Coast Guard Ill-Prepared for Capitol Hill Budget Battles
"This is about nurturing the political savvy that is necessary to do the job that the American people need," said Cmdr. Joseph DuFresne, Project Evergreen coordinator at the service's office of strategic analysis. There is "significant potential for future pressure and competition for scarce resources in a far more dynamic political environment."
Like the Pentagon's Quadrennial Review, Project Evergreen is the Coast Guard's ongoing effort to look at scenarios in order to help it prepare for future needs.
One of those needs is to do a better job of communicating to lawmakers and the media what the service does and needs, DuFresne said Oct. 24 at the Coast Guard Innovation expo.
"Political savvy like dealing with the media is a skill that is undervalued in the Coast Guard," he added. The service cannot expect to be automatically rewarded for its "virtuous deeds," he said.
DuFresne spoke as the supercommittee on Capitol Hill met to figure out how to cut more than $1 trillion out of the federal budget over 10 years. Even in the best of times, the Coast Guard was seen as underfunded. Its ships are rapidly aging, and it has a backlog of some $2 billion in onshore infrastructure projects. Former officers, speaking in 2009 at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., said senators and representatives speak highly of the Coast Guard and what it does in their districts, but that those overtures do not materialize when it comes time to allocate funding.
Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., commandant of the Coast Guard, said earlier in the day that "there were storm clouds on the horizon," in terms of the budget. They come as the service is embarking on its plans to build the Offshore Patrol Cutter, the second largest ship in its 25-year, $24.2 billion Deepwater modernization program.
When Coast Guard leaders do travel to the Senate or House, it is normally to testify about cost overruns and management of the Deepwater program.
Strategically, Coast Guard leadership must look at Capitol Hill in military terms as another AOR, an "area of operations," DuFresne said.
Getting a positive message out through local media and working with local and state governments is something the service does well and can be duplicated at a national level, he said. "Politicians need to be seen as critical Coast Guard stakeholders and we have to know how to operate ... in their realm," he added. It is not only where budgets are allocated, but where the Coast Guard's missions are enshrined in laws, he noted.
EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported the rank of the commandant of the Coast Guard.