The Business of Government Hour


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The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The executives discuss their careers and the management challenges facing their organizations. Past government executives include Administrators, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Operating Officers, Commissioners, Controllers, Directors, and Undersecretaries.

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Admiral Robert Papp

Thursday, March 29th, 2012 - 10:00
Admiral Papp leads the largest component of DHS, comprised of 42,000 active duty, 8,200 Reserve, 8,000 civilian and 31,000 volunteer Auxiliarists.
Radio show date: 
Mon, 06/18/2012
Intro text: 
Admiral Papp leads the largest component DHS, comprised of 42,000 active duty, 8,200 Reserve, 8,000 civilian and 31,000 volunteer Auxiliarists.
Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast June 18, 2012

Arlington, VA

Host: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour, a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The Business of Government Hour is produced by the IBM Center for The Business of Government which was created in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more about the center by visiting us on the web at And now, The Business of Government Hour.

Michael Keegan: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour.  I’m Michael Keegan, your host and managing editor of The Business of Government Magazine. With more than 220 years of service to the nation, the U.S. Coast Guard is a military multimission maritime organization that safeguards the U.S. economic and security interests. From the oil platforms of the Northern Arabian Gulf, to the interior rivers, to an increasingly open and accessible Arctic, the Coast Guard ensures the safety, security, and stewardship of our maritime domain. Demand for the Coast Guard’s unique capabilities has never been higher. Facing new challenges has required it to organize more efficiently and manage operations more effectively. What is the U.S. Coast Guard’s strategic direction? How will steadying the service make the U.S. Coast Guard ready for today and prepared for tomorrow. We will explore these questions and so much more with our very special guest Admiral Robert Papp, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Admiral, welcome to the show. It’s a pleasure having you.

Admiral Robert Papp: Thanks, Mike. It’s great to be here.


Michael Keegan: Also joining our conversation from IBM is Paul Hempstead.

Paul, welcome.

Paul Hempstead: Thank you.

Michael Keegan: Admiral, before we delve into specific initiatives, could you give us a brief overview of the rich history and mission of the U.S. Coast Guard. As one of the oldest U.S. government agencies, how has it evolved into a critical component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security?

Admiral Robert Papp: Well, I like to describe the Coast Guard as a series of merges and friendly takeovers over a course of two centuries. We actually started back in 1790. We were the brain child of Alexander Hamilton who was the first secretary of the treasury. He did not have a Navy. The country did not have a Navy. The Navy and the Army were laid up after the Revolutionary War and his idea as a federalist was to fund the central government through collecting tariffs on maritime trade knowing, he projected that this country throughout its history was going to be reliant on maritime trade, which is a theme you’ll hear from me throughout the day.


In order to collect those tariffs you needed some ships out there with law enforcement people who could work for the customs service to enforce this, so he created something called the Revenue Marine. It was in an act of Congress. The Tariff Act of 1790 authorized the construction of 10 cutters which were positioned along the coast. Over the course of our history, the Revenue Marine, or the Revenue Cutter Service as it became known grew, expanded, and was really the maritime arm of the government. The War of 1812, the new Navy had been constructed by that time, and we have fought along and with the Navy for over 200 years as well.


In 1915 there was actually an effort to discontinue the Revenue Marine but people decided that it was doing its job so well that they would give it added responsibilities and brought the Life Saving Service into what became known in 1915 as the Coast Guard. We kept our military character and during World War II we added the Light House Service aids to navigation and then the Bureau of Marine inspection and navigation which gave us our merchant mariner licensing, ship inspection, and ship safety responsibilities. so essentially we just added responsibilities and brought in these various other agencies into this service which has grown throughout our history, starting out in treasury, moved to the Department of Transportation in ’67 and then to the Homeland Security in 2003.


Michael Keegan: So would you give us a sense of the dual mission of the Coast Guard in particular military and law enforcement mission and the other aspect, how is it organized? What is the size of your budget, number of staff, and geographical footprint?

Admiral Robert Papp: Well I think the Coast Guard is certainly unique for this country and unique in comparison to most countries as well. One of the things you find in our constitution, in fact it’s called the posse comitatus rule; we were abhorrent in terms of using military to enforce domestic law. The British had used their troops to enforce laws. Our early founding fathers did not want that. So you will never see any of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines enforce law. They may assist us. 


The Coast Guard is unique because we picked up this character in our culture very early. We were created as a law enforcement agency to enforce the laws of the United States on our waters but early on when our early shipping in the 1790s started being preyed upon by French privateers and British privateers, we were the only Navy in existence so we picked up that military character defending the country as well. Now with those small cutters, we didn’t do all that good so in 1796, six years after our creation, came the Navy Act which authorized the construction of the first six frigates, the Constitution being the first one.


So we’ve had this culture of being not only a law enforcement agency, but also in times of war, in times of need, working with the armed forces and actually being one of the armed forces and being able to take on this dual role. We’ve got about 42,000 uniformed active duty people right now. We have 8,000 civilians, 8,000 Coast Guard reservists that we can call up in emergencies, and then we have this other unique organization called the Coast Guard Auxiliary which is a volunteer organization. It’s much like the Air Force has the Civil Air Patrol. We have the Coast Guard Auxiliary and they volunteer their time, their talents, and their efforts. Most of it teaching boating safety or helping us patrol regattas and things like that but they’re of course a multiplier for us that costs the tax payer virtually nothing so we’re very proud of them. Our budget, you asked about the budget, is roughly a 10 billion dollar budget, a little less than that proposed in the 13 budget, but we’re all facing some budget constraints.


