No matter their income or wealth, everyone seems to want (or need) more money. Sometimes it is to meet objectives, to help others, or to perform valuable services. For the Coast Guard, it is all of these; the service wants to be able to meet “an unprecedented demand” for its services.1
But despite being one of the nation’s armed forces, the Coast Guard has not seen the same funding support provided to the other services. During his 2020 State of the Coast Guard Address, Commandant of the Coast Guard Admiral Karl Schultz noted that the Department of Defense’s “readiness funding has grown nearly THREE TIMES as much as the Coast Guard’s over the past five years, despite our services having the same types of readiness challenges.”2 The admiral has advocated for Coast Guard leaders to think outside the box, and they have. However, with a budgetary windfall unlikely in the near term, it is time to go further.
In 1939, when the U.S. Lighthouse Service became part of the Coast Guard, “the former Coast Guard divisions and sections and the lighthouse districts [were] abolished and replaced by thirteen districts.” Two of those districts were based in Boston and Seattle.3 A third, based in Jacksonville, Florida, would later move to Miami. Those three cities are all still Coast Guard district locations: the First District office in Boston; the Seventh in Miami; and the Thirteenth in Seattle.
These are some of the most expensive locations in the nation. No other armed force maintains such robust presence in high-cost locations. Granted, the Coast Guard’s missions, force laydown, and overall structure are very different from its Department of Defense counterparts. The Coast Guard must position personnel and assets in areas with high maritime traffic to conduct law enforcement, maritime safety, and search-and-rescue activities. It makes sense that Boston, Miami, and Seattle should be home to Coast Guard operational and support commands (sectors and bases), but there is no need for district offices also to be located there. Sector commanders are the tactical specialists responsible for all missions within their sectors’ areas of responsibility, but while the district commanders provide command and control over the sectors, they are not engaged in or present during most day-to-day operations.4
If the Coast Guard shifted its First, Seventh, and Thirteenth District offices, it could save more than $6.6 million annually that could be redirected to higher priority needs, while improving the quality of life for some of its members.
Moving these three district offices would result in savings from lower basic allowance for housing (BAH) costs, as well as reduced lease costs. As a rough estimate, BAH costs were calculated by averaging the BAH for service members (with and without dependents) E-4 to O-7 for each location and multiplying it by an estimated number of active-duty staff members assigned to that location. For the larger Seventh District, the number of members was estimated to be 125, and for the First and Thirteenth Districts, 90 members each.
Office lease costs were calculated by multiplying the forecasted price per square foot for commercial real estate in each city by an estimated number of square feet of office space. Again, as the Seventh District is larger, it was estimated to require 50,000 square feet of office space, while the First and Thirteenth Districts were estimated to require 40,000 square feet each. Although the Coast Guard would likely work through the General Services Administration (GSA), commercial rates were used, as they provide generally accurate price estimates, and GSA charges a market-based rate.5
The Coast Guard has maintained a presence in Boston since the 18th century. Sector Boston plays a crucial role in regulating maritime commerce in the bustling port, as well as protecting fishing grounds and mariners off the Massachusetts coast. However, the First District oversees all Coast Guard activities from New York City to the easternmost point of Maine. Boston is just one of five sectors within the district’s area of responsibility.
Boston ranks as the eighth most expensive city in the United States.6 New London, Connecticut, home of the Coast Guard Academy and other Coast Guard commands, is a much less expensive location. Moving the First District from Boston to New London could save an estimated $1.8 million in BAH costs and an estimated $1.1 million in office lease savings.7
Shifting the First District office to New London could save the Coast Guard nearly $2.9 million annually, centralize the district office among its various sectors, and even draw additional visitors to the Coast Guard Museum when it opens in 2024.8
The Coast Guard is interwoven with the thriving water-loving culture in Miami. Both Sector Miami and Air Station Miami have a robust presence in the city, regularly interacting with recreational boaters, cruise lines, and tank vessels, not to mention smugglers attempting to bring illegal migrants or drugs into the country. However, the Seventh District commander cannot be focused solely on the missions being conducted near Miami, as he oversees five other sectors from Puerto Rico to Charleston, South Carolina.
Miami currently ranks as the seventh most expensive city in the United States; Orlando, Florida, on the other hand, does not make the top 20.9 Moving the Seventh District from Miami to Orlando could save an estimated $1 million in BAH and an estimated $904,000 in lease costs.10
This move also would improve commutes, as Miami suffers from significant traffic congestion (third worst in the country).11 Orlando also experiences congestion (ranking 21st), but not nearly that of Miami.12
But perhaps the more important reason to move the Seventh District office to Orlando is to improve resiliency and hurricane response. All of Florida is at risk of hurricanes, but Miami, in its prominent location on the southeast coast, is at higher risk than centrally located Orlando. The Seventh District even uses Orlando as a safe haven for Coast Guard families fleeing south Florida during hurricane evacuations.13
One downside of this move would be to distance the district office from U.S. Southern Command (SouthCom), which is located just a few miles west of Miami. The Seventh District and SouthCom work closely together throughout the Caribbean to address threats, including transnational criminal organizations. However, while many of the tactical relationships Sector Miami has in the area require in-person engagement, collaboration with SouthCom likely could be maintained through remote means. In-person meetings could occur with only a short flight from Orlando.
