Repeal of DACA: a Republican Success, an American Public Policy Failure

By: Sophia Cole

Edited By: Indira Bhattacharjee

Frequent and vigorous debates concerning immigration have thrust the DACA issue into the spotlight as one of the most contentious and relevant issues in the 21st century. We live in an increasingly transnational world, where border security and migration underscore critical national policies of most countries. Indeed, Western nations have experienced soaring immigration trends and governments are left scrambling to respond with appropriate policies. However, arriving at a national consensus on what is an appropriate response to an influx of immigrants is extremely difficult. President Trump’s recent dismantling of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program highlights one such decision.  To yank the rug out from under Dreamers who have invested their lives and money in the US is not only egregiously cruel but will also damage the US economy by creating human capital holes that would otherwise be filled by Dreamers. This paper seeks to show that this policy, or move to repeal policy, is based on a culture of fear rather facts by examining the market and government failures surrounding the policy.

DACA Background

DACA emerged from a 2012 executive order signed by President Obama. The program allowed Dreamers, classified as undocumented immigrants arriving in the US, to embark on a path to citizenship. By registering with the government, the possibility that Dreamers would get ‘lost in the system’ is removed; further stipulations ensure participants would be educated and have the desire to work, further reducing the chance of free riders.  

Additionally, the 90% of Dreamers who worked also paid into social security, but cannot collect it; this provided considerable support to a government institution groaning under the pressure of an aging workforce. Benjamin Goggin at digg, highlights that by the time President Trump announced the repeal of DACA, there were some 800,000-program recipients contributing to the wealth and knowledge of US society, a simultaneously minuscule and consequential number.  

The Labor Market

So, what really happens to the labor market with an influx of immigrants? Popular opinion claims immigrants reduce available income and capital for everyone in the labor market by taking a share. However, the Committee on National Statistics prove that immigration has the opposite effect, where it actually increases capital return, “making capital more productive and increasing income to owners of capital”. Immigration also causes aggregate income to increase, in which some would lose their jobs but the net benefits would exceed the losses.

Having said that, an individual’s boost in income  “depends on the number of immigrants relative to natives, natives’ share of income, and the size of the wage effect of immigration” and on whether immigrants complement or substitute native’s jobs. Theoretically, in the US labor market “the influx of immigrants initially drives down wages but native incomes still rise in the aggregate due to the immigration surplus.

Another common misconception about immigration is that migrants are mostly poor and have little to no savings, thus becoming a burden to the native society. However, data has shown the contrary is true, “Even if immigrants arrive without capital, domestic savings and investment will rise as a result of the higher return to capital”. In fact, when “the capital-labor ratio is restored, the adverse wage effect of immigration and the immigration surplus disappear. Immigrants who are who complements to native workers will cause a native wage increase as a result of increased productivity. However, the opposite is true as well- given immigrants are more likely to be substitutes for low- skilled labor jobs and the fact that most Dreamers do not fall into that category, this reasoning should not be the base of repealing policy.

Market Failures

Markets are not flawless. In very few cases, markets left to their own devices do facilitate astonishingly efficient allocation of resources. Immigrants in the US, documented or otherwise, face systemic discrimination that permeates the labor market, leading to market failure in the form of non-price entry barrier.  This can be quite devastating because it reduces labor supply and negatively affects quality because the applicant pool is reduced, drives up labor costs, increases income inequality and restricts the labor market.

Letting Dreamers work in the US has economic benefits. As aforementioned, many immigrants, including Dreamers are educated and contribute to our social security system. By removing those people and closing our borders, the US takes a loss on growth in social security. This leads to intergenerational inequity, in which policies have damaging impacts spanning generations.

It is still unclear what trends will emerge from the US’ declining workforce but we do know that it is crucial to focus on “educational investments in youth, including the children of immigrants; and on the skill composition of future immigrants… Driving out young workers who will pay into the system for many decades is a way to make these problems worse.”

Government Failures

Not all government is good government. Governments often have a crucial role in the success of a market when intervening in times of failure. According to empirical data, and Paul Krugman at New York Times, Dreamers are “an exemplary segment of our population”, productive and committed to working hard and staying out of trouble, and for many that meant pursuing higher education as ways to improve their lives.”