Paul Hempstead: I’d like to transition to your specific role, sir. Would you tell us more about your duties and responsibilities as the 24th commandant of the United States Coast Guard?

Admiral Robert Papp: Well I’m a service chief and like the other service chiefs, the commandant of the Marine Corps chief staff of the Air Force, chief staff of the Army and the chief of Naval Operations, our primary role is to organize, train, and equip our service to be prepared for the duties that the country gives us. There’s one difference for the commandant of the Coast Guard though. Because of the move towards jointness in the Department of Defense side, as you all probably know, operations are carried out by the combatant commanders. The service chiefs organize, train, and equip but the forces are transferred operationally to the combatant commanders.


I’m the only service chief out of the five services that have command of my service. In other words, all Coast Guard operations are my responsibility. Now in practice that’s exercise through two area commanders. I have two vice admirals. One is commander Atlantic area, and one is commander Pacific area. They carry out the day-to-day operations of the Coast Guard but I still hold the responsibility for it.


Paul Hempstead: Regarding your responsibilities and duties, what are the top three challenges that you face in your position and how have you sought to address these challenges?

Admiral Robert Papp: The top challenge is how to continue to provide the services that the American public has come to expect from their Coast Guard and quite frankly deserves. They share their treasure, their taxes go into our budget and they have rather high expectations. We like to meet their expectations but the challenge is we cannot do 100% of all our missions on any given day. We have finite resources, only so many ships, so many boats, so many aircraft and people so what I challenge those two area commanders to do, is to decide on a daily basis what are the highest priorities.


Let me give you just a quick example that illustrates this. When I was commander Atlantic area, I have so many ships that I’m allocated on any given day and we’re out there doing fisheries patrols, drug enforcement, alien interdiction, and then we had a little over two years ago the earthquake in Haiti. We had three Coast Guard ships in there the next morning to start providing aid to the people of Haiti. Now we don’t have earthquake response cutters sitting around. What we have is very versatile and adaptable Coast Guard ships that are used for many missions but we decided, the country decided, aid to Haiti was the most important thing on that given day so we diverted three ships from other operations. We took a short-term deficit in drug interdiction, migrant interdiction, and fisheries in order to provide those ships to help the people of Haiti and that’s really what we do on a daily basis.


We’ve got a wide mission set, finite resources, and we press operational decision making down as far in the organization as we can, even sometimes to the chief petty officer level at some of our stations that we have. So we try to do everything. It’s one of our strengths and one of our weaknesses. A lot of people are fond of saying we do more with less challenges that often come at the expense of your people so that’s probably the highest priority.


The second thing is, we embarked about 10 years ago on a recapitalization project trying to replace our aging fleet and our aging aircraft. We’ve done pretty good on all of our small boats at our stations. We’ve just about renovated our entire aviation fleet but it’s the ships that are the most expensive and they are really the things that are in the worst shape right now. Most of our major ships are in excess of 40 years of age, which to some people, particularly a 60 year old, doesn’t sound too bad but in ships that’s past senior citizen status. There are all kinds of systems inside, haul wastage and other things that just don’t allow you to operate those ships as effectively as you would like to and they become very expensive to maintain. The Navy generally plans on a 25 year service life for their ships. Coast Guard, unfortunately generally runs ours about 40.


The third priority is emerging missions and probably the one that’s foremost in my mind right now is our responsibilities in the Arctic. Shell Oil, and I think the permits are going to be approved by the Department of Interior, we’ll start drilling up there this summer in the Chukchi Sea and the Beaufort Sea. I’ve been up there the last two summers to do some preliminary work with our district commander and it’s going to increase our responsibilities, because there’s now human activity in the Arctic in our waters that we’re responsible for with no commensurate increase in our resources, so that’s probably my third priority.


Michael Keegan: So, Admiral, you spent a good amount of your career on the water. It’s a unique experience being a sailor. Given your experience, what are the characteristics of an effective leader and more particularly, how is being a sailor informed the way you are making your decisions as commandant?

Admiral Robert Papp: People ask these leadership questions all the time and there’s a lot of people that make a lot of money writing fancy books talking about leadership theory. To me it’s all seemed very simple. You’re given a job and you’ve got to get a job done through people. Some people are very good at it. Some people are marginal at it.


Most people can get the job done but it’s all a matter of how motivated your people are, how well do they do it, so I think those are sort of the basics of leadership. Every leader should have clearly defined responsibilities, the authority to carry out the job, and then be held accountable either if the job is not done well and given the appropriate praise and measure of success if the job is done well.


I sort of use those simple theories because that’s sort of the way I was raised. All I wanted to do when I joined the Coast Guard was to go to sea and be a ship captain. I was fortunate to be able to get that opportunity, for I spent a major segment of my career serving on six ships and commanding four of those. It sort of formed my view of life and how things worked because when you’re on a ship if you’re a captain, you quickly realize you can’t get the job done by yourself.


You’ve got to work through your officers, through your chief petty officers. You need to make sure they are all aligned with your philosophy and your goals and objectives, and then use them to manage the crew and your resources to get the job done so it’s sort of working through others. Even though that was formed through a career of going to sea and looking at it as a ship captain,


I have found those same rules apply whether you’re on a staff duty, whether you’re running a district, running a Coast Guard area, and I think they apply also across the board to businesses and other things. Some guy sent me an essay last night on leadership with all kinds of fancy diagrams. I sent it back and said you have to simplify this. I couldn’t understand it yet I can understand simple concepts like authority, responsibility, and accountability. I don’t think it has to get more complicated than that.


