Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Bob Papp presents the 2013 State of the Coast Guard in the Lincoln Auditorium at Fort McNair in Washington on Wednesday. (Mike Morones / Navy Times)
The Coast Guard cannot keep doing more with less.
While that "can-do" attitude has been a point of pride for the service, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp said it's simply not sustainable.
"Everybody wants to serve, they want to get the job done and while that's a great blessing, it's also a curse, because you can go beyond your means, you can wear out boats quicker, you can wear out people quicker." Papp told reporters after completing his State of the Coast Guard address Wednesday morning at Fort McNair in Washington. "And it's tough for us sometimes to sit back and say, ‘You know, I just can't get that job done.'"
It may be tough, but Papp said he's been "encouraging" Coast Guardsmen to do just that.
"We can't keep giving this image that we can do more with less," he said.
Papp's message mirrors Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert's advice to sailors. On Feb. 22, he too said his service members must learn to say "no" when they've "reached their safe limits."
Search and rescue and port security missions will remain a top priority.
"We never do 100 percent of the missions the country's given to us all the time because we don't have the resources to do 100 percent," Papp said. "So whatever resources we have, we apply them to the highest priorities on any given day."
Papp was speaking specifically about the effects of sequestration, the government-wide spending cuts set to go into effect on Friday if Congress does not take any action. He also addressed the difficulty of operating under a continuing resolution that has the service operating at 2012 funding levels, while trying to rebuild the aging cutter fleet.
Fewer resources for patrols means more drugs reaching the U.S. and more illegal fishing in the country's waters, Papp said.
Another priority for Papp is keeping the entire Coast Guard workforce, including active-duty, reserve and civilian.
"We don't want to lose people because we worked very hard over the past decade to build our force back up," he said to reporters following the speech.
The Coast Guard could lose more than 7,000 active duty and civilian jobs if government-wide spending cuts known as sequestration happen, according to a report released by Rep. Norm Dick, D-Wash., on Oct. 9.
Though Defense Department personnel cannot be cut, Coast Guard workers will not have the same job safety since they fall under the Department of Homeland Security, a staffer who worked on the report said.
While not wanting to cut more personnel, Papp acknowledged, however, the enlisted workforce could be managed "a bit more effectively."
High retention rates have led to slow advancements, even for high performers, Papp said.
He did not go into specifics about ways he planned to manage the enlisted workforce.
Papp said that the service has been able to keep up with their training so far, but time spent practicing in aircraft, boats and cutters may take a hit if sequestration happens.
"I am increasingly concerned that shrinking budgets have impacted our ability to hold courses, pay for travel and training and provide the necessary extra boat and aircraft hours," he said.
During the speech, Papp took time to recognize members of the workforce, including many who responded to assist those impacted by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 and were in attendance at the speech.
"How Hurricane Sandy tested the Coast Guard, and our ability to respond to that test, provides a clear example of our value to the nation," Papp said.
The commandant also announced the release of the Commandant's Situational Report for 2013. The report is an update to the 2011 Commandant's Direction and examines milestones and future goals for mission excellence, new ship acquisition, disaster response and building diversity in the service.
One highlight is a call for a permanent National Incident Management Assist Team to respond to manmade and natural disasters in direct response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, when the service was "overwhelmed," Papp said. The team, made up of Coast Guardsmen, will provide organization and structure to the relief efforts of the active-duty and reserve Coasties who report to the disaster from across the country.Ë