The repeal cast a wide net that covered high skilled workers and human capital, which the US will no longer be able to utilize, creating a social deadweight loss. What’s more is that the US government literally cannot afford to fully repeal DACA. The Brookings Institute declared DACA’s dismantling to come with “mind boggling” price tag of nearly $10 million, which is 100% more than ICE’s annual budget of $5 million.

Importance of Framing in Policy

The strategic terms used to shape political discourse surrounding immigration debates within the US conjure a frightening social problem. Negative connotations of immigrants frame the repeal of DACA as policy that is protecting Americans from those who cause them harm. Illegal alien connotes a dichotomy of Us versus Them by emphasizing “both the unlawful activity and the fact that those arriving are different and foreign.”

The term undocumented worker highlights a different narrative, in which “immigrants have entered the country to work and merely lack the appropriate paperwork.” Attorney General, Jeff Sessions has encouraged this discourse in effort to pass the DACA repeal by asserting the program has “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens.” The President himself is guilty of fueling an Us versus Them culture by stating his concern for “the millions of Americans victimized by this unfair system” in reference to DACA.

Government officials are rational humans and respond to incentives like everyone else, most often to gain political support, which often affects the outcome of a policy. In essence, the revocation of DACA was a political tactic born out of rent-seeking and nationalistic notions that immigration, and free trade by extension, should be curtailed.

Image Source: USA Today

Four Years Later: What We Learned from the Ebola Crisis

By: Rebecca Desantis 


The increasing frequency of global health emergencies that affect multiple nations and regions necessitates a better understanding of the role global governance systems play in combatting public health crises. Much like the global nature of today’s international security situations, health emergencies demand a robust global management system that minimizes the damage of epidemics while maintaining economic and political stability in the face of crisis. In the past decade, governments have responded to multiple global health emergencies with limited staff, resources, and information. No crisis has exposed the deficiencies of the global health management system more than the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa, beginning in 2013 and ending in 2015. Ebola is a rare and deadly virus that spreads by direct human contact, and is characterized by fever, weakness, vomiting and unexplained bleeding. This epidemic not only caused 28,000 cases of Ebola, and 11,000 lives lost, but also led increased distrust of the World Health Organization (WHO) and healthcare workers, worldwide hysteria and panic, and economic slowdown.

Looking back to this time four years ago, the Ebola crisis exposed significant gaps in global healthcare management in the developing world. Scholar David Fidler of the Council on Foreign Relations, explains that, “although unprecedented in international cooperation on health, the current regime complex for global health governance suffers from defects that many experts believe are responsible for suboptimal outcomes for individual and population health.” Knowing that there have been advances in global healthcare management, Fidler, like many in the field, believe that minimal change will occur if global leaders like the United States and the UN don’t focus attention on building up the capacity for international actors to address global health crises. Understanding the need for change begs the question: What policies do global health actors like the WHO and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) need to reform in order for our response to global health crises to improve?

The Case of the Ebola Outbreak

            In December 2013, the first Ebola virus infections of this outbreak occurred in the West African country of Guinea. Patient zero was a small boy in a village in Southern Guinea, who was documented as having symptoms of a mysterious disease. Local health workers first classified it as cholera-like diarrhea, then as hemorrhagic fever. Because Ebola had never been diagnosed in the region before, it was not on the radar. Over the course of the next year, the outbreak infected tens of thousands of people, spreading primarily through Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. The region was susceptible to the rapidly spreading disease because of the porousness of the national borders, which allowed people to freely move between countries. Furthermore, because the Kissi ethnic group lives in a region spread over all three countries’ borders, the disease spread with them, as seen in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Kissi Ethnic Group


The Ebola epidemic hit a region that was moving towards economic and social stability after civil conflict had made the region unstable. Because of poor infrastructure and the inability for the region to diagnose and contain the first incidents of Ebola, the virus was able to quickly spread through the region. It was not until March of the following year that international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) began setting up operations in the region to help deal with the spread of the disease. Most notably was Doctors without Borders, who stepped in to try to control the virus and grab the world’s attention.

