“Should the USCG Transition to DoD?” USNI Blog

The US Naval Institute blog has a post recommending that the Coast Guard be moved into the Department of Defense.

The most significant part of the post appears to me to be that this concept has been put forward by Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who is the Chair of the Sub-Committee that has oversight of the Coast Guard. Representative Hunter is a Marine Reserve Major who served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Having watched him perform in several sub-committee meetings, I have a great deal of respect for his opinions. He would like to see a stronger and better armed Coast Guard.

Personally I see still unrealized potential for the Coast Guard in the Department of Homeland Security and potential problems as well as opportunities in the Department of Defense.

How would the Coast Guard be funded within the DOD? Would it be a separate agency or would it be budgeted with the Department of the Navy?

The Department of Defense (DoD) is responsible for providing the military forces needed to deter war and protect the security of the United States (U.S.). The major elements of these forces are the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. The President is the Commander-in-Chief, while the Secretary of Defense exercises authority, direction, and control over the Department. This includes the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Organization of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the three Military Departments, the Combatant Commands, the Office of the Inspector General, 17 Defense Agencies, 10 DoD Field Activities, and other organizations, such as the National Guard Bureau (NGB) and the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO)., Department of Defense organizational chart (December 2013)

Within the DHS budget, the Coast Guard is the third largest component behind FEMA and Customs and Border Protection. It has significant visibility.

In the DOD organization above, I cannot even find the National Guard Bureau. We might do well because we would be a very small part of the overall budget, or we might simply be too small to attract any attention. I think there is a real possibility that if we were transferred into the Navy Department, the Coast Guard might end up as little more than a Master at Arms Corps.

We should remember that in terms of personnel, while the US Navy (and the DOD) is now much smaller than it was 50 years ago, the Coast Guard is larger.  I can recall when the Navy was about 25 times as large as the Coast Guard and the Marine Corps about 8 times as large. Now the Navy is less than eight times as large. The Marine Corps is only 4.4 times as large.

We can talk about how the Congress has not been kind to us, but at least funding has been relatively consistent, and of late there seems to be a recognition of greater need for capital improvements.

If our personnel end strength had followed the trend of the DOD we would now have fewer than 20,000 active duty rather than over 40,000.

In short, be careful what you wish for.



3 thoughts on ““Should the USCG Transition to DoD?” USNI Blog

  1. I do not believe the Coast Guard in the terms of enlisted personnel is larger than it was 50 years ago. I do know the commissioned officer corps is far larger than it was 50 years ago — nearly double- and I believe the Coast Guard now counts the civilian workforce as part of the overall force.

    This has been a long discussed topic. It first rose in the Congress in the 1840s and it went no where. In one of these discussions the heads of the navy’s new bureau system were asked if they wanted the USRCS and there was a resounding no. The next serious take over attempt was in the 1880s, but the Navy did not want the officers or men just the vessels. This was the most furious debate in the Congress, Navy, USRCS, and the public. In 1889, 98% of the USRCS officers were fed up with attempts to get a retirement system,signed a petition to quit the Treasury Department and go the Navy. Of course, most of those of age would have been retired out of service.

    There was similar move in 1919 by USCG officers but they were short-hauled by having the president return the USCG to the Navy. The primary issue was the USCG officers enjoyed the pay and prestige of having Navy ranks which they lost upon return to the Treasury Department.

    I have a history of this topic in draft and I would like to find a co-author to get it in print. This is another area of history the Coast Guard does not tell you.

  2. There may be adverse international geopolitical consequences from moving the USCG to the DoD. It changes where the CG fits, or is perceived to fit, on the spectrum of US use of its national influence and power, with respect to both our allies and our adversaries.

  3. An interesting idea. But, I agree: be careful what you wish for because the grass always appears greener on the other side. I can see the positives: better recognition of the Coast Guard as a military service; better access to DOD benefits; possibility of a better budget; better fit for some of our missions (however, the CG can be hard to fit in any Department); perhaps greater efficiency with support services (I know its the DOD, but, given how archaic the CG is with some things like IT, it will probably be an improvement). Negatives: We will be a very small fish in a large pond with missions that the DOD doesn’t really understand, our budget may be bigger at times, but, can also shrink when the DOD needs money for higher priorities; we may be tasked with missions that the CG considers problematic; LE mission in particular could be viewed nervously as civilian LE is somewhat anathema to the DOD (and other regulatory missions to lesser extant – DOD does have the ACOE which performs a regulatory function, but, more as a service provider and not an enforcement agency). So in the end, we won’t know unless it’s tried. We can look back to the eras where the CG was part of the Navy but that was over 70 years ago in a different time and very different circumstances as the CG has never been part of the Navy in relative peacetime.

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