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Research Questions

  1. How can the USCG improve the desirability of precommissioning assignments on OPCs and retain top talent within the major-cutter community?
  2. How can the USCG promote the development of institutional knowledge and standardization across the OPC fleet?

As the first of 25 offshore patrol cutters (OPCs) nears delivery, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) is focusing greater attention on the staffing needs of these ships, particularly during the precommissioning period. USCG leadership believes that crew satisfaction with these assignments is low and that this has implications for force readiness. In addition, the USCG has limited return on its training investment if crew members leave the service or return to shore duty soon after their precommissioning assignments. Thus, increasing institutional knowledge is also a priority.

Researchers evaluated 11 courses of action (COAs) that the USCG could consider to improve crew satisfaction with precommissioning assignments and overall fleet readiness—the first being the status quo precommissioning process. Of the remaining ten COAs, five would delay crew reporting; three would develop expertise, facilitate the sharing of best practices across OPC crews, and promote standardization; and two would adjust personnel assignment and compensation policies.

Although some COAs are mutually exclusive, others could be combined to address a broader set of problems or more effectively address a single issue. The most appropriate combination depends on how the USCG prioritizes the various evaluation criteria. One way forward would be for the USCG to adopt an incremental approach: Implement some of the more-feasible COAs in the short term while working toward some of the higher-impact COAs over the long term.

Key Findings

The research team identified 11 COAs

  • The research team and the USCG developed 11 COAs, of which the first is the status quo precommissioning process. The other ten COAs take varied approaches to improving crew satisfaction and promoting the transfer of knowledge from crew to crew.
  • Five COAs would delay crew reporting in order to shorten the time that crews spend on post-delivery activities that precede operational readiness of the vessel. Of these COAs, four would reassign some post-delivery activities to other parties, such as a preliminary crew assembly facility, contracted mariners, and the shipbuilder. The remaining COA would simply push the reporting date of 66 billets into the post-delivery period.• Five COAs would delay crew reporting in order to shorten the time that crews spend on post-delivery activities that precede operational readiness of the vessel. Of these COAs, four would reassign some post-delivery activities to other parties, such as a preliminary crew assembly facility, contracted mariners, and the shipbuilder. The remaining COA would simply push the reporting date of 66 billets into the post-delivery period.
  • Three COAs would focus more on developing institutional knowledge and standardization across hulls. Of these, one COA would establish operational centers of excellence for post-delivery activities; another would allow voluntary tour extensions; and the third would transfer a fraction of each crew from one hull to the next.
  • Two COAs would adjust personnel assignment and compensation policies. Of these, one would provide targeted incentive pay, and the other would allow eligible personnel to bid for assignment incentive pay.

The team evaluated the COAs using five criteria

  • The team evaluated each option in terms of crew satisfaction, crew preparation and knowledge retention, timeliness, feasibility or ease of implementation, and cost.
  • In general, the COAs present a trade-off between (1) improvements in crew satisfaction and knowledge transfer and (2) ease of implementation and affordability.

Recommendations

  • Although some COAs are mutually exclusive, others could be combined to address a broader set of problems or more effectively address a single issue. The most appropriate combination depends on how the USCG prioritizes the evaluation criteria.
  • Because dissatisfaction with precommissioning assignments is more acute among officers than enlisted personnel, the USCG should prioritize COAs that would improve the precommissioning experiences of crew members serving two-year tours or tailor the COAs to target the officer population.
  • Attending to larger workforce management issues would likely improve satisfaction with precommissioning assignments specifically. These issues include dissatisfaction with sea duty aboard major cutters, especially among officers; heavy in-port workloads, whether they occur on a precommissioning assignment or not; and lack of transparency in personnel management and practices.
  • One way forward would be for the USCG to adopt an incremental approach: Implement some of the more-feasible COAs in the short term while working toward some of the higher-impact COAs over the long term.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    The Current Precommissioning Process

  • Chapter Three

    Delayed Crew Reporting

  • Chapter Four

    Developing Institutional Knowledge

  • Chapter Five

    Incentive Pays

  • Chapter Six

    Opportunities to Combine Courses of Action

  • Chapter Seven

    Summary Evaluation and Other Considerations

  • Appendix A

    Interview Protocols

  • Appendix B

    A Detailed Timeline of Precommissioning Events

  • Appendix C

    Analysis of Personnel Data

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the United States Coast Guard and conducted within the Strategy, Policy, and Operations Program of the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center (HSOAC)

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.