Following a Tough Act

By Art Pine

No-Win Situation

"Papp is being handed a no-win situation,'' said James Carafano, who follows homeland security issues and the Coast Guard for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative-oriented think tank in Washington. " You have a service that's desperate to modernize and maintain its op tempo at the same time, but doesn't have the money to do it. It's a lot like the ' hollow force' issue that plagued the [cash-short] military during the late 1970s, but at least then there wasn't a war going on,'' he said. " Today the Coast Guard is stretched thin and is making do with obsolete ships and aircraft. They're going to be burning a lot of midnight oil at headquarters to try to connect the dots.''

The budget crunch is Papp's number-one problem. Ordered by the White House to hold down its Fiscal Year 2011 budget requests, the Department of Homeland Security pared the Coast Guard's budget by $35.8 million from the $10.2 billion that Congress enacted for FY 10. The 0.4-percent cut may seem minuscule by Department of Defense standards. But to the Coast Guard, which already was underfunded and is facing a dire need for new ships and patrol boats to replace its aging, increasingly obsolescent fleet, it was a punch in the gut. To live within the budget, Allen, Papp, and other admirals have been forced to choose between shipbuilding and readiness. In previous years, they opted for readiness. For the rest of 2010 and 2011, they let readiness take the hit.

Serious Cuts

The impact of the budget cuts has been stunning. The 44,000-person active-duty force is being slashed by 1,100 billets. With a weak economy discouraging resignations and early retirements, attrition hasn't cut costs sufficiently, so the service has cut back on recruiting and promotions to help make up the difference. The service is about to decommission five of its cutters for lack of money for crews and maintenance. Headquarters already has begun breaking up 5 of the 12 elite commando-style counter-terrorism response teams that Allen created as part of his original restructuring plan. Recruiting has slowed to a trickle. Boot camp and officer-candidate rolls are only half what they were a year ago. The Coast Guard has stopped requiring those who complete special schools to extend their tours of duty, and it has blocked new assignments as " strikers'' - the gateway for enlisted personnel seeking to obtain hands-on experience needed for specialty ratings such as boatswain's mate.

The budget crunch isn't likely to be worsened by the cost of responding to last January's earthquake in Haiti or of overseeing the efforts to contain and clean up the oil spill that has been fouling the Gulf of Mexico since 22 April. But deploying active-duty personnel and reservists to both trouble spots already has intensified the strain on the rest of the force and is expected to continue sapping personnel and equipment from Coast Guard units around the country until long after the leakage is stopped.

The service already has deployed half its seagoing buoy-tenders to the region to help skim oil. And it has called up 2,000 reservists for 60-day stints - the maximum permitted by law - in the oil-spill area, and is planning to activate 1,000 more.

" People cost a lot of money,'' Papp pointed out during an interview with Proceedings just before he took office as Commandant in May. In the same breath, he lamented, " We still probably don't have enough people to do all the jobs that we're tasked with.''

Admittedly, the budget cuts have come after eight years of phenomenal growth. The service's annual authorization has essentially tripled since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, and it has added 8,000 active-duty personnel. It also has embarked on a massive $1.4 billion-a-year shipbuilding and modernization program, for the first time commissioning long-range, high-technology national security cutters. But budget analysts say the FY 11 cuts are more painful than they may seem because they not only reduce authorized spending from the previous years, but they fall well short of what the service needs to do its job.

" It's a challenging situation,'' said Stephen Flynn, a retired Coast Guard commander and homeland security expert who's now president of the Center for National Policy, a centrist research group. " In some respects, the Coast Guard is in the best shape it's been in for 30 years - in sheer numbers, in budget capability. The real issue is its capital assets - cutters and equipment.''

