for
                          promoting the safety of life and property on and under the high seas
                          and waters subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. It accom-
                          plishes these responsibilities mainly through its search and rescue (SAK)
                          program, supplemented by its aids to navigation and law enforcement
                          programs. The Coast Guard’s fiscal year 1988 appropriation for opera-
                          tions of about $1.8 billion was about $103 million less than it estimated
                          it needed to fund all of its activities. This shortfall was made up, in part,
                          by $60 million in supplemental and reprogrammed appropriations. The
                          Coast Guard hoped to make up the remaining $43 million shortfall by
                          reducing various operations and maintenance functions. About $5 mil-
                          lion of the $43 million was to be saved by closing or reducing operations
                          at SARboat stations.


                          The Coast Guard is required by 14 U.S.C. Section 2 to develop, establish,
Evolution of Search       maintain, and operate rescue facilities for the promotion of safety. The
and Rescue Station        Coast Guard may render aid to persons and protect property at any time
Activities and            and place where Coast Guard facilities are available and can effectively
                          be used. Coast Guard officials noted that SARactivity may be considered
Locations                 a mandated function, but no specific level of performance has been cited
                          under the legislative authority. The Coast Guard is authorized to assist
                          federal and state agencies or other political subdivisions when
                          requested, or to accept assistance from these entities.

                          Goals for the Coast Guard’s SARprogram are shown in the following
                          order of priority in its operating program plan:

                      l   Minimizing loss of life, personal injury, and property damage on, over,
                          and under the high seas and waters subject to 17,s.jurisdiction.
                      l   Promoting international and domestic cooperation to provide and
                          iItIprOVe SARactivity.
                      - Performing assigned SARresponsibilities in support of military
                        operations.

                          The federal government’s role in safeguarding life and property at sea
                          by providing SARassistance predates the establishment of the Coast
                          Guard. Early efforts related almost entirely to assisting commercial ves-
                          sels in distress on the high seas and along our coasts; however, assis-
                          tance to commercial vessels now accounts for less than 15 percent of the
                          SARcaseload, with assistance to pleasure boats operating on lakes, riv-
                          ers, and coastal waters accounting for most of the rest.



                          Page8                             GAO/RCED-90-98
                                                                        SearchandRescueStation Closings
Contents


Executive Sun-u-nary                                                                          2

Chapter 1
Introduction            Evolution of Search and Rescue Station Activities and
                             Locations
                        Current Coast Guard SAR Program
                        Coast Guard SAR Stations Have Additional Missions
                        History of Coast Guard Closure Attempts
                        Objectives, Scope, and Methodology
                        ~_-----
Chapter 2                                                                                    15
Coast Guard’s Closure   Decision Process ITsed in 1988 Closures Greatly
                            Influenced by Time
                                                                                             15
and Reduction           Studies the Coast Guard llsed Did Not Consider All                   17
Decisions Did Not           Stations, and Some Station Characteristics Had
Consider All SAR            Changed

Stations
Chapter 3                                                                                    18
Closure Selection       Closure and Reduction Decision Criteria Documented                   18
                             After Decisions Were Made
Criteria Need to Be     Documentation Does Not Demonstrate That Closure                      19
Improved,                    Criteria Were Applied Consistently
Documented, and         Better Indicators for Lifesaving Effectiveness Being                 21
                             Developed
Applied Consistently    SAR Closure and Reduction Decisions Did Not Consider                 22
                             Other Missions

Chapter 4                                                                                    24
Data Used in Making     Complete Data on Other Providers Not Available                       24
                        2-Hour Response Standard Incorrectly Calculated                      26
Closure Decisions       Statistics on Lives Saved Not Accurate                               27
Were Incomplete and     Cost Savings Were Based on Inaccurate Estimates                      29
Inaccurate -
Chapter 5                                                                                    31
Conclusions and         Conclusions                                                          31
                        Recommendations                                                      32
Recommendations

                        Page6                          GAO/RCElHJO-98
                                                                   SearchandRescueStationClosings
                             of Chicago’s helicopters could respond to SARincidents. However, Chi-
                             cago city police told GAOthat in 1988, the city was planning to phase out
                             its helicopters. Likewise, county police said that an additional 2,600
                             small boat slips were being constructed on Lake Michigan in Lake
                             County, Illinois, greatly increasing boat traffic in an area just north of
                             the air station. Consideration of this more recent information might
                             have negated the selection of Air Station Chicago for closure.


