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Charting the Coast Guard’s Next Decade

June 21, 2023

A NASEM committee chaired by Prof. Cary Coglianese has released a report offering recommendations to the Coast Guard and Congress for meeting emerging challenges facing the maritime sector.

The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) has released a new report, “The Coast Guard’s Next Decade: An Assessment of Emerging Challenges and Statutory Needs,” focusing on the statutory authority the U.S. Coast Guard needs to address a suite of major challenges confronting the maritime sector over the next 10 years.

Cary Coglianese, Edward B. Shils Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science, chaired the committee and led the effort to identify emerging issues likely to require Coast Guard “oversight, regulation, or action” in the coming decade—and then to assess the adequacy of the Coast Guard’s statutory authority to address these future demands.

Coglianese, Director of the Penn Program on Regulation (PPR), is a globally renowned expert on administrative law and regulatory policy who has contributed an extensive body of research and scholarship to the fields of regulation and public administration.

“The Coast Guard performs many vital security, safety, and environmental stewardship functions for the U.S. public, so it’s been a distinct privilege to lead an effort to help inform Congress about how to position the Service to meet the challenges it will face in the years ahead,” said Coglianese.

“With the support of an outstanding staff team at the National Academies, committee members conducted an extensive inquiry, meeting and deliberating for many hours together,” he noted. “Our final report was informed by consultations with more than 50 outside experts and reflects a true collaboration among a remarkably dedicated and knowledgeable group of leaders and researchers,” he said.

The committee identified and analyzed 10 future developments that will present the Coast Guard with new or increased challenges over the next decade:

  • Autonomous systems
  • Cybersecurity risk
  • Commercial spaceflight operations
  • Offshore wind energy
  • Aquaculture
  • The changing Arctic domain
  • Ship decarbonization
  • Disasters
  • Migration
  • Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing

“Just as many other parts of government and society grapple with new challenges arising from a changing world, the Coast Guard will also face a variety of new or increased risks in the maritime domain,” Coglianese said. “These risks will stem from climate change, new technologies, and a highly dynamic geopolitical environment.”

Coglianese stated further that he hopes that “by identifying these risks, as well as the range of actions the Coast Guard will need to take to address them, the committee’s report helps support the Coast Guard’s future strategic planning.”

He added, “By assessing the Coast Guard’s legal authority for the actions it will need to take in the years to come, the committee’s work not only informs congressional deliberations but also provides a framework for future efforts by the Coast Guard to incorporate legal analysis more systematically into its strategic planning process.”

The NASEM committee reviewed and considered more than 30 different types of regulatory, operational, planning, and procedural responses that the Coast Guard will likely have to take in response to the 10 developments analyzed in the report.

The committee identified two specific limitations to the Coast Guard’s existing authority: crewing requirements that will prevent maritime use of vessels with autonomous systems and the authority to establish spaceflight-related safety zones on foreign-flagged vessels outside of U.S. territorial water.

The committee also noted that, even though the Coast Guard already has authority to address cybersecurity risks, Congress could take further action to clarify that its older statutes governing maritime security also authorize Coast Guard action to address cyber-risks.

Moreover, the committee recommended that Congress ensure that the Coast Guard has the resources and needed authority to develop vital mission support capabilities, such as in managing data, deploying technologically advanced assets, and supporting a well-trained workforce.

The NASEM committee also urged the Coast Guard to strengthen and deepen its strategic foresight planning and incorporate “legal foresight” into established and new planning processes so as to account for any future statutory needs.

“Part of the flux facing any government agency today derives from the judiciary,” said Coglianese. “The Supreme Court is widely seen to be charting a new course in how it will approach questions of agencies’ statutory authority. Against the backdrop of changes in judicial norms about statutory interpretation, agencies like the Coast Guard will be well-served by integrating legal analysis more fully into their strategic planning. The committee’s report provides a framework for building better practices of legal foresight within and across the federal government,” he noted.

The other members of the committee chaired by Coglianese were: Admiral Thad W. Allen, U.S. Coast Guard, retired; James-Christian B. Blockwood, Partnership for Public Service; Annie Brett; University of Florida; Vice Admiral Sally Brice-O’Hara, U.S. Coast Guard, retired; Martha R. Grabowski, Le Moyne College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Donald Liu, American Bureau of Shipping, retired, and National Academy of Engineering Member; Wen C. Masters, MITRE Corporation; Rodrigo Nieto-Gomez, Naval Postgraduate School; Sean T. Pribyl, Holland & Knight LLP; Vice Admiral Sandra Stosz, U.S. Coast Guard, retired; Rear Admiral David W. Titley, U.S. Navy, retired, and RV Weather.

Among the more than 50 outside experts that presented to the committee as part of the study process was Philip E. Tetlock, the Annenberg University Professor at Wharton and Penn’s Psychology Department.

On June 21, 2023, Coglianese testified before members of Congress on the report’s findings and the committee’s recommendations. He also wrote about the challenges facing the Coast Guard in an essay published in Lawfare earlier this year.

Explore more of Coglianese’s research and scholarship on regulation and public administration.