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In May 2003, Steve Dunham interviewed Coast Guard Commandant Thomas Collins for the Journal of Homeland ecurity. Copyright 2003 Analytic Services. Reproduced with permission.
Admiral Collins became Commandant of the
U.S. CoastGuard in May 2002. He served as Vice Commandant from 2000 to 2002, when he created the Innovation Council, spearheaded service-wide process improvement initiatives, and directed system enhancements as the Coast Guard Acquisition Executive. He graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 1968 and later served as a faculty member within the Humanities Department. He earned a master of arts degree in liberal studies from Wesleyan University and a master of business administration degree from the University of New Haven. He received the Coast Guard Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit (three awards), the Meritorious Service Medal (two awards), and the Coast Guard Commendation Medal (three awards). A native of Stoughton, MA, Admiral Collins is married to the former Nancy Monahan of New London, CT. They have two daughters, Christine and Kathryn.
Journal of Homeland Security: What difference has the transfer to the Department of Homeland Security made in the Coast Guard?
Adm. Collins: I dont think any real wholesale changes in terms of our mission set; our mission portfolio is pretty consistent. It will remain, I think, fairly consistent. What the difference has been, I think, is a lot of work, a lot of effort by everyone in the new department on trying to frame the new department, establish the business rules of the new department, understand thedivision of labor, I guess, is the right phrase to usebetween the component parts. Its just the fundamental organizational blocking and tackling that has to be done in any new organization, so, were in the middle of that. We have a number of detailees up into the department that are helping out, filling empty seats while the new department hires into new parts of the organization.
I guess the impact is the considerable amount of energy devoted to the evolution, formation, and formulation of the department. So in terms of our mission, our mission portfolio is pretty set, we are working hand in hand with the board on transportation security, the under secretary in particular, coordinating various functional areas. To give you an example: [with] the Transportation Security Administration, were working through documents ultimately leading to a memorandum of understanding that will clearly delineate our respective roles in transportation security and how we work together to avoid duplication and ensure effectiveness and all those kinds of things.
Journal of Homeland Security: Admiral Loy [Collinss predecessor as Commandant] had mentioned that you would have a job to do in making sure that all the Coast Guards stakeholdersall the missions that the Coast Guard had before entering the Department of Homeland Securityare not neglected under the new department. Is there recognition within the Department of Homeland Security that the Coast Guard has a lot of established missions that the Coast Guard can do best, maybe only the Coast Guard can do, that have to be preserved?
Adm. Collins: The law requires the secretary to attend to those. If you read the homeland security bill that was signed last November, it delineates homeland security and homeland security missions, defines them in the law, which categories the respective missions fit into. It requires the secretary to attend to the full range of our missions and not substantially reduce any of them and also requires the department [inspector general] to make an annual assessment of our abilities to do the full range of our missions and [as to] the terms and conditions of the act being adhered to. In the law, that issue is framed very specifically.
In practice, [were getting] great support across the board by the secretary. If you read in some of the hearing statements where he talks about the Coast Guard, hes always very careful to say that our full range of missions have to be supported. By word, and to me personally, both he and the deputy secretary understand the importance of our full range of missions.
Clearly, by law, by word, and, I think, by deed, the fact of the matter is that we have received fairly strong budget support by the new department, and one of the major policy themes in our 04 budget is to clearly build out our homeland security capabilities, but also to modernize our capital plant, and third to have the ability to sustain our readiness posture across our full range of missions. Those goals and objectives have been supported by the department as reflected in our 04 budget now up on the Hill. By law, by word, and by deed, I think theres a positive answer to that one.
Journal of Homeland Security: Do you see any changes coming in the next few years as a result of the transfer from Transportation to Homeland Security?
Adm. Collins: I think the changes are a function not only of the move, but a function of the whole post9/11 environment. I mean, thats really whats driving everythingthe post9/11 environment is forcing a sort of a rebalancing, adjustments across our missions: which ones get center stage, which doesnt. Both things, obviously, in the history of our organization, they change over time. Its a dynamic process. Depending where you are in time, and what the risks and the threats are, one mission may in fact be on the front burner, and one might be on the back burner. After Exxon Valdez happened [in 1989], in the early 90s, with the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, that certainly was a major mission shift in emphasis in resources and rulemaking and so forth occurring.
I think its the whole post9/11 [environment], and it means that homeland security becomes center stage, along with search-and-rescue, becomes the preeminent mission. Although were not neglecting any, you have to attend to those, and why? Because it means protection of lives. And any of the missions associated with the protection of lives are going to be on the front burner. So thats the emphasis, and its reflected in our budget. If you look at the 04 budget, youll see that the increase in the budget is going to search-and-rescue and its going to homeland security. I see that over the next several years: our continuing to build out those capabilities and partner with other organizations within Homeland Security, refine those relationships, improve those relationships, and thats the whole reason behind the Department of Homeland Security, of course, is to have that unity of effort, a collaborative approach to security, and I think the department has the framework to give it that. Reshaping those relationships in the interest of the nation is one of the things thats going to occupy our time, as they should.
