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Washington - A top Coast Guard official acknowledged Wednesday that the service had failed to meet several mission performance targets in the 2013 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 and said he expects similar shortfalls in the current fiscal year.
In testimony before the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, Vice Adm. John Currier cited inadequate funding levels along with so-called sequestration - automatic, across-the-board spending cuts that kicked in last spring - as a "contributing factor to reduced performance observed in FY 2013."
The sequester cut approximately $200 million from the Coast Guard's training, operating, and maintenance accounts. Pointing to figures from the congressional Government Accountability Office, Currier said that about $2 billion annually would be needed to achieve the Coast Guard's statutory missions. By comparison, the Coast Guard has operated with a budget between $1.2 billion and $1.4 billion in recent fiscal years, Currier noted.
"As we balance the demand for our services with available resources in this challenging fiscal environment, tough choices have to be made," Currier told the panel. "Unfortunately, despite our continuing efforts to meet all of our mission demands, we are not able to sustain effective presence, meet every demand and conduct operations in all areas that are needed."
According to Currier, "Specifically what concerns me is the Coast Guard fell short in key performance areas such as drug interdiction, migrant interdiction and ports and waterway and coastal security." He also acknowledged the "degraded condition" of the Coast Guard's aging fleet and the inability of cutters to carry out mission requirements.
In his written testimony, Currier noted short-term adjustments the Coast Guard has taken to prevent furloughs and reductions in force - RIFs - in fiscal year 2013. These included deferred depot level maintenance of assets and shore infrastructure, reduced levels of spare parts, and canceled training classes.
Wednesday's hearing was not the first time that the Coast Guard's funding situation has been highlighted.
"For years, this subcommittee has advocated for more funding for the Coast Guard's recapitalization program in an effort to acquire new and more capable assets," said Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif. But he also acknowledged, "The truth of the matter is, in this budget environment, there's simply not enough money to complete the program of record."
The Coast Guard has 11 statutory missions. In fiscal year 2012, the Coast Guard used 23 different performance measures to track its success in meeting the mission goals.
According to a recent Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General report, the Coast Guard in fiscal year 2012 met or exceeded 11 of the 23 summary performance measures, for a score of 48 percent. This number was down from fiscal year 2011, when the Coast Guard met or exceeded 14 of the measures, for a 61 percent score. Over the last five years, the Coast Guard has not met or exceeded more than 61 percent of its summary performance measures.
The report also indicates that so-called resource hours available to conduct Coast Guard missions declined by more than 6,600. Resource hours generally indicate the number of flight hours for aircraft and hours underway for seagoing vessels.
Committee members pressed Currier on how he would recommend scaling back or re-evaluating the Coast Guard's statutory missions and priorities, given their view that the current goals and requirements are unachievable under current spending levels.
"My greatest fear is that when our nation calls for the Coast Guard to respond in the future, we will be less ready, less proficient and less capable to provide the standards of service that have been our hallmark for 223 years," Currier said.
He added, "Semper Paratus (always ready) - our motto, our ethic - may not ring true."