Out Of Uniform : Civilians In The U.S. Coast Guard header graphic

Out Of Uniform : Civilians In The U.S. Coast Guard

Today's Coast Guard civilian staff positions include secretaries, contracting, computer specialists, accounting technicians, maintenance mechanics, electricians, paralegal specialists, management/program analysts, accountants and electronic technicians. Most of them work behind the scenes in jobs that are the latest generation in a long line of professionals who, for 200 years, as the famous naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison put it, have been called upon "to do a little of everything - the Coast Guard is used to that."

Wartime expansion brought about a corresponding growth in the civilian section of the Coast Guard. The secretary of the Navy's annual report for 1942 briefly mentioned "1,024 civilian employees at Coast Guard Headquarters." Many of these were young women, part of a
massive influx of typists and clerks who staffed the office buildings that were springing up almost daily in Washington during wartime.

The service's largest wartime employer of civilians was the Coast Guard Yard at Curtis Bay, Md. The yard had been established at the beginning of the century as a training facility and a repair depot for revenue cutters. With the absorption of the Lighthouse and Life Saving Services it had taken on the responsibility for constructing lifeboats, buoys, and other navigational aids. The Coast Guard's cutters and large tenders, however, had always been built under contract by civilian shipyards.

At the start of World War II, Navy administrators decided that the Coast Guard could function more efficiently by building some of its own cutters. The Navy added fabricating sheds, railroad tracks, a drydock, and 50 acres at the Coast Guard Yard and construction started on the CGCs Ironwood, Kaw and Manitou. The yard's civilian workforce then peaked at 3,100 men and women.

Peace brought cutbacks and staff shufflings in the civilian workforce. The yard lost more than one-half of its members - and was legally obligated to hire back several hundred former employees who had been drafted during the war. Responsibilities of civilians then changed from operational to support functions.

By the end of the Second World War the Coast Guard had assumed much of the shape it has today: an institution based on a military organization with a vital civilian-support structure.

Civilians not only filled jobs in support capacities but became a source of technical and administrative expertise as the service's peacetime mission expanded into a broad range of public services. The Coast Guard's organizational structure remained essentially unchanged until 1967, when the service was transferred by Act of Congress from the Treasury Department to the newly-created Department of Transportation.