USCG/DHS Mission Mismatch

I have been thinking about why the Coast Guard seems to be loosing the budget battle within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). While funding for the Department has grown, the Coast Guard budget has in fact declined in real terms. I suspect it has a lot to do with perceptions of a miss-match between DHS missions and Coast Guard missions.

Congress attempted to address this perceived mismatch in the Homeland Security Act of 2002 by requiring an annual report of resources allocated to DHS missions and non-DHS missions, to ensure non-DHS missions are not ignored. I will refer to this “Annual Review of  the  United States Coast  Guard’s  Mission  Performance” (pdf) as the Performance Report.

It is an interesting report, but it does have significant weaknesses, largely stemming from the use of undifferentiated and undefined “resource hours” as a measure of effort. I reviewed a report back in 2010 and offered my criticism which have not changed here, here, and here.

Unfortunately, I think this report may be part of the problem, in that it defines several Coast Guard missions as “non-DHS,” and it gives the impression, erroneously I believe, that roughly half of the Coast Guard’s budget goes for things outside the DHS charter.

Of the eleven Coast Guard missions, six were regarded as Non-Homeland Security missions: SAR, AtoN, Living Marine Resources, Marine Environmental Protection, Marine Safety, and Ice Operations.

The five Homeland Security missions are Ports, waterways, and coastal security, Drug Interdiction, Undocumented Migrant Interdiction, Defense Readiness, and Other Law Enforcement (primarily Foreign Fisheries Enforcement).

But these distinctions are fallacious.

The Department views its own missions as:

  1. Preventing Terrorism and Enhancing Security
  2. Securing and managing our borders
  3. Enforcing and administering our Immigration laws
  4. Safeguarding and securing cyberspace
  5. Ensuring resilience to Disaster

NON-DHS MISSIONS: All these mission at least in some respects support DHS missions.

SAR: A robust SAR organization is clearly a necessary foundation for “Ensuring resilience to Disaster.” What were Katrina and Sandy but huge SAR cases? SAR command posts and communications are the skeletal structure upon which Disaster Response is based. After all, every SAR case is really a response to a disaster of some dimension. If the 3,000 plus people the CG saves every year had died in a single incident, it would have been a disaster on the order of 9/11.

AtoN: Most of the population lives near the coast or inland waterways. Most depend heavily on marine transportation and in many cases fishing. When there is a disaster, restoring safe navigation is a high priority both for bringing in assistance and for recovery.

Marine Environmental Protection (MEP):  The Deepwater Horizon was a disaster. MEP regulation attempts head off disasters and mitigate its effects, that is “Ensuring resilience to Disaster” plus offshore and portside energy infrastructure are potential terrorists targets.

Marine Safety: Marine Safety is designed to prevent marine disasters. A sunken cruise ship could be a disaster on the order of 9/11. Marine Safety standards tends to mitigate the effects of a terrorist attack on marine targets

Living Marine Resources: Destruction of valuable marine resources can actually be as disaster for the economy of some communities.

Ice Operations: Domestic icebreakers can prevent flooding. We recently had a case where a community in Alaska would have been left without fuel, if an icebreaker had not opened a path for delivery.


Safeguarding and securing cyberspace: It is not one of the Coast Guard’s eleven statutory missions, but this is infact one of the Commandant’s key priorities. Still it is not addressed in the Coast Guard’s annual Performance Report.

THE NON-DHS DHS MISSIONS: Two missions listed as DHS missions in fact are of little interest to the department, and performance goals (which are themselves perhaps inadequate) in these two areas are not being met.

Defense Readiness: Apparently the Coast Guard is doing more for Defense Readiness now than it was before 9/11, but really little has been done in terms of adapting resources for wartime roles. Additionally, a potentially major Coast Guard contribution to defense readiness, the major cutters, are being replaced at such a slow rate, the fleet continues to age, making it less reliable.

Other Law Enforcement (primarily foreign fisheries): DHS probably has little interest in this. This mission also suffers from the aging of the cutter fleet, and additionally the very large US EEZ in the Western Pacific has been largely ignored.

Problems in DHS: I do think the Departments placement of priority on counter-terrorism over more general disaster response is misplaced,  and this is another source of problems.


I will quote my closing paragraph from my 2010 post,

When it comes time to decide the Coast Guard budget, I would suggest Congress take a different approach. Consider return on investment. If you like the return you are getting from the Coast Guard now, invest more.  Don’t say, “Agency ‘X’ isn’t working, we need to put more money into that.” “The Coast Guard, is doing a good job with their current budget so we don’t need to give them any more.” I don’t quote scripture very often. I’m not religious, but there is some wisdom there. Check out the story of the “good and faithful servant” Mathew 25:14-30.

8 thoughts on “USCG/DHS Mission Mismatch

  1. Tell me I’m 100% wrong. It seems under this administration with our country spending billions on illegals and people on welfare, that something has to be cut and again it is the CG. As I’ve said before, “it has been like this back in 64 when I joined.

  2. Often people accuse the USN of overspecifying its ships, which leads them to be too costly. Is it possible that the USCG does the same thing in some cases? For instance would the 35 meter patrol boats that Swiftships built for Iraq at half the cost of the Fast Response Cutters, have been good enough in some cases? It seems like that is what the GAO (or was it the CBO, can’t remember) was getting at in their report a couple years ago.

    I’m not a Coast Guard member or vet, and don’t claim to know, so I’m curious what some of you think about it.

    • It is clear that the Webbers are much more ship than the 110s they replaced, just as they were much more ship than the 95s they replaced.

      The National Security Cutters are much more ship than the 378s, at least in their Coast Guard capabilities.

      It looks like the OPCs will be much better ships than the MECs they will replace. Even the 210s were much more capable than the 125s and 165s they replaced.

      I can’t say this is bad. Coast Guard missions have been changing. Fisheries enforcement has gone from three miles to at least 200 miles off shore and beyond that in some cases.

      I certainly would not like seeing the Coast Guard build new 125s. The Webber class are not only better than the patrol boats of 50 years ago; they are better than the MECs of 50 years ago.

      The Webber class are clearly more than “fast response cutters” since they are putting six in each of the three first homeports the intention is more to have them cruising rather than waiting in port for a SAR call.

      The previous administration was absolutely committed to the program of record. We talked here about some of the possible alternatives to the Webber class that might have been cheaper and had the advantage of composite hull, but now with 32 ships already contracted for, it is probably no longer logical to look for alternatives, because the advantages of standardization are strong.

      It may not be to late to look at cutter X as an alternative to some combination of OPCs and FRCs, but that time is rapidly approaching.

  3. Pingback: What is a Corvette? And What Next?

  4. Pingback: Could the U.S. Arm Cutters With Anti-Ship Missiles? – eMaritime Exchange

  5. Pingback: Return of the Clandestine Merchant Raider?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s