State of the Coast Guard: Short on money, long on challenges
The Coast Guard is facing growing operational requirements — patrolling a changing Arctic, taking on transnational crime, helping to stabilize the Arabian gulf — but federal budgets have not reflected many of the service's defense contributions, Adm. Karl Schultz said Thursday.
Over the past five years, the "readiness funding" for the Department of Defense, which also is facing a growing portfolio of work, has grown nearly three times as much as the Coast Guard's, which falls under the Department of Homeland Security. That's despite the two services sharing the same types of readiness challenges, Schultz, the Coast Guard commandant, said.
But, he said, the budget enacted last fiscal year and the one proposed recently by President Donald Trump "starts us on a healthier funding trajectory," including $555 million for a second Polar Security Cutter for the service.
"The long-term solution is to recognize the Coast Guard's crucial role in maintaining our national security. I continue to advocate for a return to a 'security' and 'nonsecurity' appropriations framework, which would help ensure the Coast Guard is funded in parity with the rest of the military services," Schultz said in his second State of the Coast Guard address in Charleston, S.C.
Delivering the speech in that city was intentional. Over the next five years, the Coast Guard intends to turn the waterfront city into a major hub for its operations, with plans for it to host the largest concentration of the service's assets and people.
That likely will result in more Coast Guard Academy cadets getting assigned to cutters based there, like the James, which Schultz said is "the flagship of the Coast Guard's modernized fleet, with automated weapons systems, state-of-the-art command and control equipment, and advanced sensors."
The ships that will be stationed in Charleston will include a group of yet-to-be-built offshore patrol cutters to help the Coast Guard carry out its efforts to interdict drugs and dismantle cartels. Since the implementation of the Coast Guard's Western Hemisphere Strategy four years ago, the service has interdicted 2 million pounds of pure cocaine in the region worth $26 billion, Schultz said.
What got Lt. Kastriot Kastrati's attention was not Schultz's mentions of high-profile drug busts or the Coast Guard being first on scene following a hurricane, but initiatives that impact the ability of its members to get their jobs done — such as addressing the $2 billion backlog of repairs at its facilities and fixing the information technology problems that have plagued the service.
Kastrati, 35, who enlisted in the Coast Guard in 2002 and is an instructor at the Officer Candidate School based at the academy, watched the State of the Coast Guard remotely with officer candidates, instructors and others on campus. But, ironically, they were not able to watch the full address due to internet issues slowing, and eventually interrupting, the live feed connection.
"The workers in the Coast Guard, the people actually doing the missions, we appreciate that. These are things we address every day. When you go down to a local Coast Guard station, and you're a fly on the wall, these are the things we talk about," Kastrati said.
Schultz described attracting and retaining a talented and diverse workforce as the Coast Guard's "most pressing challenge" and its "greatest opportunity."
"We must all build an inclusive culture that not only attracts the best of America's diverse population, but fosters an environment that encourages them to stay," he said.
Last May, the Coast Guard, which has struggled to recruit and retain women and minorities, launched a two-year study on how to improve retention of underrepresented minorities, similar to the study it did on retaining women. The preliminary results are expected in June. Next month, he said, the Coast Guard will launch a four-year Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan "to provide leaders at every level with the skills to realize the full potential of our talented workforce."