Accidents and Setbacks

Indeed, the Coast Guard has suffered a string of accidents and equipment setbacks over the past 18 months that many view as a sign that the frenetic op tempo and deteriorating equipment indicate that it's time to pay attention to both. Three of its 40-year-old, 378-foot high-endurance cutters were out of operation for months as a result of mechanical failures, and another one was heavily damaged by an engine-room fire. In September 2008, an HH-65 crashed in Hawaii during search-and-rescue drills with a 47-foot motor lifeboat. In October 2009, a Coast Guard C-130 on a search-and-rescue mission collided with a Marine Corps Super Cobra helicopter. The following December, a collision between a Coast Guard vessel and a recreational boat resulted in five injuries and the death of an eight-year-old boy. There were 18 engine-room fires aboard cutters during the 12-month period that ended last March, and 12 of the 19 cutters that the Coast Guard sent to Haiti after January's earthquake encountered serious mechanical problems while they were there. In July, an MH-60 helicopter crashed off the coast of Washington State, killing three on board. " I am deeply concerned with the number of serious aviation mishaps that have occurred in the past 22 months,'' Papp said in a message to the fleet.

The outlook for ship acquisition is on track for the short run, but still uncertain. The Coast Guard already has built two new 418-foot national security cutters - the centerpiece of its Deepwater fleet - and has funding to build two more. The FY 11 budget calls for acquiring a fifth. And this year the service laid the keel for the first of a new class of 154-foot fast-response cutters, capable of speeds exceeding 28 knots.

But the service also needs 25 new offshore patrol cutters to replace its fleet of 210-foot and 270-foot medium-endurance cutters, which bear the brunt of the drug-interdiction and immigration-enforcement duties on the high seas. Most already have been in service between 30 and 40 years, well beyond the 20-year lifespan that the Navy uses as a maximum for oceangoing warships. Maintenance costs are high, and some aren't properly equipped for today's Coast Guard missions.

Delays and Change-Fatigue

Allen's much-heralded (and much-needed) reorganization - designed to overcome deficiencies in the service's hodgepodge of long-abuilding stovepipes and outmoded, 1940s-era command structure - is still uncompleted and hanging over the new Commandant. Allen went as far as he could in carrying it out, but was hampered as Congress repeatedly delayed passing authorizing legislation - partly because the bill got blocked by parochial gridlock and partly because of Allen's own opposition to some provisions in the House version of the measure. The Senate passed a version of the bill in May, but the measure still must go through a House-Senate conference committee to reconcile differences between the two houses.

While all sides are reasonably confident that a compromise bill will pass later this year, the delays have held up one new four-star slot and prevented the command from reshuffling titles and jobs for several of its top flag officers. It also has delayed Allen's effort to unify the service's Atlantic Area (LANTAREA) and Pacific Area (PACAREA) commands - which have resulted in effect in "two separate Coast Guards," with almost no coordination between the two. Instead, Allen wanted to create a new service-wide Operations Command (OPCOM) and a single Force Command (FORCECOM), which would handle readiness, doctrine, training, and intelligence.

Finally, the organizational churning - both from Allen's reshuffling and from the 2004 creation of Sector Commands, which merged the regulatory (marine safety) units and the on-the-water (operations) units in each of 34 regional jurisdictions - has left many in the active-duty component exhausted, and in some cases just plain burned out.

"The Coast Guard classically gets more missions than it has the capacity to do," Flynn said. "And the reorganization - and the service's stepped-up role over the past few years - has come so quickly that it has left people without really having a chance to catch their breath."

Hitting the Deck Running

Papp himself spent the past two years, as a vice admiral, doing two full-time jobs - that of LANTAREA commander and of head of the still-in-progress OPCOM - a double duty that he wishes on no one. He also was responsible for Coast Guard operations from the Rocky Mountains to the Persian Gulf, where the PACAREA's jurisdiction begins.

With such personal experience, and a tour as Allen's chief of staff from 2004 to 2006, Papp hit the deck running. He has already announced that he'll scrap Allen's plans to eliminate the separate LANTAREA and PACAREA commands, leaving that part of the structure as it was before, with each area responsible for its own operations. Allen's plan to create a new FORCECOM will remain - if Congress agrees to go along with that - but it won't be precisely what Allen envisioned. And the Deployable Operations Group, or DOG, which Allen had established to help shape adaptable force packages to respond to emergencies, as is done in other services, will have a more muted role.

