Women take the helm at U.S. Coast Guard, Maritime Administration

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan salutes her predecessor, Adm. Karl Schultz, as President Biden looks on.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan salutes her predecessor, Adm. Karl Schultz, as President Biden looks on.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan salutes her predecessor, Adm. Karl Schultz, as President Biden looks on.

The U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Maritime Administration (MarAd) are both under new leadership.

President Joe Biden instated Adm. Linda Fagan as Coast Guard commandant during a change-of-command ceremony on June 1 in Washington. About three weeks earlier, the U.S. Senate confirmed retired Navy Rear Adm. Ann Phillips as MarAd administrator.

Fagan is the first woman to lead any branch of the U.S. military, and Phillips is the first woman to lead MarAd. She is its 20th administrator. 

“Adm. Fagan is an exceptional senior Coast Guard officer and nominee, possessing the keen intellect, the depth of operational experience, and the well-honed leadership and managerial acumen to serve with distinction as our service’s 27th commandant,” said Adm. Karl Schultz, the 26th Coast Guard commandant.

Schultz retired immediately after the ceremony, ending his four-year tenure as commandant. He served 39 years in the Coast Guard.  

Fagan, 58, served as vice commandant under Schultz and commanded the Coast Guard Atlantic Area, which runs from the Rocky Mountains to the Middle East. Her decades-long Coast Guard career has included many firsts. She was the first recipient of the Gold Ancient Trident as the longest-serving marine safety officer, as well as the first woman to hold the rank of four-star admiral, among many other accolades and accomplishments. 

As commandant, Fagan leads a service with more than 57,000 active-duty, reserve and civilian Coast Guard personnel. She will oversee ongoing shipbuilding programs that began under Schultz to expand the service’s response capabilities in the air and on the water. 

“The Coast Guard is a more ready, relevant and responsive service thanks to the incredible leadership of Adm. Schultz,” Fagan said in a prepared statement released by the Coast Guard. “I thank Adm. Schultz and Mrs. Dawn Schultz for their selfless service over the last four years and wish them fair winds and following seas.”

During remarks at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, President Biden offered high praise for Fagan, a 1985 graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy who has served on all seven continents. 

“Throughout her decades of service, she has demonstrated exceptional skill, integrity and commitment to our country,” Biden said. “She upholds the highest traditions of the U.S. Coast Guard. … There is no one more qualified to lead the proud women and men of the Coast Guard.”

Noting Fagan’s historic appointment as the first woman to lead any branch of the U.S. armed forces, Biden said, “It’s about time.”

Biden nominated Phillips last fall to lead MarAd, and the Senate confirmed her May 10 on a 75-22 vote. She was sworn in as administrator on May 16. 

Phillips served almost 31 years on active duty in the Navy, including 18 years as a surface warfare officer. She was commanding officer of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Mustin (DDG-89) for four years. 

She led Expeditionary Strike Group Two, which included 14 ships and 10 subordinate commands on the East Coast, according to MarAd. Phillips also served as director of the Surface Warfare Division. Most recently, she advised former Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on coastal resilience planning. 

As head of MarAd, she will advise Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on commercial maritime matters. She will oversee ongoing MarAd programs, including $2.25 billion in port infrastructure funding that will be awarded over five years, and the expansion of America’s Marine Highway Program.

Phillips relieves MarAd Deputy Administrator Lucinda Lessley, who served as acting administrator following previous Administrator Mark Buzby’s resignation in January 2021. 

The American Waterways Operators (AWO), a towing industry trade group, congratulated Phillips on her historic appointment. 

“Now more than ever, MarAd’s role in ensuring a strong domestic maritime industry is critical,” AWO President and CEO Jennifer Carpenter said in a prepared statement. “We look forward to working with her on a wide range of shared priorities in pursuit of that goal, including supporting the integrity of the Jones Act; building on the historic investment in ports and waterways infrastructure made possible by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act; promoting innovation in environmental sustainability; growing a robust and diverse maritime workforce; and ensuring that assault and harassment have no place in our industry.” 

Jim Weakley, president of the Lake Carriers’ Association, said Phillips has the background and potential to be a great maritime administrator. 

“It takes a special person to become a Navy or Coast Guard admiral. Adm. Buzby demonstrated the transferability of those traits to the Maritime Administration. I’m sure Adm. Phillips will have no problem coming up to speed on the agency and the maritime industry,” Weakley said.

Weakley said he knows Lessley well and has tremendous respect for her. “I think she and Adm. Phillips will make a fantastic one-two combination and take the Maritime Administration to new horizons,” he said. “I look forward to working with both of them as the Great Lakes Navigation System keeps the pilot light of North American manufacturing burning brightly.”