[Congressional Record (Bound Edition), Volume 146 (2000), Part 14]
[House]
[Pages 19960-19961]
[From the U.S. Government Printing Office, www.gpo.gov]



                         COAST GUARD READINESS

  The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Quinn). Under a previous order of the 
House, the gentleman from North Carolina (Mr. Jones) is recognized for 
5 minutes.
  Mr. JONES of North Carolina. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address 
this body on the issue of military readiness. Yesterday, the Committee 
on Armed Services held a lengthy hearing regarding the state of our 
Nation's military. During that hearing, the Chairman of the Joint 
Chiefs and the Service Chiefs of the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines 
offered frank testimony regarding the ability of our Nation to meet the 
security challenges facing us today.
  As I participated in yesterday's hearing, I could not help but think 
that an important part of our military was not being heard: The United 
States Coast Guard. While some might not realize it, the United States 
Coast Guard is our Nation's fifth military service. In one form or 
another, the Coast Guard has served our country alongside her sister 
services in peace and war since 1790.
  As a recent Presidentially approved study on the roles and missions 
of the Coast Guard certified, the Coast Guard's special capabilities 
are as well suited to the national defense mission of the 21st century 
as they were in 1790. Whether it is drug interdiction or illegal 
immigrants along our Nation's shores or serving with our naval forces 
in the Balkans and the gulf, the Coast Guard is a vital part of our 
overall national security strategy.
  Unfortunately, with that responsibility has also come many of the 
same readiness difficulties facing the other branches of the military. 
They are facing challenges in recruiting and retaining personnel, in 
keeping up with rising operation and maintenance costs caused by aging 
equipment and by performing dramatically increased missions with 
greater decreased manpower.
  A USA Today article published last May highlighted many of these 
problems facing the Coast Guard, and I will be providing a copy of the 
article, Mr. Speaker, for the Record.
  The writer of this article identified several of the concerns when 
indicating that despite soaring operational commitments, the Coast 
Guard, which has 35,000 active duty service members, is the same size 
as it was in 1967. Enlisted experience has declined from 8.8 years in 
1995 to 7.9 years today, and is expected to drop to 7.1 years in the 
year 2003. The percentages of experienced pilots who leave every year 
has doubled since 1995, soaring from 20 percent to 40 percent.
  I further quote the article: ``The Coast Guard has only half of the 
certified surfmen it needs to operate rescue boats in the most 
dangerous conditions.'' The author went on to say that equipment is 
also a problem. ``On any given day, just 60 percent of the HC-130 fleet 
is fit for duty. Some have been turned into `hangar queens,' 
cannibalized for spare parts to keep other aircraft flying. The Coast 
Guard's major cutters are an average of more than 30 years old. Many 
smaller boats date to the Vietnam War. Such a creaky fleet is no match 
for drug smugglers.''
  From these anecdotes alone it is easy to see the challenges facing 
the Coast Guard are not minor. The men and women of our fifth armed 
services are some of the best, the brightest, and the most dedicated 
military personnel in the world. They serve our Nation with pride, and 
we owe it to them to ensure that they are properly resourced to perform 
their missions.
  Mr. Speaker, when this Congress and the American people debate the 
issue of military readiness, it is imperative that the Coast Guard be 
included as part of the debate. That debate is important to ensuring 
that the Coast Guard will always be able to live up to its motto, 
Semper Paratus, always ready.
  Mr. Speaker, I submit herewith for the Record the news article 
referred to above:

                     [From USA Today, May 16, 2000]

                 Readiness Problems Plague Coast Guard

                           (By Andrea Stone)

       Washington--For 210 years, the Coast Guard has lived its 
     motto, Semper Paratus. Always ready.
       Yet there are mounting questions today about whether that 
     still holds true.
       When President Clinton speaks to Coast Guard Academy 
     graduates in New London, Conn., Wednesday, he will face 
     members of a military service whose national security role 
     has expanded in the last three decades even as its ranks have 
     shrunk to 1967 proportions. At a time when drugs, terrorism, 
     pollution and illegal migration pose a bigger threat than 
     foreign armies, the Coast Guard is the federal agency in 
     charge of monitoring them all.
       And it must do so without skimping on its No. 1 priority: 
     saving lives. Last year, the Coast Guard answered 39,000 
     calls for help and saved 3,800 people.

