While the Coast Guard is an integral part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), arguably it has never gotten its fair share of resources compared to the scope and importance of its missions. That is nowhere more the case than when it comes to fulfilling its responsibilities for looking after U.S. interests in the Arctic. DHS Inspector General recently concluded that the Coast Guard has neither sufficient ships nor budgetary authority to accomplish its current missions. The worst of the worst is the conditions of its ice-breaker fleet.
That’s not likely to change anytime soon. To replace or buy a new ice-breaker, according to Rear Admiral (Retired) Jeff Garrett, “the Commandant of the Coast Guard and others, is an estimated three-quarters to a billion dollars for the right kind of ship.” No one is going to give the Coast Guard that kind of money.
So the United States should learn a lesson from Finland. While the Finnish Transport Agency is responsible for coordinating, developing and managing winter navigation, ice-breaking services are contracted out. Outside the ice-breaking season, the ice-breakers are leased to offshore operations around the globe. The U.S. government should consider turning over ice-breaking operations to American-owned and operated vendors.