The U.S. Coast Guard, hit hard by the partial government shutdown that ended in late January, is still rebounding from its impacts and will continue to do so until at least late spring, the military service’s top officials said this week.
“We’re not yet fully caught up,” Rear Adm. Peter Gautier told reporters on Wednesday, according to The Wall Street Journal. “There’s no doubt a 35-day shutdown created an erosion in readiness.”
The Coast Guard’s supply warehouses have yet to be fully replenished and maintenance work on the service’s ships and aircraft, which was significantly delayed during the shutdown, continues to lag, said Gautier, who commands the service’s district that encompasses California, several other Western states and offshore waters extending to South America.
Adm. Karl Schultz, the Coast Guard commandant, told the Journal he expects full recovery for the service by about June 1. Its operations are currently at around 75 percent, Schultz told The Washington Post earlier this week.
The Journal noted that the Coast Guard’s continued impairment in the wake of the shutdown highlights its financial vulnerability, compared to the other U.S. military branches.
The Pentagon does not oversee the Coast Guard, which performs a variety of critical maritime roles that include law enforcement, environmental protection, search and rescue, and border security. The service operates as part of the Department of Homeland Security, which was one of the agencies crippled by the shutdown that stemmed from President Donald Trump’s push for border wall funding.
Coast Guard members who remained on duty were not paid for weeks and most of its civil employees — some 6,400 of them — were furloughed.
According to a February New York Times report, the service’s aircraft were grounded, major ship repairs were halted and a project to install emergency generators at an air station in Puerto Rico was delayed.
Citing internal documents, the Times said “the Coast Guard’s ship maintenance command lost at least 7,456 productive workdays — or 28.5 years’ worth of workdays — as a direct result of the partial shutdown.”
“The service also noted a ‘domino effect’ that has caused delays in repairs and maintenance on its roughly 200 aircraft, which, in turn, could keep them from being immediately available,” the Times said.
In his interview with the Post on Tuesday, Schultz suggested the Coast Guard wasn’t as badly impacted by the shutdown as some news stories made it out to be.
“You know, there are facts and there are emotions around facts,” the commandant said. “As we got our arms around it, I would tell you we will be full-up ready as we would have been without the shutdown as a Coast Guard by the summer, if not sooner.”
Still, Schultz has acknowledged that the service ― which he characterized as “modestly funded” ― faces “very real readiness challenges” because of budget limitations.
Schultz on Thursday requested that Congress increase the service’s 2020 operations budget by 5 percent to $7.9 billion during his State of the Coast Guard speech, delivered in Los Angeles.
“As Congress makes tough fiscal decisions and looks at the best ways to spend the nation’s precious resources, there’s no better return on investment in government than the United States Coast Guard,” he said.