Michael Keegan: What is the strategic direction of the U.S. Coast Guard? We will ask Admiral Robert Papp, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard when our conversation continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I’m Michael Keegan your host and our guest today is Admiral Robert Papp, Commandant of the United States Coast Guard. Also joining our conversation from IBM is Paul Hempstead.

Admiral, you mentioned that the Coast Guard is defined by its mission, its people, and its tradition. As commandant, you’ve outlined a strategic direction for the Coast Guard that honors these elements and fosters its motto semper paratus, always ready. Would you give us an overview of your four guiding principles that ensure the Coast Guard is ready for today and prepared for tomorrow?

Admiral Robert Papp: My sense in the two years before I became commandant was that I was never sure I was going to become commandant. Somebody asked me the other day how long had you been planning and I said never. In fact, I was ready to retire two years ago. My wife had renovated our house in Fairfax County and we were ready to move on with life.

I was very fortunate and blessed that Secretary Napolitano chose me to be the commandant. So many of these things I was also concerned about in my previous assignment, which I saw a lot of stress on our workforce, it’s just not the ships and the aircraft, it’s also the people. We’d been through 10 years of rapid growth since 911 and a lot of increasing responsibilities, and in addition to those increasing responsibilities both my predecessors had embarked upon major structural reorganization within the Coast Guard.

Admiral Collins who was two before me did sort of a field level reorganization for all the right reasons and I agree with what he did. And then Admiral Allen had taken the upper level of the organization and attempted to do some restructuring, which included a need to get an authorization from Congress to do some of these changes and he never got the bill during his four years as commandant.

So when I came in, there were all these activities going on. Neither one of the restructurings had been completed and it was taking a lot of institutional energy out of us, and I thought having an impact on our operations as well. So I came up with the first principle of steady the services which really go back to my roots as a sailor. Whenever you feel like your ship is a little out of kilter you’ve got to shift ballast and get your ship steady because if you want the ship to perform its missions effectively, you’ve got to have a steady ship so I just used that as a metaphor for what I wanted to do with the service as a whole. I wasn’t going to bring any wholesale changes, any restructuring. What I wanted to do was complete the reorganizations that had already been embarked upon.

The second one was to honor our profession. We have a long and distinguished history with this country. We’ve been interwoven with almost every significant event that this country has in its history and I was a little worried that because of all this stress on our organization and because of a rash of accidents that we’d had both aviation and surface, that perhaps we might be losing our edge a little bit. So I wanted to refocus on professionalism, building up the proficiency of our workforce, perhaps even cutting back a few responsibilities in order to focus on those core competencies and professional efforts and operational arts that have distinguished us over the years that perhaps had deteriorated a little bit.

The third is strengthening our partnerships. That was just a recognition of once again I said we can’t do 100% of everything that’s given to us on any given day so we rely upon partnerships within our own department, with customs and border protection, ICE and other Homeland Security agencies but we also depend upon the Department of Defense for some of the things that we do and in our ports we build coalitions with state, federal, and local partners that have interest in the maritime and I would say also industry as well. So we want to work on developing and strengthening those partnerships so that we provide better service for the tax payer rather than recreate capabilities let’s look out and see who else is doing these so perhaps we can leverage them a little bit.

And then finally the thing that’s probably the pet project of mine is respecting our shipmates. My wife and I have both embarked upon a project to try and do better for our Coast Guard families, trying to go back to rule number one to steady the service. I think we transfer people way too much. We sometimes don’t give people the opportunity to develop their competencies and their operational experience because we transfer them too quickly, so we’ve slowed down that process. In fact, this year just by enacting a couple of little personnel rules in terms of trying to provide stability we actually save 20 million dollars in transfer costs this year. I know millions is still important for us. When we’re talking billions and trillions of dollars it seems like not that much but for 20 million dollars that buys me 200 more Coast Guard people that I can employ or 200 people that we don’t have to lay off so finding these savings wherever we can is very important to me and as I said we’re trying to improve housing and other things for our people and we’ll continue on that effort.

Michael Keegan: Well, Admiral, I’d like to delve in a little bit about those two major initiatives you mentioned that your predecessors had led. What’s the status of each of these initiatives? Have you made any adjustments to the direction of these initiatives and how do they help steady the state coming to fruition?

Admiral Robert Papp: Sure, well Admiral Collins’ idea, which I fully supported, was built on the fact that we often had very conflicting Coast Guard commanders in various ports. Like I said, we were a series of mergers and acquisitions over the years and our Marine safety function, Marine safety and inspection was a result of brining in the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation. What we did was we pretty much held to the same locations that the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation had, and we continued those offices but in Coast Guard uniforms and within the Coast Guard.

Then, we had our group commanders who carry out our law enforcement, search and rescue missions and whatever else, depending on what sort of business you wanted to conduct in an individual port, so you didn’t know whether to go to see the group commander or the Marine safety office commander. It’s confusing. It’s ineffective. Our idea was to have one senior officer in a port who is responsible for all Coast Guard activities. You identify the person who has the responsibilities, the authorities, and is held accountable for performance. So we brought them together and merged them and it’s been very successful for us.

The challenge has been sort of a fiscal and physical one. Sector Southern New England is probably my best example. The old group office was in Woods Hole Massachusetts. The old Marine inspection office was in Providence Rhode Island. Our intent was to build new buildings, consolidate these people and get the efficiencies gained by bringing the staff together because obviously if you’re in two different cities you’ve got to have two sets of secretaries, two sets of you name it in terms of staff, and we never gained the efficiencies of bringing them together.

