The following is from an article in the most recent edition of the U.S. Naval Institute's PROCEEDINGS magazine August 2013 Vol.139/8/1,320. In the article co-authored by Captain Jim Howe, USCG (Ret.) and Lt. Jim Dolbow, USCGR the authors state:
"The U.S. Coast Guard is in critical condition, and it needs several key changes to stop the hemorrhaging.
“If the Coast Guard did not exist, it would be in the best interests of the country to invent it, quickly.” Such was the conclusion 13 years ago of the Interagency Task Force on United States Coast Guard Roles and Missions, a group convened to evaluate the future needs of the service. Task force members would be disappointed to learn that despite their endorsement, the Coast Guard of 2013 is increasingly underfunded, overworked, and undermanned, all while operating alongside fellow agencies in an inefficient and often counterproductive environment.
Today, America’s Coast Guard is in drastic need of reinvention.
Since the force draw down following World War II, the service has never been whole. Over the years it has struggled unsuccessfully to field adequate manpower and the cutters, boats, and aircraft needed to perform all of its mandated missions; has wrestled with increasing regulatory and operational responsibilities; and has labored in the shadows of the larger military services, relegated to the backwater of government for three decades in the Department of Transportation. Now part of a more relevant Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Coast Guard competes for resources against agencies entrusted with immigration enforcement, land border control, and airport security—political hot buttons that trump maritime responsibilities."
EDITORIAL NOTE: We concur with the general premise of the article. We would sound a cautionary note however when it comes to any proposal relative to relationships between the uniformed NOAA Corps and the Coast Guard. We firmly believe that the NOAA Commissioned Corps needs to remain separate and distinct from the U.S. Coast Guard since the Coast Guard appears firmly set on the idea that all officers are line officers subject to general assignment. Even since becoming officially a member of the "National Intelligence Community", a statutorily defined group of agencies with specific intelligence responsibilities, the Coast Guard has created only enlisted ratings and a warrant officer specialtyassociated with intelligence. NOAA Corps commissioned officers are all recruited from science majors. The work of NOAA's fleet and air arm require daily supervision by officers with in depth education, understanding, and experience in charting, data gathering, analysis, and the earth sciences. The Navy, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine all need the properly prepared work products of this commissioned corps such as NOAA navigation charts, and Coast Pilot publications. The marine sanctuaries operated by NOAA need the expertise of these science officer/mariners and the missions require a dedicated fleet. Having said all that we have long advocated closer cooperation between the Coast Guard and the NOAA Corps and its fleet and air arm in order to be able to back fill some domestic Coast Guard missions when critical assets of the Coast Guard have to move forward with the Navy into combat or close combat support missions. The NOAA Fleet should be part of any National Fleet planning. The national fleet plan should be about more than just how best to eliminate redundancy of capabilities between the Navy and Coast Guard but also how to augment the Coast Guard's ability to "surge" forces into temporary critical missions like naval combat support without severely cutting or discontinuing other critical missions. The Congress has a history of deconstructing maritime agencies and reassigning missions to the Coast Guard without adequate, and sometimes with out any funding. The NOAA Corps mission, fleet and air arm are too specialized and important to be subjected to more Coast Guard underfunded "mission creep". The authors pretty much present the NOAA case as an either /or proposition either take over ,or closer cooperation. We thoroughly recommend closer cooperation and are dead set against any take over. The NOAA Corps is as old as the Lewis and Clark Expedition and has had a long evolution into its present configuration and mission set. The NOAA Corps is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of Commerce and while presenting usable assets and expertise to Homeland Security it is not and should not be part of the Department of Home Land Security, especially now while the DHS is exhibiting organizational problems.
On the other hand, we believe the authors proposal for the Coast Guard to take over the marine transport function for the CBP and Border patrol takes the Coast Guard right back to its original 1790 mission. This could be done well as long as the Congress provides adequate funding to the Coast Guard to again assume this mission that it did for nearly two centuries. We invite all of our maritime professional readers to read the entire USNI article via the link provided and, if a member of the Institute, to comment both at the USNI web site and again here in our comments section. If you are not a member of the Institute please consider membership. The Institute is where the big naval ideas are discussed before they become naval programs. Everyone is welcome to comment here at the AAB, but it can never be a substitute for joining in on the real discussions at the Institute. Johnas Prbyster