By July of 2014, international attention grew and concern for the virus spreading to other countries became paramount. Some countries attempted to prevent spread of the virus by encouraging schools, universities, and other organizations to implement travel bans or quarantine travelers, which only increased the growing sense of fear in the international community. The number of new cases continued to grow, and the number of deaths steadily rose. This was when the most external funding came to try to deal with the virus, including $200 million coming from the World Bank. By the end of 2014, the virus had spread to neighboring countries; however, the number of cases began to decrease, and the spread was being contained.

During this global health crisis, a number of weaknesses and issues with how the WHO, CDC, and the health ministries dealt with the epidemic became apparent. The most detrimental issues included the process of reporting and documenting infections, the insufficient health infrastructure, and the general lack of accountability of the WHO and its regional partners.

Reporting Disease and Accountability

The length of time it took for the international community to recognize the crisis and respond hampered the containment efforts. Because there is no incentive for countries to report disease, the countries affected did not immediately report the virus to national representatives. This is in contrast to the process of reporting disease that is spelled out in the International Health Regulations (IHR), which are legally binding for all WHO member states. According to the WHO, the goal of the IHR is “to help the international community prevent and respond to acute public health risks that have the potential to cross borders and threaten people worldwide.” The IHR requires countries to report outbreaks to WHO, and subsequently explains the procedures for the response by the WHO and the reporting country. This process is important because it helps dispatch emergency response teams to the region and sets in motion security measures.

Kevin Sack of the New York Times reported on the political mess that was the reporting process in the Ebola crisis. Based in interviews with WHO staff, the representatives of the African Regional Office of the WHO were dispatched to gather information about the outbreak, but politics came before the needs of the people. Underfunded offices, unclear reporting lines, and incompetent representatives led to information not being transmitted to the WHO headquarters in Geneva. The WHO regional office also rejected help from the CDC because they wanted to handle the problem without help, which upset US officials. The CDC director at the time explained to Sacks that he was unsure who was leading the Ebola response, further showing the blurred reporting process, and ultimately caused delays in aid.

The lack of accountability from the WHO, and its local and regional representatives is also prevalent in this crisis. The Harvard Global Health Institute and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) Independent Panel on the Global Response to Ebola site this issue as one of the main reasons that the response to the Ebola outbreak was not quick.  The Panel explains that there is no incentive for local communities to report cases of disease to the appropriate WHO representatives. This stems from the distrust of healthcare officials because some villages viewed them as tools for the government to get more foreign aid funding. Others distrusted the health workers because they said they couldn’t follow their normal burial practices of washing the bodies, which was important to their culture, yet furthered the spread of disease. The delay in reporting caused the Ebola epidemic to spread more quickly and overwhelmed on-the-ground response teams.

Accountability doesn’t only apply to reporting the disease at the start, but also to the WHO’s response to the reports. The Harvard report states that the WHO was slow to send out the response teams, and quick to pull out their teams when the situation started improving. Sacks also mentions reports of healthcare workers who left the region only to see the situation worsen.

Insufficient Infrastructure

A second glaring weakness evident during the Ebola crisis is the missing infrastructure to deal with epidemics. As seen during the crisis, families struggled to get their sick to hospitals because of the lack of proper roads, and even if they reached a medical facility, they could be turned away due to the overcrowded conditions.

The slow response resulted from a lack of hospitals, doctors, nurses, and medical equipment in the developing world. Infrastructure overhaul and prioritizing emergency care requires appropriate funds, yet before the Ebola crisis, money was not being funneled into these types of programs. The lack of capacity at the local level to address and report cases of infectious disease makes it challenging for organizations like the WHO to mobilize a quick response specific to the needs of the situation.


The Harvard-LSHTM Independent Panel on the Global Response to Ebola provides a number of recommendations that urge the global governance system to make needed changes to their response to epidemics and call on political leaders to make those changes. Their recommendations focus specifically on the global response systems and their ability to build up global capacity.

Their recommendations are helpful, and the independent nature of this panel shows the critical nature of these recommendations. Their most crucial recommendation is their section on good governance reforms for the WHO, which recommends the WHO refocus on their core functions (providing leadership, shaping the research agenda, translation and dissemination of valuable knowledge, setting norms, articulating ethical and evidence-based policy options, providing technical support, catalyzing change, and monitoring the health situation and assessing health trends) and ask member states to demand a Director-General who will challenge government leaders who choose not to cooperate with reporting procedures. This will help ensure accountability at all levels of the WHO, and in their coordination with national governments.

