The Economic Impact of the USCG: An Interview with Rear Admiral Lee


08/19/2011 When thinking of the USCG, most folks think of dramatic rescues at sea.  Visual images come to mind of the heroism and professionalism of the USCG men and women saving lives.

Less well understood is the economic impact of the USCG and its activities.  In the case of finding violations by major shipping companies of pollution controls, there are millions of dollars, which come into the US treasury.

In other cases, there are impacts from what the USCG provides in terms of infrastructure. One key type of infrastructure is aides to navigation.

In a recent interview with Rear Admiral William Lee, commander of the USCG’s 5th District., the role of aides to navigation was discussed and explained. The Fifth District includes the navigable waters from the middle of New Jersey to the South Carolina border.  As our interview with the Admiral to be published next month will discuss, these waters present significant ongoing challenges for not only Search and Rescue, but also fisheries protection and many other issues with which the USCG deals.

In this video, Rear Admiral Lee discusses the impact of aides to navigation on the US economy.  Aides to navigation are laid down by the USCG to determine where waters are navigable for shipping, whether for law enforcement, military, commercial or recreational shipping.  And storms affect those buoys already laid down, requiring USCG determination of the impact of storms on navigation and the relaying of buoys to show where the waters are now navigable after storms and tempests.

These aides to navigation are crucial tools to allow the just in time economy to work.  Without them, a significant slowdown or shutdown would occur with significant impacts on jobs.

In a recent piece, a SLD principal, Rear Admiral (Retired) Ed Gilbert argued that

Our economy depends on trade, which is supported by what can be viewed as a giant set of conveyer belts of shipping and port facilities around the world with lots of on and off ramps. A disruption of the system anywhere such as on the high seas or the loss of a major port, would cause the system to collapse for an extended period with devastating effects on the world’s economy and the subsequent loss of millions of jobs.

Although there was little reporting about it, one of the major successes in the Katrina aftermath was how quickly the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers reopened the Mississippi and our other vital maritime highways.  There was a report recently that closing the Mississippi has a $400 million per day economic impact.