“Nearing a ‘tipping point,’ Coast Guard needs lasting change” –The Hill

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz visits with Coast Guard crews stationed in New York City. U.S. Coast Guard photo illustration by Petty Officer 1st Class Jetta Disco.

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.

My Take

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.

9 thoughts on ““Nearing a ‘tipping point,’ Coast Guard needs lasting change” –The Hill

  1. “a misinterpretation of the Budget Control Act.” The commandant may call it a misinterpretation but I call it historically correct. The entire history of the cutter service has hinged on the “defense – non-defense” thread. The Coast Guard’s leadership is squarely at fault for not creating a culture where both elements reside.

    Some of it has been because the Coast Guard is politically inept and that it has lacked any sense that history could help. There has been no intelligent desire in the Coast Guard to use its history operationally. The Coast Guard as never followed the Navy and Marine Corps that their individual histories are tuned to show what was done in the past as a promise of what will be done in the future.

    The principle of historicity involves two elements of which the Coast Guard only considers the first. The first, is the history in which “something happened.” The second shows “what really happened.” The Coast Guard doesn’t care what really happened because that would require debunking its long-standing idea of its history as an agreed upon narrative. Of course, much of the “what happened” is born of myth and fable. The Coast Guard likes its history the way it is. Simple comments, a narrow level path with single line placards to describe where people are.

    Of course, the smooth path of Coast Guard history is ripe for misinterpretation on the larger issues such as funding.

  2. Still think the best solution would be to separate Coast Guard funding from the DHS budget. Six of the Coast Guard’s eleven missions are not even considered DHS missions: Marine Safety; Search and Rescue; Aids to Navigation; Living Marine Resources; Marine Environmental Protection; and Ice Operations.

    In a way, I think SAR should be a DHS mission because if it is not in response to a national disaster, it Is certainly a personal disaster.

    Still if Congress wants to make sure money allocated to the Coast Guard is spent the they intended, then separating the budget out is the best way to insure it.

  3. “To take the burden off the Navy, new Coast Guard cutters are deploying to the Asia-Pacific region, ” Burden? Really? This is the “Me Tooism” Captain Walter Capron wrote about in 1965. Then, he accused the Coast Guard of being enamored with the things DoD does whether it was beneficial to the Coast Guard or not.

    If the Navy has a “burden” it is their responsibility to fix it — not the Coast Guard’s. No, this that “Me Tooism” and wanting to play in Division One.

    • Having watched the US Naval Institute News service weekly report on Navy activities for a long time, I can say with some certainty that the problem is not that the Navy is underway or deployed to frequently. On average only about a quarter of their ships are underway at any time and a third are deployed.

      From all the complaining about being over worked, I think it is not the deployments and underway time that are the burdens, it is the inspections, training, diplomatic obligations, etc, so the burden is actually self imposed.

      • My time in the Navy (1963-1966) we were busy. One year in homeport for 42 days but that also included a four-month yard period and three months at GITMO before going on a Med Cruise.

  4. I can state the problem very simply – we’re broke. The U.S. spends > 60% of its budget on entitlements: Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. We need the political courage to shift spending from entitlements into other crucial areas such as defense. The probability of this happening is very low.

    • Medicare and Social Security are not entitlements. They are paid for by the recipients. If you are going to close down “entitlements” you need to include veteran’s pensions too along with Black Lung and several others.

      There is too much spending on Defense. Eisenhower knew this. The graft and corruption between the Pentagon and defense contractors is outrageous. The self-auditing that is supposed to take place is just a fairy tale. Bring back Alexander Hamilton’s auditors.

      • This discussion is veering outside the bounds I have imposed on this blog. This is not the place to discuss politics. Any further comments on along these lines will be deleted.

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