The other thing: when people think about this department, they think in terms of counterterrorism, which clearly is the main focus, but theres other homeland security issues that are going to benefit from, I think, the new department. The counterdrug effort clearly is a homeland security issue. Theres nothing more central to the security of our nation, I think, than stopping the flow of drugs into our country. Illegal migration is also a homeland security mission, as it could be connected to counterterrorism, depending on whos coming in. All those missions, I think, will be beneficiaries of the department.
Journal of Homeland Security: You mentioned search-and-rescue. The Coast Guard has been modernizing the response system, correct? Could you address that a little bit?
Adm. Collins: Sure. Youre probably referring to
Rescue 21 is a distress and calling system, and it replaces an old, tired one, an old, tired analog system that we have. So its basically an emergency communications system. A boater in distress can call in to this communications system if hes got a problem and so forth. The older system had basically a series of towers around the coast and you have communications coverage through these towers and the medium is VHF FMthats the communications band. A boater with a VHF radio can call in on channel
Its also our command and control system for our coastal assets. So its how we communicate with our boats, aircraft, and so forth in the coastal environment. Its a system that supports coastal areas out to
Journal of Homeland Security: I was going to ask how it harmonizes with the common operational picture being developed under Deepwater [a major acquisition project].
Adm. Collins: I think its a part ofhow would I describe it?brethren systems. We have a concept called maritime domain awareness [MDA], which is the idea of having architecture of [command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] systems that allows you to havethe goal is total transparency of the maritime environment. You know whos there, you know where they are, and you know what theyre doing. Its all about, from a security perspective, a layered defense, pushing the borders out. Its all part of that. Its part of our maritime homeland security strategy. It is a primary component of our strategy: to build out the concept of maritime domain awareness, and there are several systems that allow us to get thatsystems and subsystems. A vessel traffic system in a way is an MDA subsystem.
Ive said that the magic for us (getting back to that previous question)the issue de jour, every hearing Ive been tois Oh, my God, Coast Guard, how are you going to do all your full range of missions? The activity level in the fisheries enforcement is going downmeasured in boat-hours and ship-hours and plane-hoursand my answer then is, I said theres three magic words: capacity, capability, and partnerships. If youre going to bake this cake for success, those are the three magic ingredients. Capacity meaning you have enough ships, you have enough people, and you have enough boats to tend to the full range of missions. You build the right capability into the asset base you havei.e., Deepwater,
Those are the three things, and were working very, very hard at all three of those. And I think weve been tremendously successful on the partnership end on a couple of fronts, particularly with the international security code and with our counterdrug efforts down in the Caribbean working internationally and with the Navy to put assets there and to continue even though our own ship-days over the last couple of years or
Journal of Homeland Security: Could you discuss the [Coast Guards] relationship with the Navy? I think that in the past few yearshas there been more contribution by the Navy? I think there was a loan of Cyclone patrol boats, for example?
Adm. Collins: Immediately after 9/11, within a matter of a week, the [Chief of Naval Operations], the [Vice Chief of Naval Operations], myself,
My answer was Number one, its not a huge amount of our force structure, its a little under 3%. Second, it is those skill sets that were bringing to the table that we do very, very well, and its recognized by the commanders over there. We didnt go knocking on their door, saying, Please send me over there. They came to the Joint Staff and said, Heres my war plan, we need these kind of competencies, folks to help execute it, and wed like the Coast Guard in these particular areas. Thats how that evolved, and its based upon the work weve been doing over there for over a decade.
So my answer is, I think its the right thing to do, weve got the right capability, andoh, by the wayits a pretty nice trade: I mean, weve got eight patrol boats over there, weve got eleven of the Cyclone class
We have a document we call a National Fleet Policy, and its signed by myself and Vern Clark [the Chief of Naval Operations], and it just pledges that we will acquire, maintain, and deploy our assets synergistically. So weve defined how we fit together and how well go forward together, and its a general concept, philosophy type of statement. I think it captures the essence of it. Its a real good stewardship thing. Its saying, Hey, American public, there is such a concept as a National Fleet. Theres a bonus to it: Were going to avoid duplication and overlap and all kinds of things, so were going to develop it so it makes sense. Its a terrific thing, and not too many countries have that kind of cooperation between the maritime services.
