Executive Summary: Where to Place the U.S. Coast Guard for Success inthe Department of Homeland Security

Report Homeland Security

Executive Summary: Where to Place the U.S. Coast Guard for Success inthe Department of Homeland Security

September 11, 2002 4 min read
Bruce Stubbs
F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy



The expansion of the Coast Guard's homeland security operations after September 11, 2001, caused a major reshuffling of its mission priorities and assets that is raising concern among some Members of Congress. Port security operations, which had accounted for less than 2 percent of all its activities before the terrorist attacks, expanded to 56 percent of operations by the first week of October. To accommodate that change, the Coast Guard reduced operations in other areas, particularly alien-migrant interception, recreational boating safety, fisheries law enforcement, drug interdiction, and managing aids to navigation. Pointedly, the service did not reduce its search-and-rescue response posture.

Because of this shift in mission priorities, some Members of Congress are expressing concern that transferring the Coast Guard from the Department of Transportation to the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) could lead to a reduced focus on such "traditional" or "routine" Coast Guard missions not directly related to homeland security. The House, in the final version of its homeland security reorganization bill (H.R. 5005) passed on July 26, has authorized the transfer of the Coast Guard's functions, personnel, assets, and obligations to the DHS. The bill stipulates that the Coast Guard be maintained as a distinct entity within the new department. The Senate version of the bill (S. 2452) also authorizes the transfer of Coast Guard functions, personnel, assets, and obligations to the DHS and stipulates that the service be maintained as a distinct entity.

A principal reason for establishing the DHS is to assure unity of effort by placing under one roof all the agencies responsible for protecting the nation's maritime and land borders, providing what some call a "common face" at the border. A key aspect of the war against terrorism is to have complete control over the borders and to put in place an effective, integrated security system to defend them. This will be the primary responsibility of the DHS Border and Transportation Security directorate, which should have authority over all the agencies that have responsibilities for protecting the nation's borders and transportation systems.

Regrettably, the Senate bill includes measures introduced by Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) that would undermine this unity of effort. These amendments mandate that the Coast Guard report directly to the DHS Secretary, not to the Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security, who would have direct responsibility for many other agencies that protect our borders and transportation systems--Customs Service, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and Transportation Security Administration. Further reducing unity of effort, the Stevens measures would designate the Coast Guard's major missions as either "non-homeland security" or "homeland security" related and direct the DHS Secretary not to make any "substantial or significant change...to the capabilities of the Coast Guard to carry out" those non-homeland security missions.

The unity of effort required among all the agencies can be achieved only by placing those agencies responsible for homeland security together in close working arrangements. Removing the Coast Guard from the direct purview of the proposed DHS Border and Transportation Security directorate would exacerbate overall coordination problems and create an awkward and difficult arrangement for the Undersecretary who heads the Border and Transportation Security directorate. This individual would have the legal responsibility and accountability for securing the borders and transportation systems but lack direct oversight authority of a key agency for securing the maritime borders and the U.S. marine transportation system.

It is unlikely that the DHS Secretary would have sufficient time to administer the Coast Guard directly and become immersed in its budgetary and fiscal issues to the degree required for proper oversight, or would want to set Coast Guard priorities in isolation from the other agencies with border security responsibilities. The Stevens amendments--by creating an artificial distinction between the "homeland security" and "traditional" Coast Guard mission areas and by fencing off each from the other--would fundamentally diminish the Coast Guard's hard-won operational flexibility and the benefits of its proven multi-mission concept of operations.

The issue Congress should address is not the potential neglect of the Coast Guard's so-called traditional missions as a result of the new necessities for homeland security, but rather the fact that the Coast Guard needs additional resources to do both jobs well. Even before September 11, the Coast Guard was hard-pressed to do all that it was expected to do within the limits imposed by the steadily decreasing budgets of the last decade. The Coast Guard has received seven emergency supplemental appropriations in the past 10 years, as well as annual funding transfers of approximately $400 million from the Department of Defense to support its national defense and military responsibilities. Adjusted for inflation, its budget actually decreased by 30 percent between 1992 and 1998. In fiscal year (FY) 2001, insufficient operating and maintenance funds forced the Coast Guard to cut operations by 10 percent, with another 15 percent reduction planned for FY 2002.

Rather than trying to devise a scheme that effectively creates two separate Coast Guards, Congress should concentrate on providing the totality of resources that a single, multi-mission, integrated Coast Guard would need to conduct all its missions--both "traditional" and emerging. Rather than isolate the Coast Guard from other agencies responsible for border and transportation security, Congress should focus on reducing fragmentation, improving coordination, and clarifying roles and responsibilities among the agencies forming the Border and Transportation Security directorate. Congress should also provide specific guidance by assigning functional security responsibilities to create an interconnected, complementary, border and transportation security system with a self-reinforcing and non-duplicative architecture.

Specifically, Congress should:

  • Locate the Coast Guard in the Department of Homeland Security's Border and Transportation Security directorate;
  • Assign the lead for each of the directorate's major security functions and capabilities to an agency in which that function or capability already represents a core duty; and
  • Provide adequate funding for all the Coast Guard's missions.

--Bruce Stubbs, a retired Coast Guard officer, has commanded a major cutter, served in Vietnam, and worked on the National Security Council staff during the Reagan Administration. He is now a technical director, Center for Security Strategies and Operations, Anteon Corporation, Arlington, Virginia.


Bruce Stubbs

F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy