Coast Guard Beating Drum for More Resources
Coast Guard photo
The Coast Guard and its supporters are trying to make their case to a new administration and Congress that the sea service is under-resourced to carry out its missions and support the U.S. military.
The Coast Guard, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, protects the nation’s territorial waters, but also assists partners throughout the world including the Defense Department. It performs a wide variety of missions including upholding international maritime law, providing situational awareness and counter-drug operations. It also supports all U.S. military geographic combatant commands, Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz has noted.
The Coast Guard is looking to add more platforms such as National Security Cutters and icebreakers known as Polar Security Cutters, and recruit more personnel. It is also pursuing upgrades to its IT networks and other assets, and establishing a team to examine requirements for a variety of new unmanned systems.
The omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2021 provided the Coast Guard about $12.8 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service.
“To close the Coast Guard readiness gap, we need sustainable annual budget growth — I would say 3 to 5 percent over the next five years,” Schultz said at the Surface Navy Association’s annual symposium. “We need a booster shot of sorts, about $900 million to $1 billion dollars to address our most pressing needs.”
Coast Guard leaders aren’t the only officials calling for more funding for the organization.
“I’ve grown concerned that the Coast Guard is not sufficiently resourced to conduct its own missions, much less support what seems to be a growing demand for having Coast Guard units supporting DoD missions” for military combatant commands, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said in March during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
U.S. Southern Command Commander Adm. Craig Faller told lawmakers that “we do not have sufficient Coast Guard ships … to meet the [Southcom] requirements. We need additional ships and planes.”
Seth Cropsey, director of the Center for American Seapower at the Hudson Institute, noted that the need for more assets in the Arctic and the Western Pacific is increasing as the United States engages in great power competition with Russia and China. In this geopolitical context, Schultz’s request for a boost in Coast Guard funding to address readiness gaps is “perfectly reasonable,” Cropsey said.
“My initial signals from this administration is they’re keenly interested in the Arctic ... [and] they see a very big role for the Coast Guard in the Indo-Pacific,” Schultz told reporters in March during a media roundtable following his annual State of the Coast Guard Address.
The sea service didn’t receive the same level of budget plus-ups that the Pentagon did during the Trump administration, Schultz noted, adding that he will “continue to beat that drum” for more resources during the Biden administration.
The White House has been working on its fiscal year 2022 budget proposal, which is expected to be released in May or June.
“We will see [how the situation plays out] when the ‘22 budget gets delivered up to Capitol Hill, but you know I’m an optimist,” Schultz told reporters.
“We’re going to continue to show the value of the Coast Guard, take some risks … [and] do more,” he said. “Hopefully some funds come to maybe support that … on a sustained basis.”
Cropsey noted that the service’s budget has remained relatively flat over the past few years even though its missions are growing.
Whether Congress will pony up additional money will partly depend on how well the Coast Guard makes its case, he said. Leadership needs to mount a more concerted effort to explain the gap between what the service is being asked to do and the resources at its disposal.
“It does not get the attention that it deserves,” Cropsey said.
The 2022 budget request could be a bellwether for how well-resourced the Coast Guard will be during the Biden administration.
“It’s a signal of where things are going … assuming that Congress goes along with it,” Cropsey said.