The vast coastline infrastructure administered by the U.S. Coast Guard, which includes piers, docks, and many mission-critical facilities, is in dire need of repair. But it may take a bit of time to complete the improvements—roughly 395 years if current funding levels stay the same, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).
This repair time frame of nearly four centuries reflects the extensive nature of the Coast Guard’s holdings. The agency owns or leases more than 20,000 shore facilities, including boat stations and housing units, at more than 2,700 locations. The replacement value of these facilities is approximately $20 billion.
The GAO was asked to review the agency’s management of its infrastructure. In its report, the GAO found that nearly half (45 percent) of the Coast Guard’s shore infrastructure is beyond its service life, and as of 2018, it had a backlog of maintenance and recapitalization projects that would cost at least $2.6 billion to address.
This deferred maintenance backlog includes more than 5,600 projects, and these deteriorating facilities hinder the Coast Guard’s ability to secure the coastlines. “While the Coast Guard has a culture of ‘making do’ with the resources it has, these backlogs pose financial, safety, and mission performance risks,” the report found.
And wait, there’s more: the Coast Guard said there are 205 other backlogged projects that do not yet have cost estimates.
How can the Coast Guard improve its infrastructure, and reduce the security risks? The GAO made several recommendations in the report.
The GAO recommended that program managers develop standards to assess facilities, including milestones and time frames. The program managers should also establish shore infrastructure performance goals, measures, and baselines, so that the Coast Guard can track the effectiveness of maintenance and repair investments and provide feedback on progress.
The GAO also recommended that the Commandant of the Coast Guard should work with Congress to develop a process that would periodically align the agency’s shore infrastructure portfolio with mission needs. Afterward, the agency could plan on disposing of all unneeded assets.
Finally, the GAO recommended that the Coast Guard use models that could predict the outcomes of investments in its assets and analyze trade-offs, so that the best decisions among competing investments could be made.