Homeland Security and the Maritime Nation
By Wayne Spivak, Branch Chief – National Press Corps
National Marketing & Public Affairs Department, United States Coast Guard Auxiliary
When Lief Ericson, the Norse explorer first stepped ashore in Newfoundland, he began what was to become a long-standing tradition of that maritime nation. Both Canada and the United States share this proud tradition. Using the great Atlantic Ocean as a means to explore, raid, pillage, grow, fish, prosper and live, the ocean and the harbors and ports of these two nations have been active now for over 1,000 years.
Defending this tradition became a national interest, during the pioneer years of this nation, as British and privateer fought for control of the sea-lanes. Both parties understood the need to control access of the sea-lanes, as well as access to protected harbors and ports. It is these same ports, which have always been the key to the success of our nation, as well as an Achilles heel.
A Brief History of the Coast Guard
Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, not only understood what wealth lay in our maritime traditions, but that these same ports could hold additional revenues for a young and struggling nation. This young nation had limited sources of income and a limited means to impose and collect taxes. It was the imposition of duties on foreign products that was introduced by the fledging Congress.
Congress was taking a major risk, since the recently fought American Revolution was based partially on just this type of taxation. However, Hamilton and the Congress realized they needed a vehicle in which to enforce collection of taxes. In addition, they needed a way to stem the tide of pirates and smugglers. Hamilton’s idea was a fleet of cutters dedicated to these tasks. This bold venture was the beginning of the Revenue Cutter Service, the precursor service to today’s United States Coast Guard.
In the intervening years, from the creation of the Revenue Cutter Service (1790) and today, five different maritime entities were created and then merged into today’s Coast Guard. In addition to the Revenue Cutter Service, the Lighthouse Service (created 1789, transferred to the Coast Guard 1939), the Steamboat Inspection Service (created 1852, transferred to the Coast Guard 1946), the Bureau of Navigation (created 1884, transferred to the Coast Guard 1946), and the Lifesaving Service (created 1878, transferred to the Coast Guard 1939) are at the heart of the Coast Guard.
In 1967, one of the last major changes to the Coast Guard occurred when the President transferred the Coast Guard from the Treasury Department, where it had been housed since its beginnings to the newly formed Transportation Department. Thirty-six years later, a new transformation will occur, one predicated on the defense of our maritime heritage.
In March of 2003, the Coast Guard, in its entirety (which consists of active duty, reserve, auxiliary and civilian components, along with all assets) will be transferred to the newly formed Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This new cabinet-level department was formed in the wake of the simultaneous Sept 11, 2001 commercial jet airliner attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon, in Arlington, VA and at least a third target, which we can only theorize about, since that aircraft was brought down in the Pennsylvanian country-side.
The DHS will take 22 different agencies and combine them into four operational directorates plus two agencies that will directly report to the Secretary (the Coast Guard and the Secret Service), along with parts of the Immigration and Naturalization Service that will be re-named and report to the deputy secretary.
But how will this move between departments affect the Coast Guard and maritime safety? More importantly, how can you and I, as part of the public and more importantly the boating public, help protect our shores, or national, our families and livelihoods?
Some of these questions still remain un-answered or only partially answered, but this is what we currently know:
The Coast Guard will be moving (currently slated for March 1), pardon the pun; lock, stock and barrel from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Homeland Security. All current missions assigned to the Coast Guard will remain with the Coast Guard. From search and rescue to environmental protection, stewardship of the ocean’s resources to recreational boating safety, the Coast Guard will be there, providing oversight, manpower and security.
As a boater, you will, for all intents and purposes, see no real difference in the varied services the Coast Guard provides to the public. But there will be changes. The Coast Guard Commandant is the Military Commander of the Maritime Defense Zone. This means the Coast Guard is the lead agency for maritime defense.
According to the Department of Homeland Security’s web sit in December 2002, the Department of Homeland Security is charged with:
“The many men and women who daily protect our borders and secure our country are committed to the safety of our homeland. The new Department will help them do their jobs better with increased communication, coordination and resources. Specifically, the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will have three primary missions:
Prevent terrorist attacks within the United States,
Reduce America’s vulnerability to terrorism, and
Minimize the damage from potential attacks and natural disasters.”
Each of the points relate directly to not only one or more of the 22 agencies that are moving to DHS, but ultimately to the Coast Guard. Our nation’s navigable water and ports need to be protected. Freedom of the high seas needs to be maintained. And, the safety of all coastal communities needs to be assured.
To meet these expanded demands, the Coast Guard will increase in size. This means the Coast Guard will need more men and women to fill roles in both their enlisted ranks and officer corps. They will need highly trained, qualified and motivated people who will be able to meet the demands of today while planning for the requirements of tomorrow.