Shifting the Seventh District office to Orlando could save the Coast Guard an estimated $1.9 million annually, reduce the traffic congestion members face, centralize the district office among sectors, and increase resiliency in the event of a hurricane or other disaster.
The Coast Guard has maintained a robust presence in Puget Sound since 1852.14 Today, Seattle is home to Sector Puget Sound, Base Seattle, and numerous cutters. Puget Sound and the Columbia River are major maritime corridors, carrying critical goods to and from the Pacific Northwest. The Thirteenth District commander is responsible for all Coast Guard activities from the Canadian border to the southern edge of Oregon. However, while Sector Puget Sound is the busiest of the district’s three sectors, the other two are well south.
Seattle is booming. It comes in as the 12th most expensive city in the United States but is quickly climbing the rankings.15 Tacoma, just 30 miles south, often is included as part of the Seattle area, but despite that proximity, moving the Thirteenth District from Seattle to Tacoma could save an estimated $923,000 in BAH costs and an estimated $898,000 in office lease savings.16
Shifting south would also bring the district office closer to Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Coast Guard members and their families may be able to leverage services offered at the base and not available in Seattle, including military housing, medical and work–life services, and educational opportunities.
A move just down the highway could save the Coast Guard more than $1.8 million, locate the district commander more centrally, and offer service members the benefits of a large military base.
Making the Move
Of course, the potential for savings is only part of the equation; the logistics involved in implementing the moves is critical. Coast Guard civil engineers would need to identify appropriate locations. Leaders would need to develop plans for a phased transition from one city to the other. The service has experience with similar moves, as cutter homeports have changed in recent years, but adjustments for staff billets (with longer tours) would be necessary.
The proposed moves could be effected by the Secretary of Homeland Security without congressional action. The Secretary already has the authority to “establish, change the limits of, consolidate, discontinue, or re-establish Coast Guard districts.”17
As a portion of the overall Coast Guard budget, the savings from these proposed moves would be relatively small (0.40 percent savings over current BAH spending, 4.42 percent for GSA lease savings).18
However, the amount saved could be redirected to other, higher priority initiatives on an annual, recurring basis. For example, $6.64 million would cover the annualized cost of three priority initiatives related to countering transnational criminal organizations and cybersecurity in the Coast Guard’s fiscal year 2021 budget.19 In addition to enabling a higher quality of life and enhancing resiliency, moving the three district offices would enable the Coast Guard to enhance mission effectiveness and improve readiness.
1. ADM Karl Schultz, USCG, State of the Coast Guard Address, 20 February 2020.
2. Schultz, State of the Coast Guard Address.
3. Robert H. Macy, “Consolidation of the Lighthouse Service with the Coast Guard,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 66, no. 1 (January 1940).
4. 33 C.F.R. § 3.01-1, “General Description.”
5. 40 U.S.C. § 586, “Charges for Space and Services.”
6. “Cost of Living City Ranking,” Mercer.com.
7. Defense Travel Management Office, BAH Calculator; “Boston: Office Insight - Q1 2020,” JLL.com; and “Commercial Real Estate and Office Space Market in Connecticut,” Office.net.
8. Schultz, State of the Coast Guard Address.
9. Cost of Living City Ranking, Mercer.com, https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/Insights/cost-of-living-rankings.
11. Traffic Index 2020, TomTom.com.
12. Traffic Index 2020.
13. Base Miami Beach Hurricane Evacuation Package for Coast Guard Families in the 7th CG District (U.S. Coast Guard Base Miami Beach, 2015).
15. Cost of Living City Ranking, Mercer.com.
17. 14 U.S.C. § 501, “Secretary - General Powers.”
18. Coast Guard BAH funding for fiscal year 2021 was $934 million. Coast Guard rental payments to GSA were estimated to be $64.9 million. Department of Homeland Security, Coast Guard Budget Overview Fiscal Year 2022 Congressional Justification, USCG-14, USCG-16.
19. Countering Transnational Criminal Organizations initiative total cost (initial year funding, annualization, and termination of one-year funding) $3.506 million. Cyber Operations and Training initiative total cost (initial year funding, annualization, and termination of one-year funding) $1.715 million. Maritime Sector Cybersecurity Engagement initiative total cost (initial year funding, annualization, and termination of one-year funding) $1.923 million. Total annualized cost of $7.144 million for 45 personnel and significant mission enhancement. Coast Guard Budget Overview FY 2021 Congressional Justification, O&S17-O&S-20; Coast Guard Budget Overview FY 2022 Congressional Justification, O&S-18-O&S-22.