Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Coast Guard almost on the rocks

While the cliche "success breeds success" may be true, I'm not sure it's really a truism for the Coast Guard... particularly when looking at the big picture.

A headline today screams the CG is in need of rescuing...
The U.S. Coast Guard, which won wide praise for saving thousands of people and opening storm-battered ports in the days after Hurricane Katrina struck, may itself be in need of a rescue.

Lawmakers and homeland-security specialists say mounting burdens and years of inadequate funding are hampering the Coast Guard, which in addition to patrolling domestic waters and aiding mariners, must also monitor ships and thousands of cargo containers moving through U.S. ports and waterways. The result, they say is a nation increasingly vulnerable to terrorism, natural disasters, drug trafficking and mass migrations.
((Don't be content with only a teaser of this post;
read more of this musing.))

Okay, so what's new here? Is it Chicken Little?

I don't think so. Some six or seven years ago I sat in on a brief about the state of the Coast Guard's shore facilities, our buildings and piers. We were, and are, in a miserable state. Civil engineers will tell you that you should set aside some percentage -- I think it's like 2 to 4 percent, but I'm not sure, exactly -- of the value of your facilities for upkeep and recapitualization. We set aside almost nothing. And it's no wonder why our buildings are falling down around us.
The maritime agency may be a victim of its own success, regularly being rated as one of the most efficiently run government agencies, said retired Coast Guard Rear Admiral Ed Gilbert, president of Gilbert & Associates, an Arlington, Virginia-based security consulting firm.

Within a week after Katrina struck on Aug. 29, the Coast Guard -- pulling in ships and helicopters from as far away as Alaska and New England -- rescued at least 33,000 people, contained hundreds of toxic spills and opened ports in New Orleans and Gulfport, Mississippi.

Televised pictures of Coast Guardsmen lowered from helicopters to flood-beleaguered evacuees burnished the can-do reputation of the agency while Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael Brown came under fire for slow-moving aid delivery. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen, the service's chief of staff, was elevated to on-scene commander of the relief effort Sept. 9.

Such feats create the impression that the Coast Guard ``has done so much for so little for so long, that we could do everything with nothing,'' Gilbert said.

The average age of the Coast Guard's 378-foot cutters, the fleet's largest ships apart from icebreakers, is 35 years, and most of its surveillance aircraft are more than 22 years old, according to a Government Accountability Office report released in June.
Congress is investigating the nation's response to Katrina with an eye to reshaping FEMA. Homeland-security experts and lawmakers from both parties agree that any probe of what went wrong should start with analyzing what the Coast Guard did right.

"The Coast Guard is the one agency that stood out in being very prepared, responding quickly," said Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican who chairs the Homeland Security panel. "It's a model for emergency response and preparedness."
What scares me is that if we're the best (and I know we can be much, much better) what in the world is going on in other agencies?

1 comment:

  1. I love reading your blog! And I don't normally comment, but the comment that the Ret ADM made was so striking to me!

    ``[USCG] has done so much for so little for so long, that we could do everything with nothing,''

    This is what we have always shown everyone, and we continue to show them that. So, they probably feel like "why do we need to fund them if they can get the job done and go above and beyond expectations with so little?" So, what is gonna take for us to get some new equipment and funding? Do we have to fail? That is not gonna happen, because that is not what we do. I'm stuck here...

    I have no idea what other agencies are doing...but the military (DoD) is ready to go, they just have to get someone to ask them. :( And they say we go under the Navy during a time of war, well they should come under us during a national emergency!!)