Coast Guard

Relocation of Air Facility on Southern Lake Michigan Gao ID: RCED-98-108R April 22, 1998

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Coast Guard's decision to relocate its Glenview, Illinois, air facility to a county airport near Muskegon, Michigan, focusing on the: (1) number, severity, and location of incidents requiring Coast Guard search and rescue response in southern Lake Michigan from 1994 through 1997; (2) resources the Coast Guard used for such responses; (3) factors used in evaluating alternative sites for relocating the Coast Guard air facility in southern Lake Michigan; and (4) its accuracy and completion of the data and methodology used for the evaluation applied to sites under consideration.

GAO noted that: (1) from 1994 through 1997, the Coast Guard responded to 3,710 search and rescue incidents in southern Lake Michigan, an average of 928 responses each year, and state and local agencies responded to thousands of additional calls for assistance; (2) according to Coast Guard officials, the vast majority of these cases were located a few miles from shore; (3) about 63 percent of the incidents occurred on the western side of the lake where boating activity is the greatest; (4) the Coast Guard's small boats responded to 3,581 incidents, or about 97 percent of all incidents during the 4-year period; (5) of the 129 responses the Coast Guard's helicopters made during this period, 80 responses, or an average of 20 responses each year, involved a threat to life or property or the actual rescue of persons or property from imminent danger; (6) state and local agencies often assisted the Coast Guard in its search and rescue activities; (7) after considering operational and cost factors, the Coast Guard determined that Benton Harbor and Muskegon were the two most preferred sites; (8) ultimately, the Coast Guard chose Muskegon because its cost benefits far outweighed all other sites', according to the Coast Guard's calculations; (9) Muskegon ranked second to Benton Harbor on operational factors, due in large part to the shorter response time to the average incident location from Benton Harbor; (10) on the basis of GAO's analysis of moderate and severe cases to which Coast Guard helicopters responded on southern Lake Michigan, GAO believes that the differences in response times among all the sites would have had little, if any, impact on the number of lives saved or lost in southern Lake Michigan; and (11) while the operational factors the Coast Guard used in its relocation study were reasonable, consistently applied, and based on accurate and complete data, GAO found that the Coast Guard omitted significant costs in determining the cost of operating at Muskegon; including these costs would have made Benton Harbor, not Muskegon, the least costly site by $10,000 over a 25-year life cycle.

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