Adm. Schultz: USCG Needs Funds to Fix $2B Maintenance Backlog

Image courtesy USCG

Published Feb 21, 2020 2:00 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Coast Guard saves countless lives, ensures the safety of marine operations and interdicts hundreds of tonnes of cocaine on the high seas - but it also faces serious challenges to sustain its mission, Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said in his annual state of the service address this week. 

Like his predecessor, Adm. Paul Zukunft, Adm. Schultz emphasized the issues facing the Coast Guard's shoreside infrastructure. "Every mission begins and ends at a Coast Guard facility. Unfortunately, due to years of flat-line budgets forcing tradeoffs, the facilities that our men and women deploy from and return to are crumbling around them. Forty percent of Coast Guard buildings are over fifty years old," he said. "Mold. Leaky roofs. Flooding. Outdated building standards. These have all culminated in a two billion dollar backlog of facility repairs."

These poor working conditions make life harder for personnel - and that means that it is harder to recruit and retain talented people in a competitive job market, he said. It also means challenges for operational readiness: Schultz contrasted persistent flooding issues at aging Station Niagara with the resilience of the service's new Houston-area facilities, which withstood Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and supported a massive Coast Guard rescue response after the storm. 

The service also faces digital challenges. "Years of investment tradeoffs have brought our information technology to the brink of catastrophic failure. Just this past summer over 95 vital systems went offline for several days due to a single server malfunction, impacting our ability to save U.S. citizens, thwart criminals, defend our nation, and yes, even to simply check our email," he said. "Our people will never fail our country, but our technology is failing our people."

The service wants to increase its internet speed, replace all of its IT equipment on a standard cycle and catch up with deferred maintenance - but it faces a $300 million-per-year IT budget shortfall. "While we’ve developed this new road map to a more technologically advanced and effective Coast Guard, we need an injection of funding now," Adm. Schultz said. 

Despite these challenges, the service continues its exemplary work keeping mariners safe and defending the nation, and Adm. Schultz pointed to its recent successes. "Over the past year, you saw us first on scene following the horrific destruction of Hurricane Dorian – the largest most devastating storm to hit The Bahamas. Millions watched in awe as a coast guardsman fearlessly leapt onto a narco sub traversing the Eastern Pacific Ocean," he said. "National Security Cutter Bertholf plied the Taiwan Straits to promote free and open access to the seas and adherence to the 'Rules Based Order.' Coast Guard service members rescued 24 trapped crewmembers from the overturned 650-foot Golden Ray, including four confined for over 30 hours in 140 degree engine room spaces."