May 11, 2023

Ranking Members Larsen, Carbajal Statements from Hearing on Coast Guard and Maritime Workforce Challenges

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Rick Larsen (D-WA) and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Salud Carbajal (D-CA) during today’s hearing titled, “Assessing the Shortage of United States Mariners and Recruitment and Retention in the United States Coast Guard.”

Video of Larsen and Carbajal’s opening statements can be found here and here.

More information on the hearing can be found here.

Ranking Member Larsen:

Thank you, Chairman Webster for calling today’s hearing. The U.S. Coast Guard and the civilian U.S. merchant marine are facing a unique challenge associated with the booming economy and historically low unemployment rates—they’re having a hard time attracting new individuals to service.

The Coast Guard often prides itself on its ability to do more with less.

They’re a fraction of the size and budget of the other services and yet they have a significantly wider mission set. Being “Semper Paratus,” with insufficient resources is not sustainable.

The Coast Guard is currently operating with a shortfall of more than 4,500 servicemembers. To address this problem, the Service is rethinking recruiting by hiring more recruiters, expanding the JROTC program, providing referral incentives, and deploying targeted advertising.

The Coast Guard offers unique experiences and opportunities to its servicemembers. During an average day, the Coast Guard will conduct 109 search-and-rescues, launch 164 aircraft missions, seize 475 pounds of illegal drugs, respond to 20 oil or hazardous chemical spills and service 135 aids to navigation. A career in the Coast Guard is one to be proud of.

I’m confident that the Coast Guard can and will do a better job of conveying the many opportunities it offers. But the Coast Guard needs our help ensuring robust support for Coasties as they conduct those missions.

Without affordable housing, Coasties are required to commute hours to work. Without medical access, Coasties go without health care. Without modern facilities and technology, Coasties work in substandard conditions. Without adequate childcare, parents will simply leave the service.

I applaud Admiral Fagan for her refreshing approach exemplified by the slogan “tomorrow will look different, and so will we.” If the Coast Guard does not rethink its way of doing business, recruitment and retention will only get harder.

Quality of life is a recruitment and retention issue. While it is incumbent on the Coast Guard to tell us what they need, Congress needs to better support the women and men who serve.

The challenges facing the U.S. merchant marine are similar to that of the Coast Guard. As workers increasingly value flexibility, a maritime career, which often entails living on a ship for several months, is less attractive. But, also like the Coast Guard, it’s an industry that offers the opportunity to contribute to society in a valuable way.

U.S. merchant mariners deliver the majority of defense materials overseas, ensure the delivery of U.S. food-aid and protect our domestic economic security. Further, a career at sea allows women and men to see the world.

To attract more mariners to the industry, Congress and the Administration must ensure stable employment opportunities. That means full and consistent funding for the Maritime Security Program and the Tanker Security Program. That means ensuring full compliance with cargo preference laws. That means sending a strong message that the Jones Act will not be eroded or repealed.

In the recently reported Coast Guard Authorization Act, I’m glad that this committee included several provisions aimed at increasing the pool of merchant mariners. One of those provisions would better align licensing requirements with international standards to remove a burden upon the mariner, while maintaining safety. Another would fix an anomaly in the law to allow people from American Samoa to enter the industry.

I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that these provisions become law. I also look forward to hearing from our witnesses about other ways to attract and retain merchant mariners.

Thank you and I yield back.


Ranking Member Carbajal:

Thank you, Chair Webster, for calling this important hearing to review recruiting issues in both the Coast Guard and the merchant marine.

The Coast Guard is facing a recruiting deficit of over 4,800 active-duty personnel. Every sector of the economy is facing recruiting challenges and the military is no different. As views toward work have changed over the past few years, many industries are facing labor shortages as workers are looking for a job that not only values them as an employee but offers an experience that provides value in return.   

Servicemembers have always been at the core of the Service and, without them, mission success would not be possible. The Coast Guard understands this. In 2021, 100% of Coasties who were married to other Coasties were stationed together. This is one of many reasons the Coast Guard has the highest retention rate among military services.  

Despite the critical role the Coast Guard plays in our national security, economy, and ensuring the safety of lives at sea, the Coast Guard is the second smallest branch of the military and chronic disinvestment in the Coast Guard has forced them to do more with less.

Chronic underinvestment has resulted in reduced services for Coasties and their families, including in housing, healthcare, and childcare. We must do more to improve the lives of these hardworking individuals by providing the quality care they deserve. By doing so, recruitment will improve.

Recruiting and retaining personnel is imperative for the success of the Coast Guard, as it is in all branches of the military. I’m interested to hear about the Coast Guard’s plans to recruit and retain personnel, with a particular focus on diversity and inclusion, in the coming years.

Despite the Coast Guard’s efforts to improve representation of women and minorities within its workforce, leadership in the Service still struggles to reflect the demographics of the nation. The Coast Guard is the least diverse branch of the military. We must build on the efforts being made to recruit and retain diverse personnel.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Coast Guard adapted by offering increased flexibility and remote work options. Many employees continue to want this flexibility moving forward, and it will be important to carefully consider how to recruit and retain diverse personnel in a modern work environment.

Access to childcare and family resources is crucial for long-term retention of personnel and quality of life for both service members and their families. Providing adequate childcare and medical services is especially important in retaining female personnel, who face unique barriers to promotional opportunities.

The Coast Guard oversees the credentialling of mariners. The antiquated paper systems used to process merchant mariner credentials results in delays. It is unreasonable that a mariner should wait months while the Coast Guard processes a credential.

While we do not know the exact mariner shortage because the Coast Guard’s credentialling system is so out of date, it is estimated that the industry would need at least 1,000 more mariners to fulfil sealift requirements.

Not only must we improve mariner recruiting, but we too must ensure that this industry is inclusive and reflects the demographics of the country.

Lastly, I want to highlight the forceful action the Service has taken to address sexual assault and sexual harassment. Make no mistake though, this continues to be a pervasive problem throughout the maritime industry, and it is affecting recruiting. We must hold the Coast Guard accountable to ensure accusations are followed by investigations and convictions. If industry is not perceived as safe, then how can we expect prospective mariners to want to join?

We can do better recruiting a diverse workforce for both the Coast Guard and the merchant marine and Congress plays an important role. I look forward to hearing from our panel today on how we can work together to solve these challenges.