|Coast Guard Revival|
| With new
funds and a new fleet on the way, the nation's watery workhorse is being
By Brad Dunn — February 2001
Over the past decade it hasn't always been semper paratus at the U.S. Coast Guard. Years of dwindling funds and burgeoning duties have hurt the agency's quest to live up to its motto: Always Ready.
But after an agonizing battle to gain additional government funding, the Coast Guard has started 2001 with a fattened bank account, a replenished workforce, and a chance to finally upgrade technology that's up to 30 years out of date.
Since its inception in 1790, the Coast Guard has built a proud tradition of never turning down a call for help. It is the often-thankless workhorse of the country's armed forces, always accepting new responsibilities while rarely receiving more money. With its primary missions of law enforcement, marine safety, national security, and marine environmental protection, the service is the government's well-used Leatherman tool: one minute stopping drugs from entering the country, the next rescuing a distressed coastal cruiser 25 miles offshore.
However, in the late 1990s, as the nation basked in the longest period of economic expansion in history, the Coast Guard withered. Constantly overlooked for additional funding, it was forced to make sweeping cutbacks. It had to axe more than 4,000 jobs, bringing its personnel level to about 35,700 active-duty military and 7,000 reserves, the same number it had in 1967. The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 tightened the belt even more: The agency was given a mere $400 million to revitalize its entire fleet of ships when the job required at least twice that to start.
Today the Coast Guard's fleet ranks as the 39th oldest of the world's 41 major naval fleets. In May 1999 Coast Guard head Commandant James M. Loy shot up his own distress flare. In his annual "State of the Coast Guard" speech before Congress, he stressed that the agency's staff was severely overworked and underexperienced. "If you take a sharp knife and work it relentlessly, the blade will become dull," he explained.
This article originally appeared in the May 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.