After 9/11, the U.S. Coast Guard became part of the Department of Homeland Security. In addition to its traditional roles, the agency took on some new responsibilities under DHS. Some say, a decade later, the USCG is being stretched almost to the breaking point.
But Rear Adm. Joseph A. Servidio, the Coast Guard’s assistant commandant for prevention policy, said at the recent Passenger Vessel Association convention in Houston that the agency is meeting the challenge.
“We’re keeping up with the service demands,” he said. “Our safety record is very strong.”
Very few question the USCG’s traditional search-and-rescue record, including its heroic efforts during hurricanes Katrina and Sandy that deservedly received boatloads of national media attention. But the regulatory quagmire created by the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC), the efforts to bring thousands of heretofore uninspected vessels under inspection, as well as dealing with problems such as licensing mariners who are growing older and experiencing the medical problems that go along with aging is asking a lot. It seems that every time the agency’s plate is filled, DHS heaps on more.
But Servidio said the Coast Guard is not only keeping up, but also making headway against these and other challenges. He said the backlog for TWIC cards at the National Maritime Center in West Virginia has fallen from an average of two months to less than four weeks. “I think we’re in a much better place than we were six or seven years ago,” he said of the Coast Guard’s overall efforts. “I do think we’re doing pretty well.”
Servidio said some of the challenges ahead include wind energy, undersea mining, repairing of Aids to Navigation, cyber terrorism, increased environmental responsibilities, LNG as a marine fuel, and the continued promotion of a marine safety culture.
The biggest concern, of course, is money. DHS is telling the Coast Guard to do more with less. “I see fiscal challenges ahead,” he said. “We will have a smaller Coast Guard [in the future]. We can’t always do what we would like to do. We have to do what we need to do.”