Considering these recommendations, the WHO should go further by implementing the following reforms:

  1. Speed up the global response by creating a streamlined system for reporting cases of disease. This may involve incentivizing the reporting process or making it easier for local doctors and health administrators to report to national authorities and WHO representatives, which will then report to the WHO headquarters. It should be the role of the WHO to respond to every disease threat swiftly and appropriately.
  2. Increase funding to the African Regional Office of the WHO to re-implement their corps of anthropologists who work with villages on cultural practices to disease prevention and general healthcare practices. This was clearly a shortcoming of the regional office and re-implementing this office could help avoid distrust of healthcare workers in the future.
  3. Encouraging grassroots organizations and NGOs in the region to refocus efforts on local healthcare capacity building. The global response needs to be matched with infrastructure improvements on the ground. Infrastructure was a main issue in the spread of Ebola and increasing the capacity of villages to fight disease will help contain the spread. This would also help the WHO be able to act faster, because they will be able to work in better cooperation with local healthcare providers.

Image Source: Getty Images

Rebecca is in her last semester of American University’s Master’s of Public Administration program, concentrating in International Management. She hopes to use this degree to pursue her interest in education accessibility and access here and abroad, ideally working for an international organization. Her academic interests include higher education access, crisis management, and organization structure and management. 

Origins of the Rohingya Refugee Crisis

By: Leah Johnson

Edited by: Dylan Lamberti

Since violence erupted in the Rakhine State of Myanmar on Aug. 25, 2017, Rohingya people have been fleeing across the border at an alarming rate. The New York Times reported on Sept. 26, 2017, that the number of new arrivals in the neighboring country of Bangladesh had risen to 480,000 in just one month. Sixty percent of these are children attempting to escape the violence and an estimated 6,000 children entered the country without parents. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who is the top human rights official of the UN, stated that the situation in Myanmar is a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” against the Rohingya; however, this has been disputed by the UN representative for the Myanmar government. As the violence escalates and more casualties are incurred, international institutions are scrambling to respond both diplomatically and economically.

As sudden as this may seem, this situation was not created overnight; tensions have been brewing in Myanmar for decades. The Rohingya trace their origins in the region to the 15th century, when they began migrating to the former Arakan Kingdom in great numbers. Many more arrived while Rakhine was under the rule of British India in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Rohingya are Muslim who practice a Sufi-inflected variation of Sunni Islam, while the majority population in Myanmar is Buddhist. In 1948, Myanmar declared independence. Since then, all successive governments in Myanmar have represented the Buddhist majority and have not recognized the Rohingya as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups, rendering them stateless.

Statelessness is an incredibly pressing issue for the Rohingya. Because they do not have citizenship anywhere the Rohingya do not have a government to protect their rights. When they flee Myanmar and become refugees, resettling them in new places is incredibly difficult. Pakistan currently hosts the third largest population of Rohingya in the world with estimates totalling more than 500,000 Rohingya people, who arrived during a previous exodus in the 1970s and 1980s. In Pakistan, the Rohingya live in abysmally poor settings and are deprived of basic rights. The New York Times reported that up to 30 families share a single tap of water, which often flows for less than four hours a day. There are no hospitals in the slums where they live and death rates are high among women giving birth who are not admitted to government hospitals. Moreover, police routinely harass the Rohingya. Many Rohingya have or have previously had Pakistani national ID cards for years, but are now facing discrimination or outright denial when they try to renew their cards. Without these cards, they cannot apply for jobs, their children cannot attend school, they cannot access government hospitals, and they are occasionally arrested and held on unaffordable bail for not presenting identification. These issues are compounded in refugee camp settings where there is limited access to supplies and economic resources.

A direct path to citizenship, either in their home state of Myanmar or in their current host countries, is one of the most sustainable ways to address the refugee crisis the Rohingya face. Those who have been permitted to reside in Myanmar are considered “resident foreigners,” not citizens, putting them at risk of abuses because of their religion. While those Rohingya who have managed to obtain citizenship in Myanmar still face persecution and stigma, they have also been afforded legal protection. However, because Myanmar’s army is constitutionally obligated to occupy at least 25 percent of seats in parliament, the effectiveness of this legal protection is unclear. It will take a long time for the Rohingya to overcome their marginalization, but it is nearly impossible without the provision of basic rights afforded to citizens.

