Despite an aging fleet, crumbling infrastructure, and under resourced personnel, the Coast Guard delivered a robust and inspired response to an unprecedented hurricane season in 2017. Thanks in part to the tireless advocacy of Navy League members the Coast Guard received nearly all the funding it needed for hurricane recovery, and one of its highest budgets in years for Fiscal Year 2018. We must continue our work to ensure they get the resources they need in Fiscal Year 2019.
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The Coast Guard's broad mission portfolio combined with the "Semper Paratus" –Always Ready—ethos of its men and women continues to serve the nation with distinction. The U.S. Coast Guard is unique among the five Armed Services because it has law enforcement authorities used around the world to safeguard homeland security and aid partner nations. The Coast Guard is also a member of the U.S. intelligence community and the nation’s lead maritime first responders.
The Coast Guard has eleven statutory missions: Aiding Navigation, Defense Readiness, Drug Interdiction. Ice Operations, Living Marine Resources, Marine Environmental Protection, Marine Safety, Migrant Interdiction, Other Law Enforcement, Ports, Waterways and Coastal Security, and Search and Rescue. In 2017, the U.S. Coast Guard interdicted a record $6.6 billion in illegal narcotics, safeguarded $4.6 trillion in economic activity across U.S. waterways, and facilitated $1.5 billion in cargo transit due to icebreaking activity. During an unprecedented Hurricane Season the Coast Guard mobilized more than 2,900 personnel, 66 helicopters, 28 fixed wing aircraft, 29 cutters, and 115 shallow water assets to rescue or assist nearly 12,000 people. The Coast Guard also responded to 16,069 Search and Rescue (SAR) cases, assisted 22,004 people, and saved 4,228 lives in 2017.
The Coast Guard faces new challenges as the world rapidly changes, especially in the Western hemisphere and in the Arctic. The nation-state instability is increasing within the Western Hemisphere, and the activity of Transnational Organized Crime (TOC) networks such as drug cartels and human smugglers has spiked. The U.S. now leads the world in oil and gas production, driving an increase of energy commodities transportation on the inland waterways that make up our Maritime Transportation System (MTS). The combined impact of these changes impelled the Coast Guard to develop innovative strategies to meet those challenges. These strategies are designed to secure the southern border, safeguard maritime commerce, and address growing cybersecurity crime.
In the Arctic, the Coast Guard must adapt its operations as the environment changes. The abundant natural resources present combined with an unforgiving environment have made Alaska a focal point of the Coast Guard’s fisheries management and search and rescue activities. The first new heavy polar icebreaker in 40 years and the Coast Guard’s Arctic strategy will give the United States the capability to operate in such an expansive and harsh environment and the ability to assert sovereignty in its waters.
For the Coast Guard to function at peak efficiency, it must have the at-sea and ashore assets to support the men and women guarding our waters. The service is retiring its oldest ocean-going assets and acquiring modern ships, a critical process with complex timing requirements. The highest procurement priority for the Coast Guard is to lay the groundwork for construction of the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) to replace medium-endurance cutters built in the 1960s and 1980s. The importance of the OPC cannot be underestimated: it will function as the service’s primary operational workhorse to carry out the Coast Guard’s primary missions over the next four decades. The Navy League hopes Congress will match the Administration’s 2019 Budget request and fund the construction of two OPCs, continue to procure Fast Response Cutters at a rate of six per year, and provide the resources necessary to sustain rotary and fixed-wing aircraft. The Coast Guard also must receive the funds it needs to recapitalize its aging inland waterways fleet and invest in the shore infrastructure project backlog.
But replacing old assets addresses only one challenge, and keeping up with the demands of a fast-paced operational environment while sustaining assets will place greater demands on an already strained workforce. Congress should fund five-percent annual growth in the Coast Guard’s Operations and Maintenance account to adequately maintain assets and aid retention. In a competitive human resource environment the Coast Guard must maintain parity with the other services in matters such as pay, allowances, training, and healthcare as well as civilian pay raises and retirement contributions. While the budget situation in Washington has improved significantly with the passing of the Bipartisan Budget Deal in February 2018, the Navy League believes it is imperative that congressional appropriators enact funding critical for the Coast Guard to maintain excellence.
"Since Alexander Hamilton founded our Service in 1790, we fought in every major war and combat operation to ensure the security and prosperity of this great Nation. From the Quasi-War with France to Operation Iraqi Freedom, our men and women carried high this torch of ideals – through conflict, war and howling gale – to ensure it is never extinguished.”
- Admiral Paul Zukunft, 25th Commandant of the Coast Guard