The United States Coast Guard is the smallest of the military services and the least resourced. In the last decade, it has been called upon repeatedly to do more with less and the budget submitted for Congressional approval for 2011 is no exception.
Here’s what the Commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral Thad Allen, told us at a recent Bloggers’ Roundtable:
So it’s really a matter of portfolio management and resource allocation. And again, that gets back to our operational model. I think the reason we’re so valuable to the country is we have a set of resources, and whether I’ve got more or fewer than I had last year, the operational genius of the Coast Guard is how we allocate them.
That said, if you give me more resources, I could do more for the country, and I’ll still do that the same way, balancing risk, but I can cover more areas for the country if I have more resources. And of course everybody always needs more.
The 2011 budget cuts 773 FTE positions. At the same time, Admiral Allen told us that the Coast Guard can meet 1/3 to 1/2 of the requests for assistance it receives from the Navy and other services. He told us that a second icebreaker will be finished being refitted in 12-18 months, but he has no idea how the ship will be crewed.
Ice breaking and reinforced ships are vital in both Alaskan waters and those of the Great Lakes and northern harbors. The United States has one large ice breaking cutter in operation, and the consensus is that we need three. With the increased activity along Alaska’s northern coast, tourist cruises and oil exploration, the need is there.
The Great Lakes and northern harbors are another area of concern. The 140 ft. tugs are reaching the end of their operational life and there is no funding to replace them. These are the cutters that keep our ports open an additional twelve weeks a year.
The Navy should get its act together and ask Congress for funds to build the ships it needs for its missions. That would allow the Coast Guard to have more assets available for its missions.
A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter transports an injured American to U.S. Naval Hospital Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Jan.13, 2010. The injured is one of four Americans from the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, brought to the Naval Station to receive medical care for traumatic injuries sustained in the earthquake that struck the region. The victims were stabilized by hospital personnel before they were medically evacuated to the U.S. for further treatment. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Petty Officer Bill Mesta
In addition, it seems foolish in a time of war to be reducing the number of sailors in an active military service. Those 700 plus Coast Guardsmen won’t be there for port security, drug interdiction or to respond to disasters such as Haiti or New Orleans.
In this photo by the U.S. Coast Guard, two airboat crews deployed from Coast Guard District 9 await the next search and rescue mission during the 2009 midwest flood response, Wednesday, March 25, 2009. The airboats are used in shallow water throughout residential areas. Numerous Oxbow residents were evacuated to dry ground. (U.S. Coast Guard photo/Petty Officer 3rd Class Renee C. Aiello). Military photo – public Domain. Please credit photographer.
Lastly, the neglect of our icebreakers by Congress is criminal. When a cruise ship sinks off northern Alaska and the Coast Guard response is from Kodiak Island, over 900 miles away by air and well over a thousand by sea, Congress will demand answers. The answer will be that Congress failed to fund the programs necessary.
The Coast Guard’s 2011 budget request is for $8.47 billion. With those funds, it will replace ships and aircraft, and do some other work that is long past due. Still, they will be robbing Peter to pay Paul. They should not have to.