Mr. Chairman, thank you for convening this morning's hearing to evaluate and assess the Coast Guard's important Maritime Domain Awareness activities.
Maritime Domain Awareness, or MDA, is defined by the Coast Guard as our understanding of anything in the global maritime environment that can affect the security, economy, or environment of the United States. MDA remains as important today as it was directly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The maritime domain remains critical to the Nation's economy, especially the Maritime Transportation System, or MTS. The MTS has over 300,000 square miles of waterways; 95,000 miles of shoreline; 10,000 miles of navigable waterways; and 361 ports of call, including eight of the world's 50 highest volume ports. Aside from infrastructure, over 60 million Americans are employed within 100 miles of our coasts and contribute over $4 billion annually to the Nation's economy. These jobs rely on the security that comes with Maritime Domain Awareness.
I am pleased that several positive steps have been taken since 2002 to alert the Coast Guard and other Federal agencies of potential threats arising from beyond our shores.
Congress has expanded significantly the amount of data that commercial vessels must submit to the Coast Guard regarding their cargoes, registries, crews and routes. For example, new international vessel tracking programs, such as the Automated Identification System (AIS) and Long Range Identification Tracking System (LRIT) have been implemented. We also have enhanced our situational awareness by now requiring most commercial vessels to report to the Coast Guard their arrival times at U.S. ports at least 96 hours in advance. Additionally, Integrated Operations Centers have been established to better coordinate and facilitate information sharing between the Coast Guard and other Federal, State and local law enforcement agencies.
The end result is that more assets and resources are devoted now to MDA. These resources are more sophisticated, better coordinated, and more capable of providing actionable intelligence concerning the maritime domain.
The question is whether these actions have made our shores more secure from potential maritime threats? Are our coastal communities, industries and infrastructure safer?
The assumptions underlying our assessments of maritime threats and our strategies to address these risks have received their share of criticism over the years. The Government Accountability Office, the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General, and the Rand Corporation have all raised legitimate concerns, especially regarding the threat characterization of small vessels.
And unlike after 9/11 when resources were freely available to address deficiencies in homeland security, we operate now in an entirely different budget environment. Present fiscal constraints leave us little choice but to examine carefully the assets and resources we devote to MDA, especially to the Coast Guard whose budget is already stretched thin.
I have said this before and I will keep saying it: we cannot expect the Coast Guard to "do more with less." The sad reality is the Coast Guard is "doing less with less." And MDA is no exception.
The Coast Guard needs to maximize any investments in new technologies, new programs, and human resources to fulfill Coast Guard missions, and wherever possible, leverage those capabilities to support MDA. But we also need to ensure that those MDA programs and activities within the Coast Guard that remain funded are absolutely essential, and that we eliminate MDA activities that are redundant or an unnecessary drain on Coast Guard resources.
Admiral Neffenger confronts this dilemma on a daily basis as the Coast Guard's Deputy Commandant for Operations. Admiral, I commend you for your efforts in balancing the competing demands placed upon the Coast Guard. I look forward to hearing from you this morning on how we might best maintain the quality of MDA provided by the Coast Guard in an era of constrained Federal budgets.
In closing, no longer can we simply ask "How much MDA can we afford?" Rather, we need to ask "How much MDA can we afford not to have?" To a large extent, the shape and effectiveness of our future maritime security will ride on how we answer that question.