- Our people are military, but unlike the rest off the military, they are unlikely to get paid January 15.
- We have an Icebreaker program that enjoys strong bipartisan support in Congress and support from the President, but there is a good possibility it will not get funded this year because of a fight in congress over a totally unrelated program to build a wall along the southern border.
- About half the Coast Guard’s missions are “Homeland Security” related, but about half are not.
- Our pay system is different from all the other parts of the Department of Homeland Security.
- Even the Auxiliary is shut down.
There is a movement to fix the pay problem, but that is only a small part of the problem.
The Coast Guard has been part of three different Departments. There has never been a perfect fit, because the scope of Coast Guard duties has always extended outside the strict confines of the mission of whatever Department it was part of. The Coast Guard combines military, public service, policing, and regulatory functions. The Coast Guard might have been spun off as an independent agency, but that would have required additional oversight in the form of a service secretary or commission and their staff. In many respects DHS is a good fit, but much of the Coast Guard operates outside the department’s focus and the Department’s budget process is a drag on Coast Guard funding.
The funding of the Coast Guard’s new Polar Security Cutter has brought this problem into focus. There is a general recognition that the new icebreaker is urgently needed. It (and the Coast Guard in general) enjoys bipartisan support in Congress and support from the President, but we there is a real possibility no DHS budget will be passed this year. There is too much conflict between the Executive and the House over the wall. We could go the whole fiscal year with nothing better than a series of continuing resolutions that would, as currently understood, preclude starting icebreaker construction.
Perhaps the solution is to separate out the Coast Guard budget for separate consideration. Combining the budget with other DHS agencies does not simplify the process, it introduces complications and conflict. A separate budget would provide some of the advantage of an independent agency, without the additional overhead of a separate service secretary and staff.
While not as comprehensive a solution, if the sense of the Congress was that the Polar Security Cutter program had already been initiated (small amounts for it was appropriated in FY2017 and 2018) or that the program is simply part of the larger Coast Guard recapitalization program already underway, then its likely there would be sufficient money in a continuing resolution (since the FY2018 Procurement, Construction, and Improvement budget was relatively large) to order the first of class and long lead time items for the second and the project could be started this fiscal year even if no DHS budget is passed.