Steadying the Service

Indeed, Papp's unabashed first goal is "to steady the service" - that is, give active-duty forces time to adjust, both to the structural changes that Allen set in motion and to the budget cuts. "Our people are due for an adjustment and an accommodation, so I am not coming in with an agenda for contributed change," he said in the interview with Proceedings . "I'm coming back in to steady us up on course, give people an opportunity to adjust, to learn their jobs, to understand the organization that we've put on top of them, and to concentrate on doing their work." Translation: Papp won't be unraveling what Allen has done, but he won't be taking it much further, either.

" He's really coming in with a sense that he needs to stabilize things," said Flynn.

For the medium term, Papp plans to hew as tightly as he can to the budget plan that he has worked out with the administration in hopes that he'll be able to keep the money that's been budgeted for shipbuilding and design of new cutters. He's expected to try to leverage the Coast Guard's capabilities by cooperating more closely with other agencies. Customs and Border Protection, for example, already has some of the fast-boats that the Coast Guard needs for emergencies, and might be willing to work jointly in more areas.

And Papp has been quietly swallowing the spending cuts he's had to make, and looking for other ways to scrimp. He has no plans to expand operations in such places as the Arctic, which Allen had been pushing as a vital next step: " We do not have the resources to be operating up there right now.'' The Coast Guard announced in June that the USCGC Polar Sea (WAGB-11), one of the service's two Arctic-capable heavy icebreakers, had suffered a major engine casualty and would be unable to deploy for her scheduled Arctic patrol this fall or for Operation Deep Freeze in December.

And Papp is eyeing future cuts in maintaining buoys and other navigational aids on the inland waterways and the Great Lakes, with a view toward gradually turning that over to states. The current fleet of ancient buoy-tenders already is ripe for replacement, a major budget item. "Within the time that I'm the Commandant, we'll have to seriously address that," he said.

Although Papp hasn't mentioned it publicly, some insiders have suggested that at least part of the service's maritime regulatory responsibility could be shifted to the Transportation Department, which already oversees the aviation industry, airports, and highways. It was the home of the Coast Guard from 1967, when the service was transferred there from the Treasury Department, to 2003, when the Coast Guard moved to DHS. The major reason for shifting the Coast Guard to Transportation in 1967 was that the then newly created department was designed to become the umbrella for federal regulation of all transportation facilities.

Different Leadership Styles

Although both Papp and Allen portray themselves as being in close touch with ordinary Coasties, they actually are very different in personal manner and leadership style. While Allen has spent much of his career in marine safety (regulatory) posts, Papp is a veteran ship captain. He spent 14 years at sea, ten of them as a commanding officer, including a tour as CO of the USCGC Eagle (WIX-327), the square-rigged sailing barque that the service uses to train its cadets. Though not known as a strategic thinker, he is savvy about congressional politics - a skill he picked up as chief legislative liaison just after the 9/11 attacks. While Allen is likely to stand firm in negotiations with the Hill, Papp is regarded as a pragmatist, more willing to compromise.

Papp describes his management style this way: "Try to get the best people and then give them latitude - step back and let them do their jobs." He also has a reputation for prizing those officers who are willing to tell him what he needs to know "rather than what I want to hear."

Nor is Papp likely to go as far as Allen in using Facebook and other social media to get his message across. While early on Papp shifted the Coast Guard's official blog to a central spot on the service's website, he has shut down the Commandant's Facebook Fan Page and the ICommandant and All Hands blogs. (Younger Coasties welcomed Allen's experiments, but his joining Facebook drew frowns from senior officers and some chiefs. Papp's decision to move the official blog attempts to strike a compromise that embraces both generations. He responded to his first blogger a few days after taking over.)

How Papp's stewardship will fare still is uncertain. Although Congress is expected to add back some of the money that the White House cut from the Coast Guard's FY 11 budget - "We'll fix it," said Representative Hal Rogers, the Kentucky Republican who serves as ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security - the budget squeeze already is in place for the rest of the current fiscal year and most of FY 11. Repairing the damage done to readiness by the current budget cuts will take some time, and skill, to accomplish.

