Reverse the Trend
By J. MICHAEL McGRATH, National President
Lawmakers in Washington are working feverishly on authorization bills for the fiscal 2010 budget
proposal as their August recess draws
near. Among myriad committee
markups was sweeping action taken
July 8 by the Senate Commerce,
Science & Transportation Committee that would reauthorize Coast
Guard programs for two years, to the
tune of $9.5 billion annually.
The Coast Guard Authorization
Act for Fiscal Years 2010 and 2011
aims to overhaul the service’s acquisition efforts, namely the Deepwater
modernization program, by formally putting into legislation many
steps the Coast Guard already has taken.
While the Senate committee voted the reauthorize for
two years, the House Transportation and Infrastructure
Committee took a more piecemeal approach, approving
several smaller bills.
The House committee in April voted on separate bills
to overhaul Coast Guard acquisition programs and
authorize funds to build a new icebreaker for the Great
Lakes. In June, it approved three more bills, one to make
safety in U.S. waters a core mission for the service,
another to overhaul maritime safety rules and a third to
provide student loans for maritime education.
The Senate committee in July also passed a provision to direct the service to do a cost analysis of building new vessels versus rebuilding old ones, but did not
specifically tackle the icebreaker issue. Also approved
by the panel was a measure that would give the Coast
Guard authority to work directly with international
maritime authorities and organizations.
Most of these major legislative movements would
further support the course the Coast Guard already has
taken under the steady hand of Commandant Adm.
Thad Allen. Yet they do not go far enough.
Funding approved by the panels, and that originally
proposed by President Barack Obama, do not adequately support the men and women who dedicate their lives
to this nation’s security and economic well being.
During a July 8 hearing of the Senate committee’s subcommittee on oceans, atmosphere, fisheries and Coast
Guard, Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, noted that the service “is
taxed with sweeping mandates, and
I’m not convinced that the administration’s budget for the fiscal year
2010 [of $9.9 billion] … will provide
the kind of funding necessary to
meet the broad sweep of responsibilities that the Coast Guard is required
to carry out.”
During the hearing, Stephen
Caldwell, director of Maritime Security and Coast Guard Issues at the
Government Accountability Office,
pointed out that while the president’s 2010 budget request is “ 4. 2
percent more than the 2009 enacted
budget … when this year’s supplemental, as well as the
[American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] money is
added into that, the 2010 request actually represents 1
percent less than the previous year’s spending.”
The Coast Guard in the past two years has taken dramatic steps under congressional scrutiny to take the
“troubled” Deepwater program in a new, productive
direction. It has done that, in part, by putting into place
an acquisition directorate capable of program management and oversight. It has taken control of Deepwater,
put into place new business practices and, in effect,
become the lead systems integrator and prime contractor. The program still is far from perfect, but now is
delivering much needed assets to the fleet.
Give credit where it is due, and funding where it is
needed most. The U.S. Coast Guard, unfortunately, is used
to doing more with less. As Sen. Snowe pointed out at the
hearing, despite the service’s “ever-increasing range of
responsibility, the number of men and women serving the
Coast Guard has not appreciably increased in decades.”
And they are accomplishing those missions on a
shoestring budget with aging vessels, aircraft and shore
infrastructure. It’s time to reverse that trend.
One Mission — One Team
SEAPOWER / AUGUST 2009