The U.S. Coast Guard has sometimes seemed to be the stepchild of the armed services, partly a military service and partly a revenue/lifesaving/drug interdiction/boating safety/homeland security hybrid.

But it has never seen its funding priorities rise to the level of the major military services in the eyes of congressional budget-setters.

That’s even though the service, which has been part of the Treasury and Transportation departments, now belongs to the Department of Homeland Security and has fought as part of the U.S. Navy in wartime.

That diversity of mission, and the importance of all its varied aspects, means the smallest of the services (with about 42,000 active personnel) should be equipped with capable ships and planes to meet all its obligations. Unfortunately, due to past underfunding and current poor spending choices (not all of which can be laid at the service’s door), the Coast Guard has misspent a good part of a “get-well” $24.2 billion allocated to add or improve more than 250 vessels in its aging fleet.

Upgrades to eight patrol boats costing $95 million were done so poorly the vessels were scrapped. Plans to add eight larger vessels by this year resulted in only two being available, with two more on the way – with spending of $7 billion so far.

So Congress is questioning if the service can spend its remaining funds effectively. But what the nation needs is not a diminished Coast Guard, but a service that efficiently maintains and increases its assets.

Whatever help it needs should be provided – with improvement, not punishment, as the ultimate goal.