In July, House and Senate committees voted to reinstate much of the funding needed to maintain last year's personnel levels without cutting all of the 1,100 billets, five cutters, nine aircraft, and five safety-and-security teams now on the chopping block, but at press time there was no guarantee that the provisions would make it into law. If the money is restored now that the Coast Guard already has made the cuts, the service will be "getting whipsawed," Papp said.

The longer-term fiscal outlook is grim by any measure. Even if the administration and DHS change their minds about squeezing the Coast Guard, there will be limits on what they can do and still bring down the overall federal budget deficit, which is expected to mushroom over the next five or ten years. The service still must replace its aging fleet - a need that can only intensify as time goes on and its missions continue to expand.

What Allen Proposed

To be sure, even today no one would argue that some sort of sweeping reorganization wasn't needed. Structurally, the Coast Guard - which began as the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service in 1790 and merged with the U.S. Life-Saving Service in 1915 - was a jumble through much of its history. But its problems had multiplied over the past 30 years as the service took on new missions. Its command structure had become hobbled by a stovepipe bureaucracy that seriously impeded its efforts to respond to new challenges. Its budgetary and financial system was so fragmented that commanders could not get a handle on what really was being spent. And its logistics had become so decentralized that there was almost no standardization. There also was little formal doctrine, at least as the other services know the term. Previous commandants had laid the groundwork for many of the changes that Allen sought when he took command.

Allen's reorganization plan, ambitious by any measure, was designed to modernize the Coast Guard by reorganizing it along functional lines, aligning it with the other services by adopting much of the same structure and procedures that they use. The idea was to enable the service to operate more efficiently in everything from logistics to rapid-response, through the use of adaptive force packages, as the Army and Marine Corps now employ. Allen also wanted to expand and solidify ties with other agencies in DHS - such as Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement - as well as with the Defense Department and the four other services, and with agencies such as the International Maritime Organization, which helps regulate global shipping.

The overall restructuring effort has had mixed results. In most of these areas - mission support categories such as engineering, logistics, acquisition, and workforce management - Allen succeeded in setting up the structure to carry out what he wanted to accomplish. But he was impeded in others by the refusal of Congress to pass the authorizing legislation needed to shift some top admirals' slots. His plan to eliminate the LANT and PAC area commands and replace them with OPCOM and FORCECOM has been stymied. And the service has not come very far in its attempt to upgrade and expand its doctrine.

Allen's proponents assert that the reorganization plan has accomplished most of its basic objectives. The Coast Guard that Allen handed over to Papp in May "is largely the Coast Guard he set out to mold in his restructuring," said retired Admiral James Loy, a former Commandant who now works as a consultant in Washington with former Defense Secretary William Cohen. Yet, Loy concedes, while in many cases the bureaucratic reshuffling has been completed, the changes that Allen proposed haven't gotten fully under way. "What he proposed has been done - as long as we say that in some cases ' done' means ' started,'" Loy said.

Allen's Legacy

Ironically, however, Loy said much of what Allen may be remembered for will have nothing to do with his restructuring efforts, but will be his prominent leadership role after Hurricane Katrina and, now, during the effort to contain and clean up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. In an unusual twist, Allen didn't shed his uniform when he stepped down as Commandant but agreed to continue under Papp as Incident Commander in charge of the on-scene effort in the Gulf Coast region. And it isn't clear how that will turn out; as Coast Guard officers readily acknowledge, dealing with oil spills is a no-win situation for everybody. Allen may not finish his stint with quite the hero's reputation that he acquired following Hurricane Katrina.

But Loy and others believe that Allen is certain to go down as one of the most dynamic and far-seeing Commandants in Coast Guard history. "The focus that he has imposed - being very transparent, very open, and sticking to that path - is going to be the ultimate legacy," Loy said. "This modernization has to be continued, not only through Admiral Papp's watch, but well beyond that."

