Have they outlived their usefulness?
The US Coast Guard adopted the concept of geographic districts when it absorbed the US Lighthouse Service in 1939. Previously, it had no formal segmentation of its chain of command based on geography. Rather, the chain of command was grouped around function. Cruising cutters reported to the Operations Division in USCG Headquarters. The various Captains of the Port (there were only a handful) had a separate chain of command. The lifeboat stations had a third chain. The Lighthouse Service, established in 1789 (prior to the Revenue Cutter Service), from its early days had been organized geographically into Districts, with each District responsible for all lighthouses and other aids to navigation within its boundaries. It did not take the Coast Guard long after amalgamating with the Lighthouse Service to recognize that a single geographic-based chain of command had advantages over numerous function-based chains of command. The Coast Guard therefore emulated the Lighthouse Service organization. Over time, the number of separate Districts has been reduced. There are now nine Districts, even though they are numbered One through Seventeen. The relatively new Coast Guard Sectors have rendered obsolete some of the functions formerly performed by Districts in coordinating functions performed by previously separate units. Coast Guard Areas, whose original function was solely to coordinate individual missions that crossed District boundaries, have taken control of most large assets such as high endurance cutters. Thus, the question arises whether Districts provide an added value that compensates for their costs? I don’t pretend to have a definitive answer, but have no doubt that it is time to ask the question.