The incoming Coast Guard commandant has penned a remarkably honest and sometimes disturbing memo saying the service was "forced to make asset reduction decisions" in the 2011 budget without "full appreciation" of the operational impact they would have.
That is just one of the striking lines in the memo by the incoming commandant, Vice Adm. R. J. Papp.
Papp's memo has stirred considerable concern on Capitol Hill that the Coast Guard is making a major long-term mistake by cutting 1,100 uniformed personnel in 2011 and also planning to reduce some of its missions.
Papp's memo was sparked by an Oct. 13 memo from the vice commandant, Vice Adm. David Pekoske, telling top commanders to begin planning for $100 million in cuts for 2012.
In a briefing to Congress last week, Coast Guard leaders argued that once they get new cutters online they will restore the lost positions. But end strength is always incredibly difficult to rebuild; just ask those Pentagon types who lived through the Clinton and early Bush years.
"Cutting 3 percent of your force is pretty big," said a Senate aide. "The problem is that 30-year master chiefs are just going to be told they have to leave."
Papp effectively argues that the way to go is cutting headquarters staff (bet he changes his mind once he's commandant). He says he believes "there are operational areas where we can incur additional risk or achieve efficiencies." One of those targeted areas, Maritime Security and Response Team, has some congressional staff particularly worried. Papp talks about reducing the Coast Guard's commitment to MSRT on which he says the service has spent at least $80 million. Other services and agencies boast "more mature and robust" capabilities in this area, he says. "It is time to terminate our experiment with the MSRT," he writes.
But one congressional aide said that it will only take one ship sunk in a Charleston shipping channel to blow that sort of thinking out of the water.
Meanwhile, a proposal to cut planned increases in headquarters staff for the Department of Homeland Security and push that money to the Coast Guard has gained advocates in both the House and Senate. After all, the Coast Guard is almost universally praised for doing a solid job whenever and where it responds. But this is how the congressional aide described its overlord, DHS: "I lm deeply disappointed that they suck at their job."