Meanwhile, even if the change-fatigue begins to ease, the problems will continue. Besides the shipbuilding challenge, Papp will have to deal with the continuing cultural clash between the maritime regulatory, or marine safety, side of the service and the operations side, which encompasses search-and-rescue, drug-enforcement, and the like. That clash seems to be approaching a low boil, despite the efforts that began in 2004 to merge both sides into a single unit.

Not Going Away

Nor is the budget problem likely to go away. As the Government Accountability Office has pointed out, even if Congress increases the FY 11 budget later this year, the administration's current budget projections indicate that the DHS annual budget is expected to remain constant or decrease over the next ten years - and that doesn't include the impact of inflation in reducing the buying power of that money.

"While Admiral Allen had to deal with a large increase in mission requirements, he was generally able to do so in an environment of increasing budget resources," said Stephen Caldwell, who heads GAO's Homeland Security unit. The result: Papp will have to watch the budget far more closely than Allen did.

For Papp, such challenges are daunting, but he's confident that the Coast Guard will be able to meet them. "We'll adapt," he said.

But the Heritage Foundation's Jim Carafano warned that it won't be easy: "You could be George Patton, and you're going to have a tough time leading in this environment."

A new white-paper by Lawrence J. Korb of the Center for American Progress suggests that Congress increase the Coast Guard budget by about $5 billion - to almost $15 billion a year - and keep it at that level for at least five years, so the service can buy the new ships, aircraft, and equipment that it needs without cutting readiness and operations.

It also proposes creating a unified security budget that includes Homeland Security and Defense; placing the Coast Guard in the Department of the Navy rather than in the Department of Homeland Security, where it is now; and giving the Commandant of the Coast Guard a permanent ("voting") seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

None of those proposals seems likely to be adopted anytime soon, but Korb's point - that the current famine-only system is untenable - rings true around Coast Guard headquarters at Buzzard Point overlooking the Potomac River. The question now is: Can Bob Papp and his new team conn the service around the shoals that it's facing without running it aground ?

Mr. Pine, a former naval officer, is a veteran journalist who has worked as a Washington correspondent for the Baltimore Sun , Washington Post , Wall Street Journal , and Los Angeles Times . He is a frequent contributor to Proceedings .
 

 

Four Principles, Four Guideposts

Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr. has issued four guiding principles that he says will guide his stewardship of the Coast Guard during his term as Commandant. Here, in a message to all hands, Admiral Papp spells out his guideposts:

Shipmates,

The purpose of this message is to provide you further detail on the four principles that will guide my watch as Commandant. These principles, as set forth in my vision statement, are: Steady the Service, Honor our Profession, Strengthen our Partnerships, and Respect our Shipmates. First, I want to provide you with the background which informs my four principles. During the past nine years, we have heroically responded to the tragic 9/11 terrorist attacks, hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and a devastating earthquake in Haiti, and we are currently responding to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. We also continued to carry out our many and ever-expanding duties.

This high op-tempo put our service in the public light like never before. It also provided some important lessons learned. We realized we needed to become more efficient, improve our mission-support delivery infrastructure, and recapitalize our aging assets. These spawned initiatives such as the sector concept, modernization, and undertaking the largest acquisition projects we have ever attempted. While these were unquestionably the right initiatives to make the Coast Guard more capable, more efficient and stronger, they also produced a lot of organizational change.

Looking forward, I see a need to bring the sector and modernization initiatives to closure, so that our people at every level of the chain of command can refocus on their missions. My desired end state is to put in place an organization that everyone understands. Our people need to know who they work for, what their authorities are and who to call to get the tools they need to get their job done. My guiding principles defined:

STEADY THE SERVICE : I am committed to focusing on our core roles and missions as defined in Pub One. To reduce stress on our service and maintain the highest level of readiness, we must emphasize our statutory missions, finish organizational realignment, and prioritize demands for our services within the budget. We must continue to pursue replacement assets for the future. We must return to a sustainable state.

