The Commandant has an opinion piece in “The Hill” explaining the effects of continued short falls in the Coast Guard’s Operating budget.
Because of unplanned maintenance and supply shortages, we lost the operating equivalent of two major cutters and seven helicopters last year, adversely impacting mission performance. In addition, the Coast Guard has delayed shore infrastructure repairs to such a degree that we now have a $1.7 billion backlog of urgent projects. Simply put, cuts from within have hollowed Coast Guard readiness.
He points to what appears to be a misinterpretation of the Budget Control Act.
A less-recognized impact developed when the lower sequester spending limit took effect in 2013. The BCA originally established the two primary categories of discretionary spending as “security” and “non-security.” However, once sequestration was enacted, the categories automatically changed to “defense” and “non-defense.” This means that DHS, with a military service — the Coast Guard — in its arsenal and national security as its primary responsibility, is limited under an annual non-defense discretionary cap of roughly $49 billion and forced to compete with all other non-DOD agencies for funding. Yet, under a “security” classification, DHS would be included with DOD under budget caps that recently exceeded $600 billion.
He suggests a phased solution.
The fix seems simple, and it is. The near-term solution is to increase the Coast Guard’s share of Defense funding — without penalizing DHS’s budget cap — to more appropriately resource us with necessary equipment, training, people and operating funds. Phased increases of $200 million per year, or 0.0003 percent of DOD’s 2019 budget, would begin to close the gap between our current Defense funding and actual Defense contributions.
The long-term solution is to recognize the Coast Guard’s crucial role in maintaining our national security and fund us as a military service. The appropriations structure should return to the “security” and “non-security” classifications, the original and arguably “just” intent of the BCA. This would ensure the Coast Guard is funded in parity within the same category as all U.S. Armed Forces and allow for consolidated oversight of all national security spending.
Let us be frank. We are not taken seriously as an armed force. We should be. In terms of personnel and number of ships, the Coast Guard is larger than the Royal Navy. If we want the Congress and the Administration to see us as a Defense asset, we need to do more than talk the talk, we need to walk the walk. We need missions and weapons. We need to identify the threats, how we can compliment the Navy, and the additional capabilities we need, not just in the case of a terrorist attack, but also in case of a major conflict with a near peer adversary.
The capacity building which we do, and I believe is important, can be perceived as more law enforcement than defense. These operations may even be seen by some, as an indication we actually have more assets than we need, since we have taken on this extra task, which is outside our normal mission areas.
We seem to argue that we are funded for peacetime and our readiness for war comes as a free good. We need to change that argument and that perception, which we have unfortunately cultivated. Our Defense Readiness needs to be paid for.
On the other hand, we can argue that, unlike other armed services, the Coast Guard gives the country a double payback. When we are funded the Coast Guard’s readiness for war, the country also gets better results in peacetime. It means more capable platforms, better communications and intelligence, and more secure ports.