Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said the Department of Homeland Security has been a “very good fit” for the service as he has “great accessibility” to Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and “she understands our challenges.”
Still, he added at a House Transportation and Infrastructure Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee on Wednesday, “there’s no perfect fit in the federal government for the Coast Guard because of our broad missions.”
“But I think the right fit is DHS. We have great support from the department on this polar security cutter, the secretary’s personal interest, the staff’s interest,” he said. “I think — I think things are very positive with our relationship with our parent department.”
Schultz told lawmakers that the USCG soon will release a strategic plan that “will emphasize our investment in service readiness, while fine-tuning mission execution and operational support to meet the needs and demands of the nation.”
“Maximizing readiness today and into the future is my top priority, and our people are the cornerstone of service readiness,” he said, stressing that “we continue to build momentum on our recapitalization efforts, including our highest priorities: the Offshore Patrol Cutter and the Polar Security Cutter.”
“Beyond surface recapitalization, we must also invest in reliable C5I Enterprise Systems and buy down a shore infrastructure backlog that currently exceeds $1.6 billion, both of which are critical to our frontline operations and the operators.”
Schultz noted that the Coast Guard has not received readiness budget increases comparable to the other armed services, even as “our maritime border to the south is being exploited by violent, transnational criminal organizations and the Coast Guard is a key component of a comprehensive approach to border security” and maritime commerce is “always vulnerable to today’s cyber disruptions.”
“We’ve been funded at a Budget Control Act level the last seven or eight years and we haven’t got the shore infrastructure dollars we need, but we have seen an uptick there,” he told lawmakers. “I will continue to talk about that in my appearances before you and on the Senate side in the months ahead.”
As the Coast Guard readied a production award for the first Offshore Patrol Cutter, the commandant acknowledged that “obviously the Congress will have an opportunity to weigh in if they think 25 ships is the appropriate number” for the program.
“We’re well into the buildout of 58 Fast Response Cutters. The Fast Response Cutters are proving significantly more capable than the 110-foot Island Class Cutters they replace… I think there is a conversation there about just how much more capable the new assets are versus just solely focusing on the number of hours.”
Schultz addressed concerns from Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) about diversity in the USCG, telling the congressman that “about five percent” of the workforce is African-American, and “that is insufficient.” Nearly 15 percent of the USCG is female.
“We have pockets where we’re doing very well. United States Coast Guard Academy Cadet Corps, which numbers almost 1,100, is comprised of 40 percent females. At some point, we turned the corner, you know, in the last decade-plus where women are in sufficient number there, where they are equally integrated,” he said. “If that was a 60/40 split, women and men, I mean — and I’m not sure where that goes, but there’s a good story there. Under-represented minorities at the Academy, we still have room to go.”
He called 18 African-American graduates from the Academy in the class of 2018 “a good news uptick.”
“We had smaller numbers the year before, rivaling where we were in 1977,” he said. “That’s inexplicable in 2017. So we’re focused on that, but it’s really about inclusivity. We need the men and women of all walks of life to feel included. They need to be part of the fabric of the Academy.”
The USCG intends to wrap up a women’s retention study early next year. “We are not waiting till January, February to get after that. We’re trying to tease out the findings,” Schultz said. “I’ve created what I call a personal readiness task force in assigning full-time handful of people to start understanding these challenges and start actioning these challenges.”