HONOR OUR PROFESSION : I am committed to professional service by demonstrating the highest competence in execution and support of our varied missions. At all times, we are a military organization guided by responsibility, authority, and accountability. Mission excellence is our north star. Honoring our profession requires inspired leadership to develop knowledge, skills, pride, and experience, in a nurturing environment, built from a foundation of clear doctrine and training. I will not ask you to do more than our resources allow, but we must do our absolute best with what we have.

STRENGTHEN OUR PARTNERSHIPS : I am committed to partnerships. They are a force multiplier. As demand for our service continues to expand, and the threats in the maritime environment increase in complexity, a unilateral approach will not be the best or the most efficient means to achieve mission success. We can be more effective and provide greater value to our country when we forge partnerships with local, state, federal, tribal, and international agencies. For the same reasons, strengthening appropriate relationships with private industry is imperative. Ultimately, strong partnerships are critical to enhancing our capability, effectiveness and credibility in the maritime domain.

RESPECT OUR SHIPMATES : I am committed to a climate of care and concern for shipmates, active, reserve, civilian, auxiliary, families, and retirees, on a daily basis. Our people are the Coast Guard's greatest asset and our ability to perform our mission ultimately depends on your health, vibrancy, training, and capabilities. We must provide the best in human-resource management, administrative support, wellness programs, and professional development, while maintaining a safe, collaborative, and productive work environment. Our service must also draw strength from the diversity of our nation. I want the Coast Guard to be recognized as the profession of choice for Americans of all backgrounds. Your daily hard work and dedication ensures that our nation's waters are safe and secure. My principles are intended to enable and sustain these efforts.

Semper Paratus!

Admiral Bob Papp, Commandant


 

An Interview with Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr.

As Admiral Papp prepared to take the helm as the new Commandant of the Coast Guard, he talked with Proceedings about the challenges he faces and his plans for dealing with them.

Proceedings : What are the biggest challenges you're facing as Commandant ?

Admiral Papp : Right now, the biggest is the budget we've been given for Fiscal Year 2011. We're going to have to adjust to it ? indeed, we already are. The budget calls for cutting 1,000 of our 44,000 active-duty personnel, and it's centered on our field operations. We made the tradeoff ? and I hope that it's a temporary one ? so we could continue our recapitalization program. We need to buy national security cutters, we need more patrol boats, and soon we're going to have to replace our medium-endurance cutters as well. We get about $1.4 billion a year for acquisition and construction, and until we get that portion of our fleet built, it'll take a significant bite out of our budget.

Proceedings : How much of an impact will this have on your readiness and operations ?

Admiral Papp : We'll have to adjust. What we're doing is we're setting up an organizational structure in the Coast Guard that allows us to flow forces with a little bit more ease between the Atlantic and the Pacific. The reality is that the eastern Pacific, where we do a lot of our drug operations, is actually closer to our Atlantic fleet than it is for the Pacific fleet. If you look at the Panama Canal, it's due south of Miami, so it's about - let's say 1,500 miles, to send some of our Atlantic fleet cutters that are on the southeast coast down through the canal to the eastern Pacific, the area where we do our counter-drug ops, whereas it's about 2,600 miles from San Diego to get ships down there. So there's lost cutter days, there's extra fuel costs and other things that make it sometimes more effective to use some of our Atlantic fleet. And what you'll see is greater cooperation between our Atlantic Area and our Pacific Area commanders in terms of sharing resources. But it still doesn't make up for numbers. We'll just have to adapt to it as we go forward.

Proceedings : Are you still experiencing large cost overruns on some of the new cutters ?

Admiral Papp : I think we have gotten those under control. We have gotten our acquisition shop in order, we've got the resident talent on board, we've broken apart the Deepwater acquisition project, we've disaggregated it into individual projects, each with its own baseline, and we're holding as close as we can to our baseline costs.

Proceedings : You've talked a lot about ' steadying the service.' What does that mean ?

