Seven days after President Joe Biden presented the business case for a more active Coast Guard, Republican Senator Roger F. Wicker, ranking chairman of the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, introduced the “Strong support for our Coast Guard ActSweeping legislation designed to support the president’s vision. The bill re-examines several Coast Guard funding initiatives that Congress has repeatedly tried – and failed – to advance in recent years.
The financial support offered by Senator Wicker to the Coast Guard is considerable. And it’s not the Mississippi senator’s only effort to support the U.S. Maritime Law Enforcement Organization, either. This week, Senator Wicker, after being criticized previously for neglecting the Coast Guard when introducing the $ 25 billion Shipyards Act to strengthen shipyard infrastructure, made amends, adding $ 350 million for the Coast Guard shipyard to the Shipyards Act. Then, in the newly introduced Coast Guard Act, Wicker doubled down on his unwavering support of the Coast Guard, not only by offering full funding for Coast Guard site improvements, but by seeking full funding to meet the needs. Coast Guard’s estimated $ 2.6 billion in deferred shore maintenance. at the service level.
This is the kind of heavy funding the Coast Guard needs to meet the operational expectations of the administration. But Congress has already attempted to authorize and appropriate these funds. Two years ago, the Government Accountability Office sounded the alarm on the state of Coast Guard infrastructure, reporting that “approximately 45% of Coast Guard coastal infrastructure has exceeded its lifespan useful ”, with a largely out-of-the-box backlog of 5,600 deferred maintenance projects. and 125 “recapitalization and new construction” projects were needed.
At the end of 2019, Congress proposed the “Coast Guard Coastal Infrastructure Improvement Act” that was going nowhere. Since then, Congress has funded limited upgrades, and where they were made, the new and updated facilities offered almost immediate resilience benefits. In 2021, Admiral Karl Schultz, Commander of the Coast Guard, used his State of the Coast Guard address to detail how the new Coast Guard facilities in the economically critical area of Houston-Galveston have held up. Hurricane Harvey and helped Texas recover from the unprecedented Category 4 storm.
The Wicker Coast Guard Act also ensures that the Coast Guard is paid for any future government shutdowns. Aside from the fact that no legislation should in any way make it easier for Congress to embark on the deeply destructive fiscal demolition derby that is the “shutdown policy,” compensation is a sensitive issue for law enforcement. Coast Guard. Other military organizations benefit from better compensation regimes and are already protected from government shutdowns. The Coast Guard is vulnerable. After struggling for 35 days after the government shutdown in 2019, the memory – when Coast Guard personnel were not paid but still had to serve – still stings. To make matters better, Congress has repeatedly introduced “Pay Our Coast Guard” laws since 2019, but a permanent solution has failed to secure a vote on the ground.
The bill supports an often articulated goal of the Coast Guard to improve the representation and retention of minorities, by proposing various measures to increase the number of under-represented minorities in the Coast Guard by funding partnerships with institutions serving Minorities and Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps programs. While useful and welcome, the initiatives proposed do not appear to align directly with the projects already outlined by the Coast Guard’s Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan for 2019-2023. Fully fund ongoing efforts of the Coast Guard to open up the Coast Guard to a wider range of US citizens probably offers better value for the taxpayer’s dollar.
In an innovative move, Senator Wicker proposes a Coast Guard effort to plan for the future, funding a new fleet composition analysis and a plan to invest in shore-based infrastructure. Considering the dynamic national security environment and massive technological changes at the water’s edge, Wicker’s fleet study money is a great investment. This funding – if it occurs – allows the Coast Guard to refresh or repeat a comprehensive series of ‘cutoff’ studies last completed to help the Coast Guard recover from the deepwater recapitalization fiasco , by recalibrating various reference programs. While the Coast Guard does this type of long-range strategic planning very well, Senator Wicker might be wise to take a page from Senator John McCain, where in 2017 separate teams from academia and industry developed independent “alternatives” to the navy. fleet study efforts. Publicity of these external efforts helped strengthen Senator McCain’s influence, sparking Washington’s interest in Navy funding while building confidence in the Navy’s overall strategic vision for the future fleet.
Given that Senator Wicker’s bill is a much needed – but stalled or failed – set of pro-Coast Guard legislative initiatives, the fate of this latest pro-Coast Guard law is uncertain. Throughout Congress, members look forward to joining Senator Wicker in helping the Coast Guard, rallying to support this often overlooked service in a variety of ways. As Wicker and other Coast Guard supporters in the House and Senate attempt to leverage the Coast Guard Infrastructure Act, the Wicker Shipyards Act continues to move forward. Other autonomous efforts are also underway. In the House, Representative National Security Lawyer Elaine Luria (VA-2) is actively working on a Coast Guard bill.
Helping the Coast Guard should not be controversial. In Congress, the Coast Guard is a bipartisan balm, an extremely popular government organization capable of bringing Congress together. Everyone, regardless of party affiliation, loves the Coast Guard and wants more. A Northern State House staff member, after listing the large number of Congressional efforts underway to support various unmet Coast Guard priorities, joked: “We support anything that gets the job done. . Unfortunately, the hardest part of the job seems to be simply getting strong, bipartisan bills through the House and Senate with much needed Coast Guard funding.
It’s time for a simple up and down vote to give the US Coast Guard the funding it needs for the decade to come.