I think under the current budget situation, we are not going to be able to find the money to build those buildings so we’ll be sub-optimized in terms of the application of those theories but still stronger because we have clear, defined authority within certain regions. We’ll just have to do the best we can with the resources that we have.

The other initiate is the modernization effort Admiral Allen wanted, and I think the most important part of it to find a better way to provide support to our activities in the field.. We designated a deputy commandant, and a vice admiral for mission support and we’ve organized all of our field support activities which are executed through 13 bases around the country. These 13 bases do the logistics, the repairs, the engineering, and the personnel support. We will once again be putting a vice admiral in charge of this, holding that person accountable to make sure we provide world class mission support to the operators that are out there.

The only place where Admiral Allen and I disagreed, and it’s a philosophical one, is under his original plan we were going to do away with Commander Pacific area, and it’ll have only one person in the field command. Now I was the commander Atlantic area and I felt like I had enough work to keep me busy just minding the Atlantic. I don’t know how I would have managed the Pacific as well. I felt validated in my decision to retain the Pacific area commander.

When the president went out to Australia about six or seven months ago and said our focus is going to be on the Pacific, it would have looked real bad for the Coast Guard commandant to have done away with the Pacific area command, but that was my decision before I even knew which way the president was going. The Pacific has emerging challenges. We need an operational commander who can focus on the Pacific and advocate for those needs out there, so I felt a little validated. I didn’t need the validation but it was nice to have it none the less.

Paul Hempstead: As you mentioned before, the Coast Guard continues to embark on a comprehensive recapitalization of its critical asset platforms and infrastructure seeking to replace aged and obsolete cutters as you mentioned, boats, aircraft, support infrastructure. Would you discuss the importance of asset recapitalization and capacity building for the Coast Guard and mission success and what challenges you are facing with it?

Admiral Robert Papp: Oh, absolutely, Paul, and thanks for that question. Let me focus just on the ship building program right now. We have the flagships of our fleet are our 378 foot Hamilton class high endurance cutters. They’re called high endurance because we need them to deploy worldwide. I mean it’s a long haul to get up to the Bering Sea and the Bering Sea, has conditions sometimes on a weekly basis that we would call hurricanes here in the lower 48. That’s how severe the weather is. You need a substantial ship that can maintain itself, that doesn’t need a tenderer or a fleet oiler like the Navy sends along with its battle groups. We have to operate independently so you need a sound, stout ship with long legs, and endurance, and are comfortable and effective for your crew.

Unfortunately, these ships were built in the 1960s. The Navy built a destroyer class, the Spruance class that was modeled after them and all the Spruance’s are already retired. We still have 10. We had 12. We had to decommission two of them. They are 40 to 45 year old systems. Some of our parts you have to hand make. It’s very expensive. It’s costly. I shut down two of the ships when I was the Atlantic area commander because they were not sound enough to go to sea. They didn’t have watertight integrity. They were rusted through in numerous areas. I told the commandant at the time I will not send these ships to sea.

We paid 20 million dollars and it took two years to get one of them back in shape just to get out there and start doing the mission again. We’re going to face that block obsolescence on the rest of them very soon so a decision has to be made. Either we build the replacements or we stop interdicting drugs, we stop interdicting illegal migrants, we don’t protect the fisheries, you name it. We won’t be able to do it so it’s very important to get those new ships built.

We have done very well at recapitalizing forces close to shore. We’ve replaced almost our entire boat fleet along the coast. We’ve built new patrol boats and our aircraft fleet has been completely renovated but you don’t want to catch the threats when they arrive in your ports. You want to be able to interdict them out at sea and that’s the layer of our infrastructure which is crumbling the most right now is those ships.

Paul Hempstead: As a follow-up the Coast Guard has sought to reform its acquisition enterprise and strengthen its management capabilities. To that end, what lessons have you all learned from the previous deep water program and how have those lessons informed your efforts to reorganize and reform the Coast Guard’s acquisition process?

Admiral Robert Papp: Well history has been written and rewritten and the history of deep water will be debated for many years but I was in at the ground level. I was chief of congressional affairs as we were trying to do this in the late ‘90s. The fact of the matter is during the ‘90s the Coast Guard lost 6,000 people. We went from 42,000 down to 36,000 and we tried to keep frontline operations going so the staff that got cut was engineering staff, acquisition staff and it probably made sense because we weren’t getting any money to build any ships anyway.

We would have been in even worse shape except 911 happened and after 911 the money started flowing. We started getting people and money to build ships and aircraft. We didn’t have the organic acquisition staff to be able to do that, so we went with something new and unique and innovative. In fact, we got an award for it at the beginning which was to use a leads system integrator, bringing in the companies that would bid on the jobs, give us the plans, and then we would have them execute. It didn’t work well and we ran into some problems. I’d be the first to admit we stubbed our toe a little bit in the acquisition process, but I had come back to headquarters by that time and I was chief of staff.

We had a new rear admiral named John Currier who was our acquisition officer. We brought in the defense acquisition university and started hiring people away from NAVSEA, a sea systems command and bringing in acquisition experts. Over the last four years, we have brought ourselves to the point now where I really believe we’ve got the best acquisition workforce in government for a similarly sized organization. Clearly, we don’t have the capacity that some of the larger services have but we’ve got some very good people and I think it’s proven out.