International organizations, UN member states, NGOs, and the government of Myanmar should begin taking steps to ensure that the Rohingya do not remain stateless. First, financial aid should be provided to both Bangladesh and Pakistan to ensure that the Rohingya residing there are receiving basic necessities. Additionally, UN officials who have been present in Myanmar since the country gained its independence should facilitate peacekeeping talks and assist with providing aid to those who have been internally displaced. Actions taken by the international community should be weighed carefully, lest they inadvertently cause another military coup in Myanmar. Most importantly, any country currently hosting Rohingya should begin negotiating a potential path to citizenship for the Rohingya.


Leah Johnson is a second year Masters of Public Administration student focusing on international management. She is currently working as a research assistant intern with the American Institutes for Research and hopes to continue to work in international development and create empowering programs. Her policy interests include refugee and migrant rights, education, and fighting human trafficking.

Dylan Lamberti is a first year Political Communication student and Hart A. Massey Fellow at American University. Originally from Canada, Dylan completed his undergraduate degree at McGill University, where he ran the McGill International Review, which sparked his interest in international politics and American foreign policy.

Image Source: The Independant

SPA Dean Search – Graduate Student Briefing Sessions

Please see the following announcement regarding the search for a new SPA Dean.


“Dear SPA Graduate Students,

As you may know, AU has announced a national search for a Dean of the School of Public Affairs. As leader of SPA, the Dean plays a critical role in shaping the educational mission of the School, securing resources for its activities, and advancing its visibility in the public arena.

A committee of faculty and senior staff has been appointed by the Provost to recruit and evaluate candidates, with assistance of one of the country’s leading executive search firms. We write to you as co-chairs of that committee to invite you to take part in the search process.

To encourage student involvement, we will hold two briefing sessions where we will discuss our efforts to date and seek their input regarding the qualities that we should prioritize in seeking to identify a leader for the School. Details are below. Undergraduate students, faculty, and staff will have separate sessions.

Evening Graduate Briefing Session

Date: Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Time: 8:00pm-9:15pm

Location: Kerwin 301


Daytime Graduate Briefing Session

Date: Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Time: 2:00pm-3:15pm

Location: Kerwin 301


Snacks and beverages will be served at both meetings. In advance of this meeting, you may find it useful to review the position description and institutional profile at, which is being distributed widely in professional networks and through advertisements in major publications.

We hope to see you at one of the meetings on September 12 and 13, and look forward to hearing your views about this important process. If you are unable to attend either one but would still like to provide feedback, please email your comments to Eric Hershberg, or Bradley Hardy at

Bradley Hardy and Eric Hershberg

SPA Dean Search Committee Co-Chairs”


Image Source: US News and World Report

Disabled Students’ Right to Education in South Africa

By: Leah Johnson

It is imperative that development practitioners working on education projects take into account all students’ needs, including those of the most disadvantaged populations. Schools should prioritize providing adequate training for teachers and school officials to ensure that the integration of students with disabilities into traditional classrooms is beneficial for all involved. Likewise, students with disabilities should not be charged fees that are not also placed upon students without disabilities. By removing these barriers, students with disabilities in South Africa and around the world will be able to access one of their fundamental rights: education.

This lack of a basic system to educate students with disabilities in South Africa severely limits this population’s potential. Children with disabilities enter the education system much later on average than their counterparts without disabilities and are more likely to drop out or finish school without successfully completing basic education. This problem limits the future prospects of children with disabilities. Furthermore, in cases where children with disabilities have access to education, they are often required to pay fees that are not mandatory for children without disabilities.

International organizations have made efforts to remedy the failure to educate children with disabilities. In 1990, the World Conference on Education for All brought together major players in international development, specifically those who focused on education. The result of this conference was the World Declaration on Education for All (WDEA), a declaration aimed at guiding governments, international organizations, educators and development professionals. The overall vision of the WDEA is idealistic; it promotes equity through the universalization of access to education for all children, youth, and adults. Likewise, the 1959 United Nations (UN) General Assembly’s Declaration of the Rights of the Child called for universal, free, and compulsory education with a basis of equal opportunity. This idea is often called inclusive education. The UN defines inclusive education as “a process of strengthening the capacity of the education system to reach out to all learners.” Despite these efforts, students with disabilities are often segregated from larger populations. The inclusion of disabled students in traditional learning settings rather than segregated schools is an important part of creating a truly inclusive setting.

