In her first testimony to lawmakers as Coast Guard commandant, Adm. Linda Fagan said her the top priority over the next four years is recruiting and retaining personnel for the service.
Fagan became the first uniformed woman to lead a military branch following the Senate’s confirmation of President Joe Biden’s nomination in May.
She told the House Transportation and Maritime Security Subcommittee on Thursday that talent management remains her most pressing priority for the Coast Guard. To keep retention levels high, she added, the Coast Guard must provide the best services to its members and their families, including housing, health care and child care.
“We will recruit people from across our great nation who are service oriented and have a high sense of purpose,” Fagan said. “Our leaders will provide an increasingly diverse workforce, a strong sense of belonging, so every individual is valued, safe and able to deliver their best service to the nation.”
In the “Commandant’s Intent,” a document released in June outlining the Coast Guard’s annual goals, Fagan pointed to the need for data to “drive decisions to overhaul our policies and processes to better reward performance, dedication, and leadership.”
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., who chairs the subcommittee, also urged the Coast Guard to consider diversity and inclusion among its recruiting efforts, given women and minorities are underrepresented at higher ranks. According to a Rand think tank report released in August, 31% of active duty Coast Guard members are racial or ethnic minorities, compared to 42% across other branches of the armed forces.
“It is my hope that the next four years will be a time of growth and success for the Coast Guard, with more women, people of color and members of the LGTBQ community rising through the ranks,” Watson Coleman said.
Fagan also touched on the recruiting challenges faced not just by the Coast Guard but across the U.S. armed forces to get people across various demographics to join the military. Earlier this year, lawmakers expressed concern about the armed services’ challenges in meeting their 2022 recruitment goals.
However, she added, increasing amounts for enlistment bonuses is not a sustainable model to get the country’s best and brightest, noting it wouldn’t be an “adequate long-term solution.”
“We will get after the problem of drawing people into the Coast Guard,” Fagan said. “People stay in the Coast Guard. We retain people at a high rate, but we need to make it easier to retain an even greater number of people. And that gets at policy and support that makes it easy for people to come, stay and serve successfully.”