Coast Guard needs to improve its cyber workforce says watchdog

The GAO calls on the service to adopt six key recommendations to improve the ability of its staff to respond to cyberattacks.
A Coast Guard Air Station Savannah MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew conducts a search and rescue demonstration in front of the Coast Guard Cutter James Feb. 19, 2020, in Charleston, South Carolina. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Dickinson)

The Government Accountability Office has called on the U.S. Coast Guard to improve its cyber workforce and set out six key recommendations the service should follow in order to do so.

The recommendations include adopting measures to better determine staff needs and establishing a strategic workforce plan for cyber.

GAO’s assessment comes after the Coast Guard over the last two years has been hit with multiple cyberattacks and struggled to recruit and retain its critical cyber workforce. The recommendations were included in a new report published on Tuesday.

The Department of Homeland Security, which is the parent agency under which the Coast Guard operates, concurred with the GAO recommendations. 


“Like other federal agencies, the Coast Guard is increasingly dependent upon its cyberspace workforce to maintain and protect its information systems and data from threats. In recent years, its networks and information have been exploited and maritime critical infrastructure have experienced cyberattacks,” the GAO report titled ‘Workforce Planning Actions Needed to Address Growing Cyberspace Mission Demands’ said.

“These events have reinforced the importance of the Coast Guard’s cyber capabilities and the workforce who operate and maintain them,” the GAO report added.

The GAO’s three primary recruitment recommendations to the Coast Guard were: to create a strategic direction; conduct a supply, demand, and gap analyses; and third, monitor the plan’s progress to address all cyberspace competency and staffing needs.

In 2015, the Coast Guard established a cyberspace team to protect the U.S. marine transportation system from online and telecommunications threats which the GAO found needs improvements due to cyberattacks occurring and data breaches costing hundreds of millions of dollars in total.

Last year the Coast Guard announced a Cyber Strategic Outlook to build more cyber teams to focus on the cybersecurity of maritime critical infrastructure from attacks after a rash of hacks and ransomware incidents that shut down key services.


The Coast Guard, a military service, is uniquely housed under DHS, giving it law enforcement authority and relationships with other DHS agencies like the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). The service has sought to modernize its legacy IT since 2020. 

Nihal Krishan

Written by Nihal Krishan

Nihal Krishan is a technology reporter for FedScoop. He came to the publication from The Washington Examiner where he was a Big Tech Reporter, and previously covered the tech industry at Mother Jones and Global Competition Review. In addition to tech policy, he has also covered national politics with a focus on the economy and campaign finance. His work has been published in the Boston Globe, USA TODAY, HuffPost, and the Arizona Republic, and he has appeared on NPR, SiriusXM, and PBS Arizona. Krishan is a graduate of Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School for Journalism. You can reach him at

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