Studies conducted as early as the 1990s show that inclusive education benefits both students with and without disabilities. According to special education researchers Caroline Moore, Debra Gilbreath, and Fran Maiuri, in 1998, students with disabilities who were placed in integrated classrooms showed more motivation to learn, greater levels of on-task behavior, and improved grades and standardized test scores. Moreover, integrated classrooms did not hurt the academic performance of students without disabilities, nor detract from the amount of engaged instructional time. In fact, instructional strategies like peer tutoring, cooperative learning groups, and differentiated instruction have been shown to benefit all learners.

In the early 2000s, the South African government began pursuing inclusive education. Their endeavor, as outlined in White Paper 6, aimed to reduce segregation by eliminating the use of categories of disabilities as an organizational principle, placed an emphasis on supporting learners through full-service schools, and directed the set up and resource allocation for initial facilities. It also introduced interventions to train educators and gave direction for the Education Support System, a network of support services for both educators and students. Unfortunately, despite this targeted policy, progress there has been slow. Nearly 70 percent of children with disabilities are not enrolled in school, and students who do attend are often placed in separate, “special” schools for learners with disabilities. This is exacerbated by the ambiguity in the policy itself, which lacks clear goals, a strategy to achieve them, and effective implementation. Additionally, the failure to understand childrens’ disabilities and inadequate teacher training means that many teachers and school officials simply do not know how to work with students with disabilities in a classroom setting. While the South African policy calls for an incremental assimilation of students with disabilities into the existing school system, this has not been achieved.

To continue to work towards an inclusive system of education in South Africa, development practitioners need to construct and implement transparent and implementable programs. Prioritizing training will allow teachers to make their current learning environments inclusive. Second, practitioners should advocate for policy changes so that students with disabilities are afforded legal rights and protection. Lastly, practitioners should engage with local communities to fight against biases against children with disabilities that are ingrained in the culture. This holistic approach involving the entire community will ensure a strong support system for students with disabilities as they pursue their education.

Leah Johnson is a second year Masters of Public Administration student focusing on international management. She is currently working as a research assistant intern with the American Institutes for Research and hopes to continue to work in international development and create empowering programs. Her policy interests include refugee and migrant rights, education, and fighting human trafficking.



Image Source: UNICEF

Semper Paratus: Always Ready? Assessing Coast Guard Readiness for FY18



By: Dan Durak

Last month, President Trump unveiled his budget request for fiscal year 2018, which includes spending increases for the departments of Homeland Security, Defense, and Veterans Affairs. The preliminary budget proposed cutting nearly $1.3 billion from the Coast Guard to fund the administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration, but bipartisan pushback has led to a retention of its current funding levels. How will a retention of current funding levels impact this vital maritime law enforcement, security, and rescue force? Can it maintain its motto of semper paratus (‘always ready’)?


Currently led by Commandant Admiral Zukunft, the Coast Guard includes over 41,000 active-duty military personnel, nearly 8,300 civilian full-time employees, and 7,800 reserve military part-time forces. The law enforcement agency plays a critical role in the interdiction of narcotics, and seized nearly $5.6 billion of cocaine in 2016 alone. They also reported an intercept of over 6,300 undocumented migrants, while patrolling 3.4 million nautical miles. As an organization involved in transnational law enforcement, their demand for assistance in training Central American forces with interdiction efforts also increased by 320 percent this year.

While the Coast Guard falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), it can also operate under the auspices of the U.S. Navy, during times of war or when the President directs such action. Because it exists within DHS, it is not subject to the same treatment as Department of Defense (DOD) agencies. Through the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, DOD was able to bypass many of the sequestration spending limits that were put in place in 2013 when Congress failed to agree on spending reductions. As a result, the military can better meet their demands and remain ready to serve, while the Coast Guard must struggle to make ends meet with less resources.
Assessing Readiness

The Trump administration’s preliminary budget proposal for FY18 would have reduced the Coast Guard’s budget by $1.3 billion. These cuts would have nearly eliminated the maritime safety and security teams that perform counterterrorism security near major ports on the East and West coasts. After pushback for a constrained budget, the administration decided to maintain current funding levels for continuing operations and investments in acquisitions and improvements.

