As Adm. Robert Papp begins to get comfortable as the Coast Guard’s new commandant, we’re starting to learn more about his priorities, agenda and leadership style. In an article in the August issue of Proceedings, a publication of the U.S. Naval Institute, Papp discussed how he plans to lead the Coast Guard at a time when the workload is heavy and budgets are tight.
I was interested to read that officials in Washington are mulling some changes in Coast Guard services along the nation’s inland waterways and perhaps in its maritime regulatory functions.
Anticipating future budget cuts, Papp is considering cuts in maintaining buoys and other navigational aids on the inland waterways and Great Lakes, with the possibility of gradually turning over these duties to the states, according to the article.
The current fleet of buoy tenders is obsolete and due for costly replacement. Papp talked about the many Coast Guard roles in the brownwater community including aids to navigation, search-and-rescue and even the Asian carp controversy in the Great Lakes.
“I suspect we’re going to come to a certain point in time where our inland tenders just can’t be pushed any further, and we’re going to have to make some decision about (them),” he said, stopping short of revealing specifics of any plans he might have. “I’m getting a little ahead of myself here. Let’s just say that within the time that I’m the commandant, we’ll have to seriously address that.”
When pressed further, the admiral was non-committal about states taking over inland navigational functions because that is still a federal responsibility, but he didn’t rule out the possibility either. “What we need to do is find the wherewithal to either do it or decide that the federal government is not going to do it. But in the absence of someone telling me, I’m not going to do it, I’ve got to do my best to get the mission accomplished.”
Papp didn’t outwardly admit it in the interview, but some in the know have suggested that at least part of the Coast Guard’s maritime regulatory responsibility be shifted back to the Department of Transportation.
These are all intriguing suggestions, on the table because of budget concerns. But the discussion needs to involve more than money. The Coast Guard and Congress need to figure out if such shifts would indeed improve the level of service, or at minimum, retain the status quo.