Journal of Homeland Security: In terms of the operational picture being generated by the new search-and-rescue system
Adm. Collins: This new department is notalthough theres some collectionthey are not the main collectors of intel. The FBI and the CIA remain the preeminent collectors, although there is some collection capability and responsibility within the department. We are a collector, we are a member of the Foreign Intelligence Community, we have to be so, established by a law Congress passed that fall right after 9/11 and we are now a member of the Foreign Intelligence Community and we have a seat at that table. Our ships are at various places where other ships of our country are not, and so we have some collection capabilities and responsibilities. But mostly the department will be into assessing, gathering, analyzing intel and information and making it actionable. Thats the [responsibility of the] new Under Secretary [for] IAIPInformation Analysis and Infrastructure Protection, a brand-new entityand the Under Secretary will run it, and thats where that information is fused, if you will. So we become a maritime input to IAIP, and other elements of the department will also provide input. Theyre also overseeing vulnerability assessments, security assessments, and part of our job is to do assessments across all our ports. We will direct that, orchestrate that, and provide all that information to IAIP. And then theres TTICthe Terrorist Threat Integration Centerand thats a new entity made up of FBI and CIA with the CIA in the lead, that was established by the President, and the department will plug into that, so in fact there will be a homeland security staff element right in TTIC for liaison purposes back into this IAIP. And the Coast Guard, we have folks on staff with this new Under Secretary in the new department well as in TTIC. Hopefully there will be good information flow and cross-fertilization. This is clearly one real stock in trade of the new department. This is about information. This is probably the most prime commodity in the new department, informationhow to acquire it, how to analyze it, how to distribute it, because youve got to distribute it back to the private sector, and to state and local, and so forth. Thats a huge stock in trade of the new department, and this new element of the departmentwe moved
Journal of Homeland Security: A couple of years ago, maybe even more recently than that, the Coast Guard was looking at closing air stations, retiring cutters, a lot of budget cutting. With the new acquisition program, Deepwater, have those cuts been rescinded until the assets can be replaced by Deepwater?
Adm. Collins: As late as the 02 budget, which was passed, worked on, just before 9/11 happened, in the same timeframe, that summer when Congress was acting on that 02 budget, that budget did in fact have ships laid up and aircraft put in the desert [for preservation from rust], and that kind of thing. Then, what happened is, later, after 9/11, in the aftermath, there was a supplemental passed, the 02 supplemental budget; the 02 budget gave us some relief, so we filled in some of the budget holes that we had with the 02 supplemental. And then the 03 budget represented a significant increase for usover 20% in our operating expense budgetand then the 04 budget another 10%.
So between the 02 supplemental, the 03 and the 04 budgets, and the 03 supplemental, by the way (which is helping to fund our involvement in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Liberty Shield), between all that, we will grow by 30%. By the end of 04, if the budget gets passed as requestedstill an if at this point, because Congress has not acted on itif it gets passed as requested, we will have grown 30% in our operating expense budget, and we will have grown by 4100 people on a base of 36,000 personnel. So its starting to build out capability and capacity, two of the three key ingredients for us maintaining operational excellence across all our missions, and that budget is going to help us move along the capabilities and capacities. In this 04 budget, for example, theres
Journal of Homeland Security: What will the Coast Guard be doing to work as partners with the private sector?
Adm. Collins: Clearly, that partnership piece is terribly important. We have done a couple of things. One, we have worked internationally to develop an international security code for ports and vessels. And weve worked hard to ensure that the domestic counterpart, domestic legislation, was framed in the same frame of reference as the international code, so we were successful in last November with the President signing the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002a substantial piece of legislation. The reason I bring these new protocols up is because they will in many ways help define and shape the relationship that we have with the private sector and the private sectors role in port security. We have a regulatory effort under way right now in creating the associated regulations to set this act in motion. What it does, it says that the private sector has a heavy role in the security of the nation. The federal dollar is not going to underwrite every single security need in the maritime environment. Its a shared responsibilityfeds, states, local, and private sector all have to step up to the table in the form of security plans, port assessments, and resourcing those plans, and exercising those plans. For instance, every designated waterfront facility in our ports and waterways is required to have a security plan. Every vessel coming in over a certain tonnage will have to have a security plan and a security officer assigned. Every port will have an overarching port security plan and that will be the responsibility of the Coast Guard captain of the port to develop that in conjunction with the private sector. (There are over
What it is, is developing partnerships, were leveraging everyones capability, and in the
Journal of Homeland Security: Are those the rules that were being proposed in public hearings around the country recently?
Adm. Collins: Yes. We had seven public hearings around the country. There was significant interest, a lot of input, a very ambitious timeline for this thing. Were working things in parallel, not in series. Were briefing everyone around town and back, trying to ensure that everyone gets their oar in the water and we get a good product out the other end. A lot of interest in it. I think its a fairly significant effort. Every plan has to be reviewed and approved prior to 2004developed, reviewed, and approved.
Journal of Homeland Security: Is there something youd like to emphasize in closing?
Adm. Collins: This is a tremendous time for our service, for us to add value. We have capability and experience. We can add value in a lot of parts of this homeland security business as well as our other missions. My major emphasis is to ensure the operational excellence of the Coast Guard. Were going to do that in every mission area; hopefully with the help of Congress and the Administration we will be given the resources we need to do that. To date, theres been just tremendous support. The 30% growth in our budget, through the 04 budget, thats just an unprecedented growth increment for us. Thats a tremendously good signal, and my expectation is that the support will continue. Well continue to build out our capabilities and ensure the operational excellence that the American public expects from the Coast Guard. Were going to provide that.