National Security Cutter now. We’ve got it on a fixed price contract. We negotiated for hulls number four and five, basically we negotiated four and number five came in at only two million dollars than the last one because we drove a hard negotiation. We’ve got numerous other projects that are running smoothly now, being executed properly with predictable costs and giving us a quality product so it’s been an evolution. It’s been hard, but like anything else, the Coast Guard takes on, we set our mind to it. We’re going to do it right.  This is one thing that I think we’ve done right.

Michael Keegan: Admiral, you mentioned the can do culture of the Coast Guard. The can do culture that’s always ready. There’s a problem there though. It’s sort of a double edged sword in a sense because you have to do more with less in this environment. How are you balancing mission set, expectations and resources, and write sizing and right sizing and right focusing the Coast Guard?

Admiral Robert Papp: Michael, that’s one of the toughest things that I do and as much as I tell my leaders out in the field that I will indemnify them for things that they can’t do, we still have this culture to try and get it done. It’s not just my admirals. It’s captains. It’s chief petty officers at the stations. They always feel this obligation to continue to do, do, do so the challenge as a leader is how do you find that balance? I don’t want to tell them to be lazy and don’t do anything because there are probably people that would get that message, but I’m trying to convince them that you have to live within your means.

You have to make best use of the resources that you have. You’ve got to make wise decisions on how you employ it because if you don’t, not only are you going to wear out the equipment, you’re going to wear out your people as well, and you don’t need that. There’s always going to be an emergency that comes up whether it’s a hurricane like Katrina or the Gulf Oil Spill and we’ll need to surge for those types of activities. When it’s something that’s urgent for our country, we’ll get out there and work as hard as we can but between those major events, I think it’s legitimate to take a pause and catch our breath. I don’t want to destroy this culture of doing the best we can but on the other hand I want to make sure that we’re in it for the long haul as well, and that we’re not wearing out our equipment and our people.

Michael Keegan: How is the U.S. Coast Guard leading the nation’s maritime engagement in the Arctic? We will ask Admiral Robert Papp, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard when our conversation continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I’m Michael Keegan your host and our guest today is Admiral Robert Papp, Commandant of the United States Coast Guard. Also joining our conversation from IBM is Paul Hempstead.

Admiral, as a maritime nation, the U.S. relies on the sea for prosperity, trade, transportation, and security. We are also an Arctic nation with the Coast Guard leading the way. Would you tell us more about your efforts leading the nation’s maritime engagement in the Arctic? What are some of the challenges you’re facing in this area? What are you doing to build the needed competencies and capabilities?

Admiral Robert Papp: Michael, we’ve operated in the Arctic before but it’s been primarily icebreakers going up there and doing research. There’s been almost an absence of human activity year round in the Arctic. That’s changing now. I spent the first two years of my career in Alaska. I can recall trying to get to Kotzebue, Alaska in July of 1976 and we couldn’t make it through the ice. There was just too much ice. We couldn’t get there.

Fast forward 35 years later in August of 2010, I went back and flew into Kotzebue for a visit and from the altitude I could see no ice anywhere so I’m just stating the obvious. The ice has receded and with the ice receding we’re seeing a big increase in human activity. Any human activity on U.S. waters means there’s a Coast Guard equity, whether its search and rescue, environmental response, on law enforcement. It could be ice breaking, but we have all those responsibilities; those broad mandates that we carry out on U.S. waters. There’s now more U.S. water to go out and serve.

We’ve seen little things popping up here and there, like cruise ships coming into Barrow Alaska, fisherman going up there, recreational boaters who want to go up to the Arctic, but the big thing for us is this coming summer presuming the permits are approved, Shell Oil will be up there drilling in two locations. They will introduce 33 ships, two mobile drilling platforms, and about 600 people. They’ll be transferring people by helicopter, rotating crews which throw in the potential for rescues, so search and rescue. We know that there are environmental groups that will try to protest this that may even try to obstruct the process. Law enforcement comes into play. We’ll need to provide for the security of not only the protestors but also the legitimate commerce that will go on. And then there’s also the potential for environmental damage which we have a responsibility for as well.

So to take care of all these equities up there, we would in most areas of our country have shore based infrastructure that we could operate from. We have none up there so what we’ll do for the next probably five years or so is we’ll do like we’ve done throughout our history. We’ll send a ship and we’re going to send one of our new national security cutters. It has a command center with worldwide command and control capabilities. We have hangers for two helicopters on the ship and can launch and recover them and we’ve got three boats with boat crews that can be launched from the cutter as well. It will supervise.

It’ll be like having a Coast Guard sector office up there except it’s going to be afloat. And then we’ll send a couple of logistic ships, some of our seagoing buoy tenders that are ice capable that will be up there with the national security cutter as well, and probably fore deploy a couple more aircrafts. We’ve been actually experimenting for the last four years. We’ve been sending our equipment up there, seeing what functions, what the effect of the weather is on them to have a good idea of what we’ll need to execute the mission. The problem is we haven’t gotten any increase in resources so any resources we send up there come off other programs that we would be doing, like long-line fisheries in the Pacific, Bering Sea fisheries, or drug interdiction in the Pacific. We’ll have to take ships off of that to send them up there.

In the long haul we’re going to have to come up with some plans on what we’ll need for long-term shore infrastructure. I don’t think this is a cost that should be borne by the Coast Guard alone. Talking about strengthening partnerships, we’ve been talking to the Alaska National Guard. I’ve been talking to General Jacoby out at the northern command because that falls within his area of responsibility. We’re working with our partners to see what sort of facilities whether its communications, landing strips, hangers, or other things that we’re going to need up there and then we’ll put forth resource proposals, making sure that we’re not being redundant to something that somebody else might be doing.

