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New Coast Guard Strategy Maps Out Urgent Changes to Meet Evolving Challenges

USCG strategic framework focuses on three goals: "transform our total workforce," "sharpen our competitive edge," and "advance our mission excellence."

The U.S. Coast Guard’s new strategy for this year and beyond emphasizes the importance of innovation, technological advancements, partnerships, workforce and recruitment evolution, and acting “with a sense of urgency” to meet the challenges of a changing world in which “the pace of that change is accelerating.”

“Geopolitical strategic competition, economic volatility, climate change impacts, shifting workforce expectations, evolving technologies, and emerging maritime uses are converging and driving change for our Service,” Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan wrote at the outset of the strategy. “If we do not adapt, this accelerating pace of change will overtake our ability to protect, defend, and save the American public we serve. Now is the time to move our Service forward.”

“We will transform our total workforce by modernizing how we recruit, hire, develop, train, and support our people and their families,” she continued. “We will sharpen our competitive edge by driving a culture of innovation to integrate new technology and provide our people with reliable assets, systems, and infrastructure. And we will advance our mission excellence by pioneering new operating concepts while enhancing our readiness.”

Fagan stressed that USCG is “committed to building a diverse and inclusive workforce reflective of the American people,” and creating “an environment where all people are respected, valued, and empowered.”

“Delivering improvements for our Coast Guard workforce is my top priority, so our Service can meet the challenges of tomorrow and ensure the enduring prosperity of America,” she said. “…Tomorrow looks different. So will we.”

In summing up the strategic environment, the document notes as drivers of mission risk and opportunity the growing complexity in the workforce and competition for talent, rapid advancements in technology including a need to expand interconnectivity and integrate autonomous systems or artificial intelligence, the impacts of climate change including extreme weather and increased access to the polar regions, shifting economic factors that impact the Marine Transportation System, an evolving geopolitical landscape including aggression from nation-states, criminal organizations or extremist actors, and changing operational domains both in the maritime environment and in cyberspace.

“As the external environment changes, so will the strategic drivers and their combined implications to our Coast Guard missions,” the strategy states. “We have the opportunity today to build readiness and resilience within our Service.”

That includes evolving the talent management system to “allow more career flexibility while meeting Service needs,” matching “the pace of changing technology, climate, economic pressures, political landscapes, and operational demands” to “compete with the evolving capabilities of our adversaries, embracing organizational and process changes to make the most of new technologies and, as necessary, identifying and closing gaps in our authorities,” and adjusting force posture and operating concepts to meet increasing demands as “increasing demand for the Coast Guard’s unique authorities, partnerships, and capabilities will stretch our organizational capacity and require clearer alignment between strategy, resource allocation, and mission execution to address the most consequential risks facing our Nation.”

The Coast Guard’s strategic framework focuses on three goals: “transform our total workforce,” “sharpen our competitive edge,” and “advance our mission excellence.”

To reach the workforce goal, USCG plans in part to “deploy innovative recruiting practices” and “build a talent management system that is transparent, readily understandable, and leverages data analytics to identify and solve problems while also supporting the flexibility that our current and future workforce desires.” To support the growth of the existing workforce, USCG plans to “develop individually tailored, on-demand, and modernized learning” and “deliver point-of-need healthcare and family services to bolster the resiliency of our workforce and families.”

To sharpen competitive edge, USCG intends to “focus and accelerate investments in technology and critical infrastructure to maximize mission outcomes and efficiently employ workforce effort and talent,” including by continuing “to deliver results through the Technology Revolution and investments in Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, and Intelligence (C5I) infrastructure and capabilities,” advance a “future-focused, integrated approach to design, deploy, and sustain our workforce, assets, systems, infrastructure, and logistics support,” foster “a culture of innovation to keep pace with accelerating changes in industrial capacity, global reach, and technology development,” and “leverage data as the catalyst to fuel the Coast Guard’s strategic advantage” including by “the advancement of data as a strategic asset for business and mission operations.”

USCG intends to advance mission excellence by being “brilliant at the basics” in its core requirements while reducing “the burden of sustainment, administrative, maintenance, and logistical requirements on our front-line units to enable greater focus on building readiness, proficiency, and resiliency,” utilizing “our assets, people, and capabilities in new ways to respond to growing demands and evolving threats,” building upon the service’s ability to lead in crises with the intent to “grow organic incident response capacity and reconceive our Reserve workforce employment model,” safeguarding a rapidly changing Marine Transportation System, and strengthening partnerships and improving maritime governance “through deliberate, coordinated, and impactful engagement.”

“Many of these changes will take years of dedicated and deliberate effort,” the strategy notes. “In addition to ongoing investment in modern capabilities to conduct our missions, we must focus long-term investments on our workforce, C5I, data, and shore infrastructure to support mission success across the enterprise.” Planning and investments “must account for planned service lives of more than 20 years and ensure the impact of strategic drivers, such as climate change and changing workforce needs, are considered in requirements development.”

“The transformation called for in this Strategy is foundational to the success of our Coast Guard and will continue beyond the next four years. It will require unwavering leadership, ongoing commitment, innovative thinking, and focused effort to bear results and become fully engrained in our Service,” the strategy states. “Enduring changes must be deliberately woven into organizational frameworks, processes, governance, and culture. We will seek to clearly understand the intended outcomes and potential effects of these actions as we implement initiatives in support of each priority. We will balance boldness with warranted risk; the status quo will no longer serve us as we look to the future. We will consistently evaluate our progress towards actualizing the tenets in this Strategy. Most importantly, we remain committed to continuous improvement – we will learn to assess the changing world and its impacts both to our Service and to our missions, all while evolving to overcome these changes. This is our Coast Guard. Together we will transform our Service.”

The Coast Guard Strategic Plan covering 2018-22 focused on three core priorities: “Maximize readiness today and tomorrow, address the nation’s complex maritime challenges, and deliver mission excellence anytime, anywhere.”

Fagan’s predecessor, former Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz, emphasized that “presence equals influence” while warning of Russia and China’s growing Arctic operations and hunger for more control in the region expanding due to melting ice.

Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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