Coast Guard: actions needed to ensure that key data system investments meet mission and user needs

What GAO found

The United States Coast Guard’s Maritime Safety and Law Enforcement Information System (MISLE) is generally able to support agency operations by tracking and aggregating activity data mission, such as inspection results of commercial vessels. But the system has some capacity gaps, and MISLE users GAO spoke with described many challenges with the system. For example, they reported:

Difficulties in using MISLE due to duplicate or incomplete records in the system, which may affect the ability of personnel to conduct activities such as inspecting vessels. Users told GAO that duplicate or incomplete records can create a risk that Coast Guard personnel may not have the complete vessel history when inspecting vessels to resolve past safety concerns; and

be unable to complete work in MISLE while carrying out operational activities, as users can only access the system from a workstation connected to the Coast Guard network. Field staff told GAO that it may be necessary to rework when returning to their workstations to enter information into MISLE from paper files.

Managers of the MISLE system said they are aware of these challenges, have started to tackle some of them, and agree that MISLE requires additional investment to meet user needs.

The Coast Guard has policies, procedures and training mechanisms to ensure data reliability; However, GAO’s analysis identified several data issues, including data errors, incomplete or missing records, and inconsistent data entry. For example, about 20% of FY2018 search and rescue records showed negative response time, which Coast Guard officials attributed to data entry errors. The Coast Guard has not assessed the causes of these data errors, and its recent efforts to resolve some data issues do not include plans for such an assessment. Such an assessment could help the Coast Guard determine how to ensure more reliable MISLE data.

The Coast Guard has taken steps to update MISLE from its 2001 version; however, it did not follow its own processes to manage subsequent investments. In its latest upgrade to MISLE, which began in 2008, the Coast Guard did not follow key system development processes or provide some planned functionality, such as the ability to correct duplicate vessel records and enter data into mobile capabilities. The Coast Guard has undertaken further efforts to obtain or develop functionality not delivered since the release of the upgraded system in 2015. However, in its operational analysis of MISLE for fiscal 2019, the Coast Guard identified other Major system deficiencies and user dissatisfaction which she believes require consideration in further system improvements. Yet the agency has not taken steps to assess the mission’s needs across the system. By developing an updated Mission Statement of Requirements for MISLE as a whole, and identifying and analyzing alternatives to objectively select solutions in accordance with departmental systems engineering guidelines, the Coast Guard would be in a better position. to meet user needs and manage its various investments more effectively. to improve MISLE.

Why GAO did this study

The Coast Guard, within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is the primary federal agency responsible for maritime safety and security. The Coast Guard maintains and uses MISLE, a data system that tracks and reports results data for nearly all Coast Guard missions.

GAO has been asked to review the status of MISLE and efforts to update it. This report examines (1) the extent to which MISLE supports Coast Guard operations and decision-making; (2) the extent to which the Coast Guard has policies, procedures and training to ensure the reliability of MISLE data; and (3) Coast Guard efforts to improve, upgrade or replace MISLE since 2008. GAO reviewed Coast Guard performance plans and documents, policies and procedures related to data entry of MISLE; select performance data for four missions from 2014 to 2018, the most recent data available; and Coast Guard and DHS systems engineering acquisition and lifecycle frameworks. GAO also interviewed MISLE users in the field and at Coast Guard headquarters.

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