Paul Hempstead: Given the significant fiscal and economic pressures the country is facing, DHS leadership has embarked on a department wide cost cutting effort. Would you tell us more about your efforts to cut costs and realize savings?  What are some of the key initiatives being pursued to achieve cost reduction?

Admiral Robert Papp: Part of my obligation coming in as commandant was to control costs. I foresaw that we’d be facing these constrained budgets and as my team came on, we started looking for areas that we could patrol. We’ve consolidated. We’ve worked with the department in terms of things like administrative support, computer technology support, and other things that perhaps we can share across the department. We continue to look for those sorts of things, but there are things within the Coast Guard control as well.

I talked a little bit earlier about transfers of our people. Every time we transfer a Coast Guard family, on average it’s about $25,000 to transfer a family, some more, some less depending on how far we’re sending them. On average we were transferring people every two to three years. We’ve instituted now some six year transfer policies. We’ve looked for opportunities to keep people within geographic locations. As I said, just this year alone we came up with about 20 million dollars in savings which we can reinvest in other things.

We’ve looked at selling some of the properties that we own. We had a commandant’s quarters in Washington DC for about 40 years. I saw the opportunity, the Air Force was building some public private venture housing over at Bolling Air Force Base so we were able to come to an agreement with the Air Force and a private venture built homes over there mostly for Air Force generals but they built four homes for the Coast Guard as well at no cost to the Coast Guard. To live there, I pay my housing allowance so it costs nothing for the Coast Guard. We were able to sell the commandant’s house for two million dollars and reinvest that in housing for our people, so every little bit helps. Every little bit that you can find, we’re able to perhaps enhance other programs so these are just sort of some of the things that we’ve been looking at.

Michael Keegan: So, Admiral, how do you keep your team focused in an era of fiscal austerity? What are some of the things you’ve been doing to make them mission focused and not get so caught up in the changes that they may be experiencing?

Admiral Robert Papp: Well I think good communications. I get our entire senior leadership team together twice a year for alignment so every admiral in the Coast Guard, every senior executive, and we bring in many times our master chief petty officers that are command master chiefs. They are sort of the interface between the officer corps and our enlisted work force. Just like I talked about back in my days on the ship, I’d bring my officers together, my chief petty officers together, give them my vision and then more importantly listen to them and find out what their concerns are. If I can’t respond to them, then find a response or maybe change my mind on something so I think that is the start, getting the entire senior leadership aligned with your philosophy.

I’ve given them my direction. We came up with something called the commandant’s direction which enumerated everything that we’re trying to do and we gave it out to the entire service. Every year I do something called the state of the Coast Guard speech. This year for the first time we took it outside of Washington DC. We took it out to San Francisco to our base in Alameda, and did it right in front of those new ships that we’re building. Then we fed it live to the entire Coast Guard. We found as we overwhelmed our system, not enough bandwidth but we were able to put it back out there. Every person in the Coast Guard has had to either watch the tape or read the transcript and I’ve validated this because when I travel I ask and all the hands better go up.

So it’s constant reinforcing the message and being consistent. What people like, I find is as much as we talk about change, we like consistency in our lives. What I try to do is outline my beliefs, outline our objectives, and then consistently press it out to people but also be willing to listen to them and their concerns. By golly, sometimes people convince me to change my mind on things which is a challenge sometimes because I have a pretty clear vision about what we want to do in the Coast Guard but social media. We’ve used social media extensively as well to try and keep people informed out there so there’s a lot of things, a lot of new tools leaders can use and we’ve been trying to use them to the max.

Paul Hempstead: You also mentioned before that the overall well-being of Coast Guard service members and their families is of paramount importance to you. Would you care to elaborate on the Coast Guard’s efforts to foster a greater sense of community, strengthen a sense of belonging and value, and improve service members and their family’s quality of life and resiliency?

Admiral Robert Papp: I think in a certain respect Paul, that’s an easy task for us because people don’t join unless they’re motivated to serve and I think the Coast Guard offers an attractive array of things whether it’s our humanitarian type of services being one of the armed services, or people who want to do law enforcement, there’s something for almost anybody who wants to join the Coast Guard.

We get a motivated bunch. As I talk to folks I’m just amazed by their patriotism, their excitement, their dedication so the challenge for us is more how do you sustain it? How do you keep it going? I think a lot of the things that I just talked about; aligning leaders, using the technology that we have for me to talk directly to every member of the Coast Guard, and then to follow it up. I’ve lost count now but in the last year or so I think I’m up to around 30,000 of our people I’ve spoken to directly in all-hands meetings everywhere I go.

For instance even though I was going down to speak to a couple of dinners in Florida, we stopped at all of our major units and just in the course of a day and a half I was face-to-face with probably close to 800 Coast Guard people. I’ll speak for five or ten minutes but then I use the balance of the time and I say I want your questions, comments, gripes, and opinions. Good chief petty officers can put all four of those into one but it’s the gripes and opinions that are really more important to me because I need to take those things back to Washington and then work harder for our folks.

We’ve got a pretty resilient bunch to begin with.  Sometimes they don’t know what they deserve. Sometimes I go and look at housing areas and they’re deplorable in relationship to some of the stuff the Department of Defense is getting and I want to do so much better for our people. I think we’re making progress but there’s still a long ways to go.

