WASHINGTON– The Coast Guard is used to being in high demand, overworked and underequipped, but the pursuit to modernize in the midst of fiscal ambiguity is the real challenge, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad W. Allen said yesterday.

“The fact that demand for Coast Guard services exceeds our capacity has always been the case,” Allen said during his State of the Coast Guard address at the National Press Center here. “But as the nation faces fiscal uncertainty, we’ll have to make difficult financial choices and manage resources to buy down risk in the most critical areas.”

In his third annual address, Allen said the Coast Guard is strong, but not without challenges, calling the service a “capital-intensive organization” with a fleet that has “well documented” deteriorating conditions.

The Coast Guard’s diverse missions around the world and in the United States require “adroit planning, savvy resource allocation and risk-informed decision-making,” the admiral said.

“We are experts at managing an aging fleet to meet mission requirements, but time is a merciless thief, and it is stealing readiness with each passing year,” he said.

The Coast Guard was allocated $98 million in stimulus funds to restore its fleet and improve some facilities. The service’s ability to plan and operate must be optimized, using every dollar responsibly despite the limited funding, Allen said.

But regardless of budget growth or deficit, modernization is the “best way to operate the Coast Guard,” he said. It’s a change in business process and command and control, he added, driven by a need to adapt to ensure readiness despite the size of the budget.

The Coast Guard’s increased use of cyberspace is an increasingly vital aspect of modernization, he said, noting the service’s partnerships with Google, YouTube and Facebook, as well as regular participation in blogger roundtables.

“In a world where the business day never ends, but merely follows the sun, you almost get the sense that time and space are on the verge of becoming irrelevant,” he said. “And on the Internet, that’s true. We know our global physical reach must be accompanied by effective and secure presence in cyberspace.”

The demand of emerging challenges will require the Coast Guard to balance modernization with its maritime missions abroad, Allen said, describing the global need for the Coast Guard as somewhat bitter-sweet.

“The good news is there’s never been a greater demand for our services,” the admiral said. “The bad news is there’s never been a greater demand for our services. The nation values what we do, but the collective set of demands on the nation and the Coast Guard is considerable, and it will continue to be.”

Allen said the Coast Guard remains focused on current operations and mission execution in support of homeland security and the nation’s interests around the globe. He addressed piracy in the Gulf of Aden, multi-year ice in the Arctic and hurricane relief stateside as different, but equally important, challenges. He also recognized the cutters Dallas and Boutwell, among other air and sea vessels in the fleet, for recent successes the ships have had, demonstrating their “multi-mission value.”

The cutter Dallas conducted joint law-enforcement operations with the African island nation Cape Verde last year. It also deployed to the Mediterranean to deliver humanitarian assistance to the former Soviet republic of Georgia following its conflict with Russia, he said. Since then, the Dallas has been taken out of service for severe repairs.

The cutter Boutwell is circumnavigating the globe with a Navy expeditionary strike group, training other nations’ navies and coast guards.

“This is not the same Coast Guard that existed even one year ago,” the admiral said. “Your Coast Guard is employing an astoundingly diverse set of capabilities and competencies.”

The key to current and future success lies in the Coast Guard’s ability to modernize so it can effectively and efficiently allocate resources, support its personnel and sustain operational capability, Allen said.

“We are a small service, but we have a large impact on the daily lives of our citizens and the citizens of the world,” he said.

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