US Coast Guard

On Wednesday, President Obama praised America’s servicemembers for their remarkable response to the crisis in Haiti. He included the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard in an appropriate acknowledgment.  These exceptional men and women deserve all our gratitude and appreciation for their tireless work at home and around the globe.

A useful way to truly thank them is for Congress and the Administration to provide all the necessary resources for those in uniform to get the job done quickly while minimizing losses and maximizing mission success.

Unfortunately, if one follows the money trail, America is falling short when it comes to adequately resourcing the military—including the U.S. Coast Guard.

As a consequence of President Obama’s fiscal year 2011 budget request, the Coast Guard is being “forced to make asset reduction decisions without full appreciation of the impact of those reductions to operational performance.”  That’s according to an internal Coast Guard memo (PDF) penned late last year by the nominee to be the next Coast Guard commandant, Vice Adm. R. J. Papp.

The President’s proposed budget threatens to cut the Coast Guard’s blue water fleet by a full one-third, slash 1,000 personnel, five cutters, and several aircraft, including helicopters. The budget is clearly inadequate to support the recapitalization of aging platforms. Insufficient resources will force the men and women in the Coast Guard to assume additional risk and jeapordize the ability to respond to maritime crises.

Even with the Coast Guard’s growth due to its increased demands in a post-9/11 era, this critical service is still taking on water. Coast Guard cutters and aircraft were the first ones on scene in Haiti, arriving at dawn the day after the disaster. The Coast Guard’s agility reaped huge dividends in the eyes of desperate Haitians. However, the rest of the story tells otherwise.

As we report in our WebMemo:

In his final State of the Coast Guard Address as Commandant, Admiral Allen reported, “Of the 12 major cutters assigned to Haiti relief operations, 10, or 83 percent, suffered severe emission affecting casualties. Two were forced to return to port for emergency repairs, and one proceeded to an emergency dry dock.”

The decrepit state of the Coast Guard fleet caused the service to divert air power from rescue operations to deliver spare parts. The mismatched demands of the nation and the President’s budget cuts for the Coast Guard are unacceptable.

Haiti exposed the urgent need to recapitalize the Coast Guard.  The Administration should thank those in uniform by fixing their aging equipment problems, not making them worse.