Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said the service’s push toward greater diversity would be better informed by a study expected next month and vowed to lawmakers that he would “bust up” any “good old boy networks” in working toward the goal of a more inclusive Coast Guard.
Schultz told the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday that he believes it is “critical to foster a culture of inclusion where we focus on achieving fair and equitable outcomes for all who serve.”
“The Coast Guard must be a learning organization. It is commanders’ business, as I term it, to ensure every Coast Guard member can contribute the full power of their backgrounds, experiences, and thoughts,” he said. “We have not always gotten that right. Today I want to assure the committee that I am listening, that your Coast Guard is listening, and we have and continue to take decisive action.”
USCG, he said, is “dedicated to inclusive workplaces that mirror the great diversity of the American people we are honored to serve,” and the service has “made significant progress” but has more to do to “drive continuous improvement.”
By the end of the summer, the Coast Guard will have 125 “change agents” trained and able to lead diversity and inclusion training across the service at hundreds of units each year.
“We continue to assess programs for their outcomes. We implemented improvements to our college student pre-commissioning initiative, or CSPI as it is better known, to increase the opportunities for individuals with diverse backgrounds to enter our officer ranks,” Schultz said. “We created the new officer recruiting branch, adding recruiters to key geographic locations to enhance the CSPI program, as well as our other officer session programs. Only by improving awareness of the career opportunities the Coast Guard offers will we be able to identify and increase the diversity of our candidate pools.”
Workforce initiatives have been implemented to retain more women, such as up to 120 days of parental leave and a backfill program to help units maintain readiness during this leave, modifying standards for body composition and grooming, and adjustment of assignment policies.
Schultz said another commissioned RAND study to review recruitment and retention of underrepresented minorities in the active-duty workforce is expected soon.
“We have added additional oversight and prioritized creating a fully inclusive learning and training environment, making sure that the academy and the leadership development sector co-located there are not only producing leaders for a diverse and inclusive Coast Guard, but they represent a diverse and inclusive workforce we are trying to build,” he said.
Though the Coast Guard has the highest retention rate of the armed services, Schultz said it remains a challenge to retain recruits. “For every Coast Guardsman that we retain beyond their four-year initial commitment, rack up maybe potentially up to 20 years and beyond, that is a huge win,” he said. “It takes us multiple recruits to get that.”
“I’m working to find 4,000 Americans that want to enlist in the Coast Guard on an annual basis. We’ve been challenged to meet that goal year in, year out. With COVID this past year, we’ll probably get to 3,200, 3,300.”
After a 50 percent cut in USCG recruiting offices years ago during budget sequestration, Schultz said “it’s less about the physical office today than it is about the recruiter, and the ability to go meet a young recruit in his or her home, maybe in their school, have the mobility.”
“So we’ve had a tech revolution,” he said. “We’re close to giving the recruiters the ability to sit down on the couch with an iPad and seal the deal and do the paperwork. Now we have to bring them back to the office. The other office services are a little bit more agile due to investments earlier on that.”
The service has set goals to recruit 25 percent women and 35 percent underrepresented minorities.
“We’ve done, actually, better on the underrepresented minorities, met or exceeded the goals,” the commandant told lawmakers. “We fell short, about 20 percent women, when we strived for 25 percent. But when you’re only recruiting 4,000 a year, moving the needle in an organization of 42,000 does not happen fast.”
“…We are working hard to compete. We do have four new officer recruiters targeting minority officer recruiting. We’re sending them to Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans, and Norfolk, Virginia. We’re hopeful that may be the start of additional effort in that area as well.”
Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) asked Schultz whether “there exists within the Coast Guard a sort of good old boys’ network in which white men look out for, promote, and protect each other.”
“And if not, do you believe such a network ever existed? And when did it end?” she asked. “And what have you done as commandant to ensure that it does not exist?”
“When will it end? I don’t know. Do I believe it exists in society… there’s probably subsets of it in any of the armed forces? Yes, ma’am,” Schultz replied. “You know, it’s the same conversation with extremism in the ranks. Am I aware of any extremists in our ranks? We had an extremist in our ranks a couple years ago. And he’s doing 13 and a half years in a federal penitentiary because we identified him. We acted on that. We worked with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. We disenrolled him from our ranks immediately on prosecution.”
“So I am absolutely committed to accountability,” he added. “If there are good old boy networks, and as you mentioned, ma’am, then I want to bust them up. And this is what our 125 cultural change agents that are getting outside training are going to do, tied to our diversity inclusion action plan that we rolled out. We started on this trajectory, congresswoman, on 1 June 2018. My guiding principles talked about a more diverse Coast Guard, a more inclusive Coast Guard being imperative, a commander’s priority from day one.”
Schultz said the forthcoming RAND study on barriers to retention for underrepresented minorities will be critical to shaping policy and initiatives. “Because in the past, studies have been shelfware,” he added. “I want studies to be causes and catalyst for action.”