[[Page 19961]]

       Yet with an enlisted force that is younger and less 
     experienced every year and a fleet that is older than 38 of 
     41 navies of similar size and mission, there is evidence that 
     its core mission is being compromised:
       A shortage of serviceable HC-130 search planes may have 
     contributed to the death last fall of a boater who called for 
     help during a storm off the California coast.
       Four people drowned in 1997 near Charleston, S.C., during a 
     storm after an inexperienced watchstander failed to pick up 
     the word ``Mayday!'' on a radio distress call. The National 
     Transportation Safety Board later cited ``substandard 
     performance'' by the service.
       That same year, three Coast Guard crewmembers died when 
     their boat capsized during a rescue attempt off the coast of 
     Washington. An internal report blamed a lack of training and 
     experience, noting that many crews are ``unqualified to fill 
     the billets to which they have been assigned.''
       ``They're reaching the edge of their capabilities,'' says 
     Mortimer Downey, deputy secretary of Transportation, which 
     oversees the Coast Guard. ``We're seeing less than optimum 
     performance.''
       In what was called a ``cultural shift'' signaling that 
     crews would no longer try to do more with less, Coast Guard 
     Commandant Adm. James Loy ordered in March an unprecedented 
     10% cut in non-emergency operations. ``The strains caused by 
     having tired people run old equipment beyond human and 
     mechanical limits (degrades) our readiness,'' he said 
     recently.
       ``Coasties'' will still answer every call for help. But 
     safety inspections and patrols to catch drug smugglers, 
     illegal migrants and foreign vessels illegally fishing in 
     U.S. waters have been scaled back. The Coast Guard commander 
     on Nantucket Island, Mass., has stopped operations for eight 
     months though crews will still respond to search-and-rescue 
     emergencies and oil spills. He said his crews need the time 
     to repair their boats and train.
       ``The reduction in Coast Guard presence on the high seas 
     will undoubtedly mean more illegal drugs will not (sic) 
     stopped, more illegal migrants will reach our shores, and 
     more foreign fishing vessels will harvest our marine 
     resources,'' retired vice admiral Howard Thorsen wrote in 
     May's issue of Proceedings.
       Since 1976, when Congress expanded the coastal limit from 
     12 miles to 200 miles, the Coast Guard has enforced the law 
     in the United States' exclusive economic zone--at 3.4 million 
     square miles the world's largest. During that same period, 
     the service was given the jobs of protecting the marine 
     environment, stopping illegal migrants and interdicting drug 
     smugglers. The last two decades have also seen safety-related 
     duties expand as the number of recreational boats and 
     passenger cruise ships has skyrocketed.
       Yet the Coast Guard, which has 35,000 active-duty service 
     members, is the same size as in 1967. It joined the other 
     military services in a post-Cold War downsizing that saw 
     5,000 people leave in the 1990s. And now, like those 
     services, it is struggling to cope with high turnover and 
     tough recruiting in a red-hot economy:
       Enlisted experience has declined from 8.8 years in 1995 to 
     7.9 years today and is expected to drop to 7.1 years in 2003.
       The percentage of experienced pilots who leave every year 
     has doubled since 1995, soaring from 20% to 40%.
       More than a quarter of enlisted cruise ship and charter 
     boat safety inspectors have not attended entry-level marine 
     safety courses. A third of lieutenant commander safety 
     billets are filled with junior lieutenants.
       The Coast Guard has half the certified surfmen it needs to 
     operate rescue boats in the most dangerous conditions. Aging 
     equipment adds to problems. On any given day, just 60% of the 
     HC-130 fleet is fit for duty. Some have been turned into 
     ``hangar queens,'' cannibalized for spare parts to keep other 
     aircraft flying.
       The Coast Guard's major cutters are an average of more than 
     30 years old. Many smaller boats also date to the Vietnam 
     War. Such a creaky fleet is no match for drug smugglers.
       Thsi year, at least 400 souped-up speedboats carrying tons 
     of illegal drugs from Colombia will cut through the Caribbean 
     at up to 50 knots per hour. The fastest cutters reach 30 
     knots. The result is that nine of 10 smugglers get away.
       In December, a government task force recognized the 
     problems and endorsed replacing the entire fleet with 
     electronically linked high-tech cutters, small boats, fixed-
     wing aircraft, helicopters and satellites. The so-called 
     Deepwater project, which has bipartisan support, would cost 
     at least $500 million a year for the next 20 years.
       By Pentagon standards, the project is modest. But then 
     again, the Coast Guard's $4.1 billion budget is tiny compared 
     with the Pentagon's nearly $300 billion budget.

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