Michael Keegan: Admiral, with every major response that the Coast Guard has taken the lead on, there is important lessons to learn and capture, for instance, the deep water horizon oil spill. What lessons have you learned from that event and how have they differed or complimented the lessons you’ve learned from say Katrina or the Haitian earthquake?

Admiral Robert Papp: Well I think the thing that’s consistent across the board is pushing down responsibility for carrying out our missions to the lowest possible level. In the case of Katrina, we had people out there immediately. We didn’t need to ask Washington if we could deploy the helicopters. We had air station commanding officers and a district commander. They knew what their responsibilities were. They started doing it.

The earthquake in Haiti, yes the 7th district commander pulled those ships off other missions but those commanding officers on those ships started heading in the right direction to begin with as soon as they heard about the crisis. So we’ve got people who are authorized and encouraged to make decisions at the lowest possible level.

The oil spill was the same way. The initial response, getting people out there, and a lot of good commanders taking on responsibility and taking action. The anomaly about the gulf oil spill was we had never encountered something like that before and the whole structure of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 was focused on Exxon Valdez where you have no matter how large the spill is, it was a finite spill because you can figure out how much oil a tanker carries. You can figure out how much oil is going to be in a containment facility on a shore facility.

The requirement for response plans were predicated on the worst case scenario. We thought you could define the worst case scenario we thought until we had a blowout at 5,000 feet and we could not get it contained, so every day was a new worst case scenario as a federal government. We had lost the bubble on the technology that was being used down there and in fact it presented even the industry with some new technology challenges in how do you cap a well that deep, so it was a big learning experience for us.

I think one of the lessons that came from it for us was the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 forced all the response and funding the response equipment into industry to foot the bill so the country had no oil skimmers, had no oil boom or anything else that we could call from a stock pile because we were requiring the operators to do that. We couldn’t force operators at other locations around the country to send the equipment because they had liabilities of their own that they were responsible for.

Paul Hempstead: The complexity and diversity of the Coast Guard’s mission sets require a range of analytical techniques and approaches to manage them effectively therefore increasing the use of analytics and enhancing analytic capabilities of your office is probably critical. Would you elaborate on current efforts to strengthen these capabilities?

Admiral Robert Papp: Well one of the things we have and it’s not my initiative. It was something that was started probably I think three commandants ago with Admiral Loy is we have something called the evergreen process. So every four years we bring in a cross section of the service leaders. We bring them into a conference facility here in Washington. We use a contractor to come up with various world scenarios; famine, feast, disease, economy, you name it. We come up with probably seven or eight different world scenarios. We break up into teams and we come up with how the Coast Guard would react to this particular world scenario.

Then we come back together and we cross reference all the scenarios and see if there are any common threads and we build that into our strategy for moving forward. In fact, it played into my commandant’s direction. We did the last evergreen process one year before I became commandant and then we used some of those findings to inform the direction that we would take the service during my four years. During my third year we’ll start the next evergreen process and continue it to refresh ourselves.

It’s also trying other things. I talked about doing more with less. I like to find ways of doing less with less, but being more effective so we’ve looked at various risks based scenarios. You can send a boat out there on a patrol on a daily basis and what we find out is you might be more effective by sending it out less frequently but on a more random basis and still provide the same level of security. You’re not wearing out the boat and the people as quickly, and oh by the way, you’re probably more effective in terms of throwing off any terrorist planning or something like that.

So we’re working with think tanks. We have our own embedded staff that is working on this. As one of our major efforts while I was the Atlantic area commander on our staff to start working these things and now I’m just sort of sitting back and letting it run. We’ve got a number of these projects going on that I think are paying dividends for us.

Michael Keegan: What does the future hold for the U.S. Coast Guard? We will ask its Commandant Admiral Robert Papp when our conversation continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I’m Michael Keegan your host and our guest today is Admiral Robert Papp, Commandant of the United States Coast Guard. Also joining our conversation from IBM is Paul Hempstead.

Well, Admiral, I have the pleasure of asking a lot of my guests about collaboration and partnership, how they’re leveraging both. I’d be interested, how is the Coast Guard leveraging partnerships and collaboration both within the Department of Homeland Security but also more importantly outside?

Admiral Robert Papp: Michael we are, I think, best known for being a collaborative service whether it’s here in Washington DC or at the field level. We realize we don’t get the job done all by ourselves. Within Washington we’ve got great partners within the Department of Homeland Security but being the only armed service in the Department of Homeland Security, we provide a bridge across the Potomac to the Pentagon. I’m not a named member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff but Admiral Mullen and now General Dempsey invite me to every meeting that they have over there so it keeps me informed of what the other four services are doing. I’ve been over there for every meeting of the new strategy development. I’ve been involved with their budget work over there, so it enables me to come back to the Department of Homeland Security and say these are the needs, these are the things that the Coast Guard can provide that the Department of Defense is not going to.  We need to understand each other so there’s not a seam created between Homeland Security and Homeland Defense.

We work with the Department of Interior. We have staff talks with them. We work with the Army Corps of Engineers. We work with the Department of Justice. A couple of my predecessors have used the phrase that we are bureaucratically multilingual. We can talk defense. We can talk justice. We can talk environment. That carries down to the field level as well.

In fact, I’m so proud of these sector commanders that we talked about, that we have in each one of the ports. They do things called area maritime safety committees which bring together the state, local, federal, and industry partners for regular meetings. They do exercises because when you have an emergency you don’t want to be meeting, people for the first time, so not only do we hold these exercises and these meetings but we also build command centers with extra seats in there so when a crisis happens, the other agencies can come in and we sit down and we partner together to take them on.

