Center for American Progress

: Building a Coast Guard for the 21st Century
Past Event

Building a Coast Guard for the 21st Century

9:00 - 10:30 AM EDT

The United States has been confronted with a host of domestic and international monumental challenges over the last decade from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 to Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti, and most recently the BP oil disaster. And among U.S. government agencies, the Coast Guard is uniquely suited to tackle this broad spectrum of crises according to retired Coast Guard Vice Admiral James Hull.

Hull, who was the commander of the Coast Guard’s Atlantic Command, spoke at a CAP event on rebuilding the Coast Guard to meet 21st century challenges and stated that, “Our relevancy has never been greater,” and asserted that the Coast Guard is “probably the most efficient, effective organization in the American government.” Yet despite this strong capability, Hull said, “we don’t receive the funding we deserve.”

Hull appeared at the event alongside retired Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard Terry Cross and retired Coast Guard Commander and President of the Center for National Policy Dr. Stephen Flynn. The discussion marked the release of “Building a Coast Guard for the 21st Century,” a new report co-authored by CAP Senior Fellow and former Coast Guard Academy professor Lawrence J. Korb, who moderated the panel, and CAP researchers Sean Duggan and Laura Conley. The panel discussed the breadth of the Coast Guard’s mission and the obstacles it must overcome in order to modernize.

The Coast Guard, unlike other branches of the military, has multiple missions including law enforcement, emergency response, homeland security, border control, and regulation. As Flynn pointed out, to the Coast Guard is particularly effective due to its relationships with local law enforcement authorities with which other branches of the military struggle to interact. This makes the Coast Guard more equipped than any other organization to defend the United States against the full spectrum of modern threats, such as terrorism and environmental disasters, which increasing include nonmilitary operations.

The Coast Guard may be indispensable in responding to the 21st century’s myriad threats, but the Obama administration has slated it for a 3 percent budget cut for the 2011 fiscal year. Korb, Duggan, and Conley recommend rejecting the proposed cuts and increasing the Coast Guard’s budget by $5 billion, bringing its annual budget to around $15 billion. The panel cited shamefully outdated ships and equipment as among the many reasons that this heightened funding is such a necessity.

And while the 2011 budget slashes the Coast Guard’s funding, the Department of Defense’s budget continues to balloon every year. Hull pointed out that the Department of Defense receives approximately $700 billion annually while the Department of Homeland Security, which houses the Coast Guard, among many other agencies, receives $45 billion. That’s why one of the major recommendations in the new report is to create a Unified Security Budget to ensure that funding among the different organizations tasked with keeping our nation safe is allocated wisely. Cross voiced his agreement with this proposal, saying it “makes great sense.”

Another one of the recommendations from CAP’s report discussed by the panel is the creation of a civilian representative for the Coast Guard that could be an effective voice for increased funding. The USCG commandant currently takes on these duties on top of the huge task of overseeing the operations of his area commanders. The report also pushes for the Coast Guard commandant to become a voting member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The panel resoundingly approved of Korb’s suggestions for modernizing the Coast Guard’s equipment and organizational structure in order to give it the ability to respond to modern challenges, agreeing that an increasing share of our nation’s security hinges on this crucial organization. “I think if there was a major event, Americans would be [unpleasantly] surprised at the amount of resources we have,” said Hull.

Featured panelists:

Terry Cross, Vice President, EADS North America; Vice Admiral, U.S. Coast Guard (Ret.); Served as Vice Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard 2004-2006
Dr. Stephen Flynn, President, Center for National Policy; Commander U.S. Coast Guard (Ret.); Author, The Edge of Disaster: Building a Resilient Nation
James Hull, Chairman, Coast Guard Affairs Committee, Navy League of the United States; Vice Admiral, U.S. Coast Guard (Ret.); Former Commander of Coast Guard’s Atlantic Area

Moderated by:

Lawrence J. Korb, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress; Former Professor, Coast Guard Academy (1971-75)