After a “dead-on-arrival” budget request from the Coast Guard last year, the president’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2021 for the service was better received by lawmakers on Tuesday.
However, the chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., Told Coast Guard Commander Karl Schultz that she was concerned the request did not include enough to s ” tackle the delay in maintenance of the service.
“It really worries me that, despite the nearly $ 2 billion backlog of crumbling coastal infrastructure, which you just described, 40% of which is completed – I believe – 50 years or more, that the demand for President’s budget proposes deep cuts to last adopted level per year for all lines that finance infrastructure, ”she said.
Congress allocated approximately $ 12.2 billion to the Coast Guard in fiscal 2020, allocating approximately $ 1.8 billion to the procurement, construction and service improvement fund. While next year’s overall budget request is for a similar amount, it decreases that capital fund by about $ 135 million.
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Schultz assured the MP he was optimistic about the progress the Coast Guard is making in addressing the backlog of needed repairs to cutting docks, base facilities, training centers and military housing units.
During the hearing, members of the subcommittee also focused on efforts to replace the aging Coast Guard fleet.
Roybal-Allard said committee staff visited a small indoor cutter in Alabama that is so old, its boiler has not been running for 12 years, its engine is “obsolete” and aftermarket parts are no longer being made. She added that the lead paint contamination on this vessel is so severe that the crew’s lead levels are being monitored.
The proposed budget would allocate $ 546 million for the Offshore Patrol Cutter program and an additional $ 555 million to fully fund the construction of the Polar Security Cutter, which would replace the 44-year-old Polar Star icebreaker around 2024.
“I am incredibly proud of [the Polar Star crew’s] efforts, but I remain concerned that we are only one major casualty of being a nation without any capacity or heavy icebreaking capability, ”said Schultz.
CA representative “Dutch” Ruppersberger, D-Maryland, echoed these concerns, prompting Schultz to explain to the committee the competition the service faces in the Arctic with Russia and China.
“By 2025, it can be argued that China will have more icebreaking capability than the United States government, not just the Coast Guard,” Schultz said, adding that the service is the “face of the nation there. high “because the Navy doesn’t do a lot of operations. in the Arctic.
Russia is interested in using the Arctic as a “toll road,” Schultz said, as an alternative to ships passing through the Suez Canal.
“I think the long bullet, you know, that [there are] some areas up there where potential conflicts over freedom of navigation that have arisen today in the East and South China Seas could occur on the northern route, ”said Schultz.
The budget also includes more than $ 30 million to update the service’s electronic infrastructure and $ 13 million to modernize its training system and implement diversity and inclusion initiatives – an investment that Democratic lawmakers said support.
– Dorothy Mills-Gregg can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @DMillsGregg.
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