Closure Selection Criteria   Over the years, decisions to close or reduce operations at SARstations
                             have been politically sensitive and difficult to defend. The 1988 decision
                             was also questioned by members of Congress. Documentation that laid
                             out the Coast Guard’s decision process and criteria was developed after
                             the decision process was over and was not complete. For example, the
                             documentation only addressed the Coast Guard’s decision rationale for
                             the 15 stations it ultimately selected for action and said nothing about
                             the nature or results of its evaluation of the other stations considered.
                             Also, GAO'Sreview of available documentation raised uncertainties as to
                             whether the critc,ria were applied consist,ently to all 34 stations consid-
                             ered. For example, the Coast Guard reported that it closed the Lake
                             Tahoe, California, station because it was on an inland, closed body of
                             water and other resources were available to perform SARmissions. GAO
                             observed, however. that, the New Canal, Louisiana, station (1 of the 19
                             stations not selected for closure or reduction) was also located on an
                             inland waterwaS near facilities with resources that could respond to SAR
                             emergencies. However. the Coast Guard did not document the rationale
                             for not selecting this station and, therefore, GAOcould not determine
                             why it was not c.hoscn.

                             In addition, although the Coast Guard’s criteria included the number of
                             lives saved, it did not include an assessment of the stations’ effective-
                             ness in saving lives. Further, it did not assess the impact the closures
                             and reductions would have on the agency’s ability to perform its other
                             missions. Coast Guard officials told GAOthat they are developing a pro-
                             cess to provide hcttcr performance indicators of a station’s ability to
                             save lives. Ilow~~~r, GAObelieves that criteria must also include an
                             assessment of l.he impact that closures would have on its other missions.
                             For example, in 1988, the Coast Guard selected Mare Island, California,
                             for closure. l-)csid(,s~1, this stat,ion had marine environmental response,
                             recreational boat,ing safety, and port safety and security missions. How-
                             ever, in making thtlrr closure decision, Coast Guard officials did not doc-
                             ument how remaining stations or other resources would meet these
                             missions.


                             Page4                           GAO/RCED-'JO-BISearchartdRescucStationCtosings
Executive Summary


                   Coast Guard search and rescue (SAK) stations have played and continue
Purpose            to play an important role in protecting the lives of commercial fisher-
                   man, recreational boaters, and others involved in accidents on the
                   nation’s waterways. Reacting to an expected shortage of funds, in .lanu-
                   ary 1988, the JJnited States Coast Guard decided to close nine of its SAK
                   stations and to curtail operations at six others. The Congress directed
                   the Coast Guard to reopen closed stations and not close any SAKopera-
                   tions until GAOreviewed and reported on the *January 1988 decision.
                   Accordingly, GAOassessed the supportability of the Coast Guard’s deci-
                   sions, focusing on the process and criteria the Coast Guard used to select
                   SARstations for closure or curtailment of operations.


                   Legislation requires the Coast Guard to develop, establish, maintain, and
Background         operate SARfacilities, but does not establish specific levels of perform-
                   ance goals for the SAli mission. The Coast Guard has established three
                   broad goals for this mission: (1) minimize loss of life, injury, and prop-
                   erty damage, on. over, and under the high seas and waters subject to
                   U.S. control; (2) promote international and domestic cooperation t,o
                   improve SARactivities; and (3) perform SARactivities for military
                   operations.

                   At the time of GAO'Sreview, the Coast Guard had more than 170 SAR
                   operations with boats and 26 air stations that made up its SARsystem.
                   According to the Coast Guard’s fiscal year 1988 SARdata, these stations
                   responded to over 52,000 cases, saved 5,351 lives, and helped owners
                   save or retrieve property valued at over $2 billion in addition to per-
                   forming their other missions,


                   The Coast Guard’s 1988 attempt to close or reduce operations at EARsta-
Results in Brief   tions was not successful because its reasons for doing so were not con-
                   vincing. At the time the Coast Guard made its 1988 closure decisions, it
                   did not have policies on or procedures for what criteria should be used,
                   how the criteria should be applied, or how recommendations should be
                   developed or documented. First, the Coast Guard applied its evaluation
                   criteria to a limited universe-only   34 of its stations were thoroughly
                   evaluated. Because of time constraints, the Coast Guard mainly relied on
                   two prior studies which did not contain current information and/or did
                   not evaluate all stations. Second, the criteria the Coast Guard used to
                   evaluate stations did not adequately address such key operational fac-
                   tors as the impact that closure or reduction actions would have on its
                   effectiveness in saving lives or on its ability to perform other missions.


                   Page2                           GAO/RC,ED-YO-98SrarchandRescueStatiunClosing~