Assessing the Shortage of United States Mariners and Recruitment and Retention in the United States Coast Guard
2253 Rayburn House Office Building
This is a hearing of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.
Opening remarks, as prepared, of Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Webster (R-FL) from today’s hearing, entitled “Assessing the Shortage of United States Mariners and Recruitment and Retention in the United States Coast Guard”:
Today, we receive testimony regarding the shortage of United States Mariners and recruitment and retention challenges in the United States Coast Guard. We look forward to hearing from our witnesses on what is driving a manpower shortage in the United States Coast Guard and the United States Merchant Marine, and what can be done to address these shortages.
I’d like to welcome our witnesses – Vice Admiral Paul Thomas, Deputy Commandant for Mission Support, United States Coast Guard; Rear Admiral Ann Phillips, Administrator of the United States Maritime Administration; Heather MacLeod, Director, Homeland Security and Justice, United States Government Accountability Office; and Dr. Beth Asch, Senior Economist at the RAND Corporation.
The Coast Guard is currently authorized for an active-duty end-strength of 44,500 men and women but is operating with a shortfall of approximately 4,800 members across its workforce. Despite ever increasing mission demands, the Coast Guard, like other services, has faced limited growth in its ranks, and is projected to see its personnel deficit grow in the coming years.
To help reverse this trend, the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2023 was reported from this Committee last month with authorizations of $12 million to fund additional recruiting personnel and offices for the Coast Guard Recruiting Command and $9 million to enhance Coast Guard recruiting capabilities.
I understand the Coast Guard intends to implement a multi-tiered strategy to address these challenges that includes relaxing certain requirements to expand the pool of qualified candidates, as well as adjusting personnel policies, including those related to parental leave and promotions, to retain existing personnel. I look forward to hearing more about those efforts.
As we experience challenges in Coast Guard recruiting and retention, we also face a shortfall in our civilian merchant marine workforce. In 2017, MARAD estimated that the United States Merchant Marine faced a shortfall of 1,800 qualified licensed and unlicensed mariners needed in the event of a full mobilization to operate sealift assets. MARAD has since indicated that the shortage has likely grown.
The Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act directed the Department of Transportation, in consultation with the Coast Guard and the United States Transportation Command, to develop a national maritime strategy that promotes the domestic maritime industry’s ability to meet national security and economic needs.
To further bolster these efforts, the Committee included in the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2023 provisions to reduce bureaucratic delays and barriers to Americans seeking a seagoing career. Additionally, we authorized $11 million to upgrade the Coast Guard’s IT infrastructure for the Coast Guard’s Merchant Mariner Licensing and Documentation System that was established in the early 1990s and has significant limitations. We look forward to hearing from you on what other ways we can support your efforts.