NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images

Coast Guard Academy Leaders Shouldn't Make Diversity a 'Side Issue,' a New Report Says

The academy is committed to diversity but leaders need to be more proactive in promoting "cultural competence," a report from the National Academy of Public Administration finds.

The U.S. Coast Guard Academy is hard at work improving its “cultural competence” and boosting diversity, equity and inclusion for employees and cadets, but needs to be more proactive and ensure these initiatives remain a priority even when other issues demand attention, according to a new report from the National Academy of Public Administration.

The report, dated February 2022 but published Tuesday, was commissioned by Congress as part of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. A team of five NAPA fellows interviewed nearly 300 people, including faculty, staff and cadets, over the course of a year. Although the U.S. Coast Guard is a branch of the armed services, it is also a component agency within the Homeland Security Department.

NAPA applauded the academy for implementing a litany of initiatives and policies aimed at improving its approach to diversity, equity and inclusion both for employees and cadets. But the organization said that the academy needs to do a better job to ensure that diversity is a central focus of leaders and to be more proactive on the issue.

“The leaders of the academy, particularly as described by the dozen or so members of the senior leadership team, are committed to advancing cultural competence at the academy,” the report stated. “The topics of diversity, equity and inclusion are considered essential by leaders . . . However, the collection of efforts appears reactive and occasionally not prioritized when other ‘urgent’ issues arise and divert leaders’ focus. In these respects, cultural competence is, at times, perceived by some faculty, staff and cadets as a side issue rather than a central one.”

The report called on the academy to build “an infrastructure of coordinated policies, procedures and structures” to internalize diversity and cultural competence as an integral part of officials’ daily decision-making.

Key to the effort will be the Coast Guard Academy’s diversity, equity and inclusion action plan, which has been under development for two years and is reportedly nearly ready for release and implementation. NAPA recommended that the academy publish its plan and begin its implementation efforts by the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, along with detailed metrics to measure progress.

The report also said that the academy must elevate the existing chief diversity officer position, ensuring that the position’s responsibilities reflect that the official is a “trusted strategic advisor” of the academy’s superintendent.

“The current occupant of the [chief diversity officer] position and the associated office are seen as important figures in the academy’s efforts to enhance cultural competence,” the report stated. “However, the [chief diversity officer] position is not currently optimized to emerge as a strategic leader in terms of being a critical member of the academy’s leadership and administration or having the formal authority to drive a cultural competence agenda. The CDO and the office also face resource constraints, which have limited its ability to contribute to the academy’s efforts to enhance cultural competence.”

NAPA also suggested a number of ways that the academy can improve oversight of its various diversity initiatives. Although the academy has established a Superintendent’s Equity Advisory Council, chaired by the chief diversity officer, it has yet to begin meeting regularly. In addition to getting that council off the ground, NAPA recommended the development of a broader leadership council above the equity council, that would address these issues with top leaders at the academy and would be chaired by the superintendent.

The report highlighted a number of surveys and other data collection efforts at the academy’s disposal, including the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, equity assessment reports and the Defense Organizational Climate Survey, but said they are currently too “fragmented.” NAPA said the academy should establish a unified calendar for the various data initiatives’ administration and release, and make it “one of the top responsibilities” for academy leadership.

“As a whole, these recommendations provide a needed superstructure upon which all other recommendations in the report can be linked and results assessed,” NAPA wrote. “The panel believes that the Coast Guard Academy has the potential to become a model of best practices in cultural competence. Depending on how recommendations in this report are implemented, the [academy] will encourage parallel efforts of other military academies and institutions of higher learning.”