October 20, 2021

Chair Carbajal Statement from Hearing on Positioning the U.S. Coast Guard for the Future

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Salud Carbajal (D-CA) during today’s hearing titled, “Achieving Mission Balance: Positioning the Coast Guard for the Future.”

Video of Chair Carbajal’s opening statement is here.

More information on the hearing can be found here.

Chair Carbajal:

Good morning, and welcome to today’s Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation subcommittee hearing on “Achieving Mission Balance: Positioning the Coast Guard for the Future.” Today, we will hear directly from the Coast Guard Deputy Commandant for Operations, Vice Admiral Scott Buschman, who will enlighten us on the Coast Guard’s 11 mission sets and its remarkable talent for persevering under adverse conditions with limited resources to achieve mission objectives.

As a regulatory agency, a law enforcement organization, a military service, a first responder, and a member of the intelligence community, the Coast Guard wears many hats. It relies on roughly 40,700 active-duty service members, 6,200 reservists, 8,700 civilian employees, and 26,000 Auxiliarists to perform its missions, which include Ports, Waterway, and Coastal Security, Drug and Migrant Interdiction, Marine Environmental Protection, Marine Safety, Aids to Navigation, and Search and Rescue, among others. The Coast Guard plays a critical role in preserving our national security as the sole law enforcement agency with the authority and capability to enforce national and international law in the United States territorial waters and the high seas.

Yet, the world’s best Coast Guard is chronically underfunded and overextended. The Coast Guard is known to “punch above its weight,” talk to any Coastie and he or she will proudly boast “we do a lot with a little.” It’s a small, resourceful, and resilient service but we can do better, and the Coast Guard deserves our support.

I am keenly interested in the Coast Guard’s marine safety program. Today, I would like to hear the Coast Guard’s plan to fully staff its marine inspection program with experienced and appropriately qualified personnel. Those inspectors must be capable of inspecting vessels to ensure they meet federal safety standards, and the service must properly allocate the resources to carry out this important mission. Having just recognized the two-year anniversary of the CONCEPTION casualty last month, we are reminded that vessel safety inspections are vital to safety and cannot be brushed aside in favor of more “exciting” missions.

Marine environmental protection is especially important for today’s hearing as we monitor the ongoing cleanup efforts of the oil spill that occurred earlier this month in Southern California. The Coast Guard has a leading role in the unified command in those cleanup efforts and will pursue an investigation into the cause of the spill, which is sure to be lengthy and will require additional resources.

I also look forward to learning more about the resources the Coast Guard applies to its Drug and Migrant Interdiction Operations. Last year, the Coast Guard prevented 318,340 pounds of cocaine and 70,371 pounds of marijuana from making its way onto the streets of our country. Successful interdiction in these areas requires a multi-faceted, multi-layered approach. Capitalizing on its interagency partnerships, like those with JIATF-South, and leveraging over 25 bilateral agreements, the Coast Guard is uniquely postured in its law enforcement authorities to conduct the counter narcotics mission and stem the flow of human smuggling and trafficking.

However, in my conversations with members of the Coast Guard, I was disappointed to learn of the problems facing the men and women defending our nation, incurring sacrifice after sacrifice to upset the plans of drug trafficking organizations and transnational criminal organizations, and rescue victims from capsized boats. Many Coast Guard members return home at the end of a workday to military housing containing asbestos and lead-based paint, have to wait weeks or even months to receive specialty medical care, have a hard time finding quality, affordable child care, or face limited job opportunities for their spouses. Today, I’d be interested to learn more about the Coast Guard’s plans to support its most valuable resource of all, its people, because without them mission success is not achievable.

Lastly, I’d like to turn to an important issue. Recently, news emerged of a disturbing incident that happened to a U.S. Merchant Marine Academy cadet. This cadet was sexually assaulted on board a vessel during her sea year experience in 2019. It is my understanding that the Coast Guard investigative service is conducting an investigation. Hearing of the cadet’s story broke my heart. As Chair of this subcommittee, member of the House Armed Services Committee, and appointee to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Board of Visitors, I’ve come to learn the terrible culture within the maritime community where women are not safe in learning and work environments. I am appalled that I was not notified of this investigation or of these circumstances at the academy. In fact, despite my appointment in April, the Superintendent nor anyone at the Academy has engaged my office. This must change. I raise this issue today to highlight the Coast Guard’s important role as law-enforcement upon the high seas. I also expect to Coast Guard set an example for industry, to work within its own ranks and within the maritime industry to ensure women feel safe and stop this culture.

We have a lot to cover today so let’s get after it. I look forward to our witness’ testimony and discovering more about how the Coast Guard balances so many competing priorities to preserve our great nation.