GAO: Lack of Leadership on Arctic Infrastructure

Fednav ship, Source: GAO
Fednav ship, Source: GAO

Published Apr 29, 2020 7:57 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report on Arctic infrastructure saying that federal efforts to address infrastructure gaps lack consistent leadership.

The report: A Strategic Approach and Interagency Leadership Could Improve Federal Efforts in the U.S. Arctic was released on April 29. It notes that climate change has led to record low levels of ice in the U.S. Arctic,prolonging the shipping season and opening up shipping routes. This may expand economic opportunities, but harsh weather and ice conditions plus the lack of maritime infrastructure pose safety risks. For example, not having a designated harbor of refuge means ships don’t have a place to moor in an emergency. As a result, a representative from the International Union of Marine Insurance has noted that in the Arctic even a minor incident, such as a small engine failure, can result in substantial damages and even loss of life

“Agencies have taken steps to address infrastructure gaps, but federal efforts lack consistent leadership and a current strategy. We recommended designating an interagency group and developing a strategy to lead efforts in addressing the region’s maritime infrastructure,” states the GAO.

Maritime shipping activity, as indicated by the number of vessels in the U.S. Arctic, generally increased from 2009 through 2019. There have been some steps taken to address Arctic maritime infrastructure gaps identified by federal agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard developing recommended shipping routes and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration continuing to chart Arctic waters. 

To guide federal efforts, the White House developed a National Strategy for the Arctic Region in 2013 and established an interagency Arctic Executive Steering Committee (AESC) in 2015. However, agency officials and stakeholders noted the strategy is now outdated due to changing conditions in the Arctic, says the GAO report. As a result, federal efforts lack a current government-wide strategy that aligns with key management practices such as identifying goals, objectives, and establishing performance measures. 

Moreover, U.S. Arctic interagency groups do not reflect leading collaboration practices, such as sustained leadership and inclusion of all relevant stakeholders, and the White House has not designated which entity is to lead U.S. Arctic maritime infrastructure efforts. 

The report is available here.