Admiral Papp : We've undergone a lot of changes over the past eight years. First, we created sector commands that combined our marine safety and operations groups. Then we began a reorganization and modernization effort. Both were very much needed, but neither actually is completed yet. So we find ourselves a little bit unstable. In some cases, we have people doing two jobs because we are transitioning.

I've talked to thousands of Coast Guard people over the past few years, and, more important, I have listened to them. And what I've found is, from a professional side they are due for an adjustment and an accommodation for these changes that we've made and to lock them into place. So I'm not coming in with an agenda for continued change; I'm coming in to steady us up on course, give people an opportunity to adjust, to learn their jobs, to understand the organization that we've put on top of them, and to concentrate on performing the mission. Instead of focusing on change, and reconstruction and reorganization, we need allow people to refresh those basic skills and operational talents that we need for carrying out the missions of the Coast Guard.

Proceedings : How would you describe your leadership style ?

Admiral Papp : I would say the way I function is based on my upbringing in the service. I spent 14 years at sea and 10 years as a ship captain in the Coast Guard. When you do that you develop a way of thinking about problems and challenges. First, a captain has to trust his executive officer, his department heads, his chiefs, and his crew to enable them to carry out the missions of the ship. If he goes to the bridge immediately every time there's a crossing situation or a closing contact, it doesn't serve the ship well, nor does it give your officers a chance to develop and establish confidence.

So what I do is try to get the best people and then give them latitude - step back and let them do their jobs. I've pretty much done the same thing in approaching my job as Commandant. One of the great advantages of being Commandant is that you can form up your team. I've selected my senior leadership team based on their professional experience, their competence, their character, and their integrity, and most important, for their willingness to speak the truth to me in a very uninhibited fashion - to tell me what I need to hear rather than what someone might think I want to hear.

Proceedings : Do you expect to get out of your budget squeeze after FY 11 ?

Admiral Papp : I think the Department of Homeland Security will continue to get moderate increases, but there will still probably be some top line under which the Secretary has to operate. Now, whether those increases are translated across the board to all of the components or whether from year to year, dependent upon needs, those will be directed to individual components, is the Secretary's prerogative. It's the Commandant's job to make the case to the Secretary in terms of what our needs are.

Proceedings : What kind of Coast Guard are you inheriting ?

Admiral Papp : The Coast Guard four years ago when Admiral Allen came in was in the midst of the greatest growth spurt that the service had experienced probably since World War II. If you look back to the mid-'90s, we were down to an organization that had roughly 36,000 uniformed people. In the first week of September 2001, I was chief of congressional affairs at the time, I was literally on the Hill the week before 11 September, attempting to defend a budget that was about $3 billion. So here we are nine years later, and we've got a $10-billion budget, and we still can't seem to do everything that we want to do. Now the reason that it's a challenge is that we're now up to around 44,000 people, and people are expensive. Roughly two-thirds of our discretionary budget. People cost a lot of money. We still probably don't have enough people to do all the jobs that we're tasked with. 

Proceedings : Hasn't the Coast Guard enjoyed budget and personnel increases in recent years ?

Admiral Papp : We've grown roughly 8,000 people over the last eight years, which is a significant investment - and rightly so, because most of the field operations that we do are highly people-intensive. The other thing that's very costly is trying to build new ships and aircraft, which we sorely need. Some of our major cutters are in excess of 40 years of age right now. To the average American, if you tell them that they say, ' Well, so what ? ' The Navy generally uses about a 20 - 25-year service life for a ship. The Coast Guard has well exceeded that. Even the youngest of our ships, the 270-foot medium-endurance cutters, are all - the average of that class of 13 ships right now is about 22 years. Thus the Bear , which was the lead ship of the class, has been in commission for 27 years.

Proceedings : What's going to happen with the Atlantic Area and Pacific Area commands ?

Admiral Papp : I feel strongly we need the two field operational commanders. I've always believed, and four years ago, when I advised Admiral Allen, I advised against doing away with the two operational commanders. I believed we should keep the Atlantic Area and Pacific Area, because we need two senior Coast Guard officers to represent our interests in those hemispheres. I don't know we can effectively organize and serve the citizens of this country if we go to one operational commander in the field.

