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Research Question

  1. How can the USCG make important trade-space decisions about potential strategic challenges and opportunities it could face in the future?

To gain insight into challenges and changes it could face and make long-term plans to prepare for them, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) operates a strategic foresight initiative, Project Evergreen. After several years of Evergreen workshops, researchers designed an analytic game in which players assess possible changes to demand for USCG missions and the service's capacity to execute them. Paratus Futurum (Latin for "ready for the future") was developed specifically for the initiative to work through the scenarios. The game is more engaging than the workshops, the consequences of players' decisions are more vivid, and the game's outcomes are more robust. Players make distinct choices about mission priorities and investments and experience the consequences of their choices in a safe-to-fail environment. By weighing the long view of changes in the operating environment alongside existing or nearer-term demands, the USCG can gain greater awareness of potential blind spots in current strategies and plans. The game focuses on how the USCG can fulfill its roles and missions over a 20-plus-year time horizon filled with uncertainty and under constrained resources. It also considers how decisions might be viewed and evaluated by the USCG's core constituencies: its own workforce, the U.S. public, Congress, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Defense, and other U.S. executive branch entities. This report documents the researchers' findings and recommendations for coming iterations of Paratus Futurum and Evergreen VI.

Key Findings

  • Players indicated that it was difficult to exit the short-term planning-cycle mindset and think about long-term direction.
  • Players highlighted how the service is often pulled in multiple directions by different stakeholders with conflicting priorities. The USCG is primarily a homeland-focused entity, but the other military services call on the USCG to meet National Defense Strategy demands, which frequently mean a more global demand for presence.
  • Missions that secure maritime trade, allow freedom of navigation, maintain international alliances, or provide direct support to people were consistently identified as no-fail missions.
  • When teams immersed themselves in a scenario unlike the existing world, they expressed willingness to accept risk in high-priority missions, such as search and rescue.
  • Teams said they saw the trade-offs between the future and the present most clearly when considering investments in future capabilities and assets. Players said they saw future investments as a means to buy down risk, buy flexibility or efficiencies, and implement their broader strategy. But doing so required taking on risk to mission in the present and developing the future force necessary to take advantage of these investments.
  • Bringing diverse players and perspectives into the room proved valuable for USCG leadership analyzing the game and for players because such discussions across specialties and geographic regions rarely take place. Junior and midcareer officers also said that the game framework gave them opportunities to see beyond the scope of their daily mission sets and to stop and think about the long-term strategy that the USCG has to implement.

Recommendations

  • Set a strategic vision for the long term, beyond the tenure of a commandant, and support it with specific short- and medium-term strategic waypoints backed up by consistent leadership support and clear guidance. Be prepared to balance short- and medium-term risk to specific missions with the longer-term risk to strategy.
  • Include in high-level strategies and strategic intent documents more-explicit guidance to ensure that the entire service is moving in the same direction when trade-space decisions are implemented and prioritized. Explicitly state immediate priorities and resources while permitting the service to stop doing deprioritized tasks.
  • Examine different concepts of the service moving forward and consider the assets and capabilities required to meet future demands, which might differ in level, location, and mission type from those of the past. To achieve this, explore those future concepts, then link them to the nearer-term decisions and investments so that procurement does not rely solely on projections based on the present and historical precedent but is informed by potential future needs, challenges, and capabilities that might have a significantly different look from today's.
  • To ensure mission success while leveraging new technologies and attracting and retaining a highly capable workforce, make investments in the USCG as an institution. Balance focus on missions and investments with a focus on people.
  • Continue to use gaming to explore difficult policy questions from multiple angles.

This research was sponsored by the U.S. Coast Guard Office of Emerging Policy and conducted in the Infrastructure, Immigration, and Security Operations Program of the RAND Homeland Security Research Division.

This report is part of the RAND 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.

RAND 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.