Paul Hempstead: There is a constant struggle to achieve a proper balance between the demands of today’s mission while at the same time planning to effectively meet tomorrow’s strategic and operational requirements. To that end, what future technologies do you see as important to the Coast Guard in the coming years?

Admiral Robert Papp: Well Paul, I mentioned we’ve got to get these ships built and that’s really the big thing for me right now is getting the ships built because there are unfortunately a lot of times within the city we focus year-to-year because that’s the way the budget cycle works. I don’t have that luxury because as commandant, I need to be planning for the next 40 years in what sort of resources are we going to need. Ships are major investments. Almost every class of ship that we’ve had since World War I, we’ve had to get about 40 years out of them and like I said ours are now exceeding 40 years. We’re in sort of block obsolescence.

How do you make those ships, which probably are going to be fewer, more effective? One of the big things that we’re looking at right now is unmanned aerial systems. That has to be a part of what we do. Unfortunately, we haven’t had the wherewithal within our budget top line to be able to experiment with the technology so what we’re doing is we’re leveraging the Navy. They’ve had a couple of unmanned systems that they’ve been looking at. One is something called Fire Scout which looks like a small helicopter.

The other one that I think is more promising and that they seem to be moving in the direction of is something called Scan Eagle. We’re going to use Scan Eagle this summer off one of our cutters and experiment with it. I think that’s a wise way to go because it’s a tremendous burden on the Coast Guard to have to support something like that. If the Navy has chosen its system, you can leverage their logistics, engineering, supply systems, and training systems to help us out, and that’s an extra burden that we don’t have to bear.

So that’s probably one of the things that’s most important to me, then continuing to look at boat technology as we go forward. We obviously are very boat intensive for search and rescue and law enforcement and we need to continue to look at innovations there.

Paul Hempstead: You mentioned the future for you is somewhere between four and 40 and beyond. What are some of the major opportunities and challenges your organization will encounter in the future and how do you envision your agency evolving to meet those challenges? 

Admiral Robert Papp: Well you know I think a lot about that but I also am a student of history and I look back across the organization. The one constant I mentioned earlier, we got our start because Alexander Hamilton foresaw that this was going to be a maritime nation. We would rely upon trade on the sea for this country to be sustained and to survive. One of the quotes I love that he says is, “In order to have political security, you must have fiscal security.” Ah, not a bad phrase for what we’re experiencing nowadays.

Ninety-five percent of our trade comes by sea. I don’t see that changing in the next 10, 20, 30, or 40 years. We are going to still rely upon maritime trade to contribute to our prosperity as a country. So I have long thought that a measure of greatness of any country is the resources and facilities that it provides for the mariner to conduct safe and secure commerce on the sea. By that measure, I think the United States is the world leader because it produced the United States Coast Guard.

So our mission will continue. We need to provide for the safe and secure transport of goods at sea, the safety of people who use the sea, and also to protect the sea itself through our environmental functions.

Michael Keegan: So, Admiral, what advice would you give someone perhaps a young person who is thinking about a career in public service and maybe interested in the Coast Guard?

Admiral Robert Papp: Well without being too parochial what I would say is I believe that every young person ought to think about serving their country in some way, shape, or form. It doesn’t have to be in the armed services. We always talk about various organizations, agencies, the Peace Corps perhaps. Maybe I’m just a patriotic guy but I love this country. I love what we stand for. I appreciate the benefits of liberty that we enjoy and I think every person has an obligation to pay back in some way, shape, or form. There’s plenty of opportunities to choose from out there.

Of course I would recommend the United States Coast Guard because I am the commandant of the Coast Guard but once again, as I said this earlier, we provide such a wide range of activities. I mean for our young enlisted people we’ve got marine science technicians. We’ve got people that go out there and do rescues. We’ve got people who do law enforcement, pollution response, a lot of really exciting activities that contributes back to our country. Over the course of a Coast Guard career they can go back and forth between those missions as well to keep things exciting.

Michael Keegan: Well, Admiral, this has been a very interesting and insightful conversation. I want to thank you for taking the time to join us today from your busy schedule but more importantly, Paul and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to the country.

Admiral Robert Papp: Thank you very much. It’s a great opportunity for me. I will go anywhere to have anyone listen about the Coast Guard because obviously it’s an organization I’ve committed about four decades to and that I am privileged, and humbled, and honored to be able to lead right now because I never thought I’d be in this position, but more importantly, I just get to work with some great Americans. As I travel around the country in uniform, I’m constantly humbled by the citizens that come up to me and want to shake my hand and thank me for my service. It’s been on the increase since September 11, 2001 and in every situation, I simply tell them I appreciate that. I’m going to pass it on to the great young men and women who are actually getting the job done. So during those all hands meetings I was telling you about, that’s always my last message to the coasties when I’m talking to them so if you don’t remember anything else today, remember I came here to thank you for what you’re doing.

Michael Keegan: This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with Admiral Robert Papp, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. My co-host from IBM has been Paul Hempstead. Be sure to join us next week for another informative, insightful, and in-depth conversation on improving government effectiveness. For The Business of Government Hour, I’m Michael Keegan and thanks for joining us.

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Admiral Robert Papp
Admiral Papp leads the largest component of DHS, comprised of 42,000 active duty, 8,200 Reserve, 8,000 civilian and 31,000 volunteer Auxiliarists.

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