Proceedings : And the rest ?

Admiral Papp : The rest will be fine. That's probably the only part that I would part with Admiral Allen. And he knows that. We discussed it four years ago. I've discussed it with him recently. I've been trying to find options that would accommodate keeping a focus on the Pacific. The only way I can come up with is by keeping a vice admiral out there that our partners are used to. The Navy in particular is not happy - I believe that Admiral Willard thinks it's ill-advised to do away with a Pacific Area commander.

Proceedings : Besides OPCOM and FORCECOM, is there anything else you might consider tightening or not doing - the operations in the Arctic, for example ?

Admiral Papp : I don't think we're going to see less, but I don't think that there has been a national consensus on how much we should be involved up there. We do not have the resources to be operating up there right now. I think it's like anything else we do across our 11-mission set. What we do is we determine what the highest threat is, what's the highest priority ? Can we reassign assets across missions. And if we don't have that, then we mitigate that - another principle of mine - by strengthening partnerships, by working with partners, to be able to mitigate the residual threat that remains after we've applied what resources that we have. The Navy has much that they can provide up there. The Air Force, potentially, they work up in the Arctic. They might be able to provide aerial resources for reconnaissance. We need to work with the state of Alaska to see what they might provide in terms of support on the Northern Slope there. Ultimately, at the end of the day, it's the Coast Guard's responsibility.

Proceedings : Are there any other areas that might be candidates for budget savings ?

Admiral Papp : Interestingly enough, one place that people don't think about is our inland rivers. We have the whole Mississippi and inland-rivers complex that require aids-to-navigation and from time to time search-and-rescue; regulation of hazardous cargoes; and, oh, by the way, even things like Asian carp. You'd be amazed that the Coast Guard is dealing with Asian carp going into the Great Lakes. Invasive species. 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 decisions about . . . well, I'm getting a little ahead of myself here. Let's just say that within the time that I'm the Commandant, we have to seriously address the recapitalization needs of our inland buoy-tender fleet.

Proceedings : Can we speculate that states may have to take that over ?

Admiral Papp : I'd be reluctant to say that right now. I would say that we've declared that aids-to-navigation is a federal responsibility. 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.

Proceedings : You have a reputation as a demanding taskmaster. Are you planning to be a workaholic ?

Admiral Papp : Another of my principles is respecting our shipmates. Besides the professional concerns for training, opportunities for advancement and promotion, whatever else, is taking into account that most of us have families or significant others that are part of our lives as well. And we understand that being in the service and being in the Coast Guard is inherently demanding, sometimes dangerous and always challenging, and that at the end of the day, whether it's the end of the literal day or the end of a career, the one constant in our lives is our family or our loved ones. And we can't expect to continually ask them to sacrifice without working on those relationships as well. And I think we're in an age now that is very challenging to families. When you look at modern family life, you have a lot of two-career families - spouses that established careers and then are uprooted to transfer with a service member - so to the extent that I can, and I'm going to employ my wife, Linda, in this effort as well, we're going to make sure that first of all we set an example for everybody.

One of the things I do is I try to keep to a very rigid schedule in terms of predictability. In other words, there's a certain time I leave the office in the evening. I generally try to be out of the office by 6. I try to be in the office by 7. The traffic has knocked me a little bit because we're living down in Fairfax County right now until we get into the Commandant's house. So I generally try to come in at 7. That's enough time to get me briefed up before the first intel briefing of the day. And I try to leave at 6, understanding full well that I take home work with me, but if I stay in the office and do that work everybody stays until after I leave. So I try to encourage people to go home.

This gets us around to your original question of what do I do ? Well, when I go home, I don't like to sit in front of a computer monitor. What I like to do is have a nice, quiet dinner with my life, and then generally we go out for a walk. It helps to regain stability and sensibility, and I enjoy being with her. And then we come home, and while she's watching television then I go through the work that I brought home.

 

Mr. Pine, a former naval officer and veteran reporter, covered military affairs for the Los Angeles Times

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