Breaking the Ice

A major setback from this budget would be to the Coast Guard’s polar icebreaker capabilities. These massive ships play a vital role in keeping shipping lanes open and operational while assisting in rescue missions. In its current fleet, the Coast Guard has two active-duty polar ice-breakers, one of which is in dry-dock and another, the Polar Star, which is nearing the end of its service. By comparison, Russia maintains a fleet of over 40 vessels, which help to maintain its own national security and economic interests in the Arctic Circle.

While testifying before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in March, Admiral Zukunft highlighted this flaw in the overall readiness of his service branch and its larger application. When asked by Senator Wicker (R-MI) what would happen if the Polar Star were to go offline, Zukunft replied, “If there is a gap with a heavy icebreaker, there are no other heavy icebreakers.” Growing international tensions with Russia, combined with the increased use of sea lanes in the Arctic Circle make the need for several functional and effective polar ice breakers. When icebreakers are not available they are traditionally leased on the international market, but current tension between the U.S. and Russia could inhibit this trade.

While capability is a vital component of any fleet, size also matters. The Coast Guard maintains a current fleet of 12 Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters (commissioned vessels), which are being replaced with a class of eight new national security cutters (NSCs). Though they are more capable and larger in size, the reduced fleet would negatively impact the Coast Guard’s reach, which, according to Zukunft, still operates in seas around six of the seven continents.

Long-Term Impacts

Traditionally, budget requests and continuing resolutions (CRs) include funding for agencies to modernize their current resources – acquisition systems, office space, or upgrading its current fleet. In its 2017 budget request, the Coast Guard requested hundreds of millions of dollars to modernize its financial, acquisition, and asset management solutions in line with Treasury and DHS directives. While not operating on the front lines as part of the fleet, the management systems in place for acquisition are necessary to ensure the best resources are obtained and utilized.

After budget documents were made available to members of Congress, a bipartisan push quickly rose to beat back the budget cuts to the Coast Guard. Led by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), 23 senators wrote a letter to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Mick Mulvaney, highlighting how the cuts contradict the President’s priorities for enhanced maritime security. The 14 percent funding reduction for the Coast Guard was quickly seized and used by supporters to show just how vital the agency is to maritime and border security.

What happens next?

While Coast Guard authorizing legislation awaits action before the House and Senate, the administration’s own action may help define readiness for FY18. Through executive order and subsequent OMB guidance, the administration directed agencies to set comprehensive plans for reforming the federal government and reducing the civilian workforce. According to Director Mulvaney, “the government reorg [sic] is probably the biggest story that nobody is talking about…This is something that goes much deeper and to the very structure of government.”

Congress is in the process of funding fiscal year 2017, so it is too soon to tell if the Coast Guard will get the budget it needs. However, it is in the best interest of Senators from maritime border states, as well as those bordering the Gulf of Mexico and Great Lakes, to make sure the Coast Guard has the resources to keep up counterterrorism and search and rescue efforts. Additionally, states like New Hampshire that are experiencing high opioid-related deaths will want to make sure the Coast Guard can interdict the sale of these narcotics into the country. Coupled with the fear of Russian superiority on the Arctic shipping routes, Congress may seek to expand the current Coast Guard funding levels.

The Coast Guard has many supporters on the Hill to ensure it has enough resources to operate, yet being ‘always ready’ requires more than that. Admiral Zukunft, congressional leaders, and newly appointed Cabinet officials (like DHS’s Secretary Kelly) will need to work together to build a fleet of heavy icebreakers and NSCs while supporting ongoing safety and security operations of the Coast Guard. In the context of a push for workforce reshaping, it’s important for agency leaders to keep the mission-critical functions of the Coast Guard in mind to ensure they are always ready.


Image Source: CNN




Contribute to the Public Purpose Online this Summer!

The Public Purpose Online will continue publishing SPA Graduate students’ work this summer! Submissions may include policy articles, descriptions of summer internships, or other announcements. Contributing to the Journal is a great way to gain experience writing, apply what you’ve learned at SPA, and add to your resume!

To get involved, submit an article, or volunteer to edit send an email to