New Coast Guard commandant Adm. Linda Fagan spoke with lawmakers Wednesday about workforce issues facing the service.
Fagan took questions from the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation House subcommittee regarding a range of personnel issues facing the service, including recruitment and retention. They also talked about concerns over housing, health care and childcare access and affordability.
“My highest priority as commandant is to transform our talent management system, which has not significantly changed in 75 years, to better serve our people in the 21st century,” said Fagan.
Fagan, the first uniformed woman to lead a military branch, was confirmed to her new role in May. She also spoke with lawmakers earlier in July on talent management.
Many of the services are struggling to meet their upcoming end strength numbers.
“Retention is not a particular challenge for the organization right now,” Fagan said during the hearing. Instead, the service needs to focus on its recruitment dilemma, she added.
The Coast Guard is still short of meeting its upcoming goal of 4,200 new enlistments, according to Fagan, but has hired 15 new recruiters to help address the need to bring in more talent.
The Coast Guard has not met its recruiting goals since 2018, as reported by Military.com. This comes even as opportunities for Coast Guard personnel within the service are expanding.
More women in the Coast Guard will now serve on small cutters than large ones, according to a recent Coast Guard news hub post. The trend reportedly marks a noteworthy shift as previously only large cutters had enough quarters for male and female crews, but now the small fleet surge for women indicates growing career options for them in the service.
Less formal retention programs are also playing a role in the career development of Coast Guard personnel. About 2,500 participants are now involved with the Coast Guard Mentoring Program that launched in April 2021, according to another recent Coast Guard news hub post.
Other recruitment questions for Fagan during the hearing involved the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
“Has the vaccine requirement been an issue for recruitment,” asked Rep. Bob Gibbs, the lead Republican on the committee and a lawmaker from Ohio.
Fagan responded that it had not.
A total of 107 Coast Guard members have been involuntarily discharged for not complying with receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Fagan.
During the hearing, and in her Commandant’s Intent report released in June, Fagan shared more of her upcoming goals to transform the Coast Guard. Those include the need to strengthen high quality healthcare, housing, childcare and support services.
“Despite the critical role the Coast Guard plays in our national security, the economy and ensuring the safety of lives at sea, the Coast Guard is the second smallest branch in the military and chronic divestments in the Coast Guard has forced them to do more with less,” said Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Calif., chairman of the subcommittee.
Carbajal noted his concern is driven in part by the “insufficient” basic housing allowance offered by the Coast Guard, as well as a limited amount of health care staff.
Carbajal also said the Coast Guard’s annual sexual assault report was due over six months ago, but that the service has still made “great strides in sexual assault and sexual harassment response.”
On the need to reform childcare access, Fagan shared that the Coast Guard has tripled its number of Coast Guard children enrolled in childcare subsidy programs. According to a Government Accountability Office report from June, the Coast Guard may also be able to better support their personnel by increasing the limited number of on-base childcare centers to make childcare more affordable and accessible.
Fagan also touched on the need to prioritize diversity and inclusion in the service. This is something the service has been struggling with, lawmakers at the hearing noted. A Rand report from last August and a 2020 Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General Report found the Coast Guard Academy needed to address issues with race-based harassment on campus.
“Our workforce is the heartbeat of the Coast Guard, and without them we cannot execute missions,” said Fagan.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media