“Coast Guard Needs Congress for Budget Bailout” –National Defense

US Capital West Side, by Martin Falbisoner

National Defense reports that the Administration’s 2020 budget request makes deep cuts in the Coast Guard budget compared to recent years, but that there is a good chance Congress will make up at least some of the difference.

You can see a brief summary of the budget submission here.

We have Congress plus up the Coast Guard’s budget in the past, particularly in terms of increasing numbers of Webber class cutters funded. The 2020 budget includes only two. This is likely to be increased to four or even six.

Congress has also added three Bertholf class NSC to the program of record and there have been suggestions that a 12th is needed to fully replace the 378 foot WHECs. If we are to get a 12th NSC, it almost has to happen in FY2020 before we OPC construction goes to two per year and before we need to fund Polar Security Cutters 2-6.

The Commandant has been talking about maintenance backlogs recently. Unfortunately maintenance does not have the highly visible job creation impact of new construction, although the dollar for dollar impact may be as great. It seldom makes the evening news, so this may be a harder sell.

 

“Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, Updated May 9, 2019”

The Congressional Research Service has updated their report on the Polar Security Cutter Program. This is the first revision since the award of the contract, so there are significant changes, including a section on the selected design found on pages 5-9.

Waterways Commerce Cutter Update

USCGC Smilax (WLIC-315), commissioned 1944

Here is a link to a power point style update on the Waterways Commerce Cutter apparently given at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition, 7 May, 2019.

They are hoping for initial operational capability for the new vessels in FY2024 and full operational capability (which I interpret as all the new vessels in commission FY2030.

Thanks to Lee for bring this to my attention. 

“Nearing a ‘tipping point,’ Coast Guard needs lasting change” –The Hill

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz visits with Coast Guard crews stationed in New York City. U.S. Coast Guard photo illustration by Petty Officer 1st Class Jetta Disco.

The Commandant has an opinion piece in “The Hill” explaining the effects of continued short falls in the Coast Guard’s Operating budget.

Because of unplanned maintenance and supply shortages, we lost the operating equivalent of two major cutters and seven helicopters last year, adversely impacting mission performance. In addition, the Coast Guard has delayed shore infrastructure repairs to such a degree that we now have a $1.7 billion backlog of urgent projects. Simply put, cuts from within have hollowed Coast Guard readiness.

He points to what appears to be a misinterpretation of the Budget Control Act.

A less-recognized impact developed when the lower sequester spending limit took effect in 2013. The BCA originally established the two primary categories of discretionary spending as “security” and “non-security.” However, once sequestration was enacted, the categories automatically changed to “defense” and “non-defense.” This means that DHS, with a military service — the Coast Guard — in its arsenal and national security as its primary responsibility, is limited under an annual non-defense discretionary cap of roughly $49 billion and forced to compete with all other non-DOD agencies for funding. Yet, under a “security” classification, DHS would be included with DOD under budget caps that recently exceeded $600 billion.

He suggests a phased solution.

The fix seems simple, and it is. The near-term solution is to increase the Coast Guard’s share of Defense funding — without penalizing DHS’s budget cap — to more appropriately resource us with necessary equipment, training, people and operating funds. Phased increases of $200 million per year, or 0.0003 percent of DOD’s 2019 budget, would begin to close the gap between our current Defense funding and actual Defense contributions.

The long-term solution is to recognize the Coast Guard’s crucial role in maintaining our national security and fund us as a military service. The appropriations structure should return to the “security” and “non-security” classifications, the original and arguably “just” intent of the BCA. This would ensure the Coast Guard is funded in parity within the same category as all U.S. Armed Forces and allow for consolidated oversight of all national security spending.

My Take

Let us be frank. We are not taken seriously as an armed force. We should be. In terms of personnel and number of ships, the Coast Guard is larger than the Royal Navy. If we want the Congress and the Administration to see us as a Defense asset, we need to do more than talk the talk, we need to walk the walk. We need missions and weapons. We need to identify the threats, how we can compliment the Navy, and the additional capabilities we need, not just in the case of a terrorist attack, but also in case of a major conflict with a near peer adversary.

The capacity building which we do, and I believe is important, can be perceived as more law enforcement than defense. These operations may even be seen by some, as an indication we actually have more assets than we need, since we have taken on this extra task, which is outside our normal mission areas.

We seem to argue that we are funded for peacetime and our readiness for war comes as a free good. We need to change that argument and that perception, which we have unfortunately cultivated. Our Defense Readiness needs to be paid for.

On the other hand, we can argue that, unlike other armed services, the Coast Guard gives the country a double payback. When we are funded the Coast Guard’s readiness for war, the country also gets better results in peacetime. It means more capable platforms, better communications and intelligence, and more secure ports.

“Coast Guard Hopes to Have 3 Polar Security Cutters Fielded by 2028” –USNI

The US Naval Institute reported on the Commandant’s remarks from the service chiefs panel at the Navy League’s annual Sea Air Space conference regarding the Polar Security Cutter program.

“right now my sense is we enjoy support from the administration, we enjoy bipartisan, bicameral support” in Congress, he said

The first ship is supposed to deliver to the Coast Guard in 2023..The Commandant did not speculate on the future funding profile, saying only that he expected three PSCs operational by 2028. USNI noted,

…buying the second and third ships in FY 2021 and 2023, respectively – would allow for all three to be in the fleet by 2027 or 2028.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson also remarked on Freedom of Navigation Operations in the Arctic and the Navy’s intention to operate in the Arctic.

“Schultz: Coast Guard Readiness at a ‘Tipping Point’” –USNI

U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz testifies before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on April 4, 2019. US Coast Guard Photo

The USNI news service provides a summary of the Commandant’s testimony regarding the 2020 budget and Congressional reaction.

Correa said in his opening remarks, “this budget proposal [for the Coast Guard and Transportation Security Administration] is dead on arrival.” He cited the president’s repeated requests on providing money for a border wall between the United States and Mexico at the expense of other Homeland Security programs as the reason.

“The president proposes cutting over a billion dollars from the TSA and Coast Guard budgets to pay for the wall,” Correa said.

Coast Guard FY 2020 Budget Request

Below I have duplicated the Coast Guard’s FY2020 Budget “Fact Sheet”. You can see supporting documents here. My comments are at the bottom.

U.S. Coast Guard Fact Sheet

Fiscal Year 2020 President’s Budget  

BACKGROUND: The FY 2020 President’s Budget requests $11.34 billion for the Coast Guard, including $9.32 billion in discretionary funding.  This begins to address the Service’s erosion of readiness through critical investments in the workforce, cybersecurity, and depot maintenance of legacy assets and infrastructure.  The Budget also supports the Service’s highest priority acquisition, the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC), and continues recapitalization efforts for capital assets and infrastructure.

BUDGET PRIORITIES:

  • Maximize Readiness Today and Tomorrow—increasing global complexity and expanding demand for Coast Guard services necessitates investment in the workforce, assets, and infrastructure to address the erosion of Service readiness.   
  • Address the Nation’s Complex Maritime Challenges—as the Nation’s unique instrument across the full spectrum of maritime operations, the Budget invests in capabilities and capacity to detect, deter, and counter maritime threats in support of homeland security and defense operations.
  • Deliver Mission Excellence Anytime, Anywhere—the Coast Guard is an agile and adaptive force whose greatest value to the Nation is an ability to rapidly shift among its many missions. The Budget advances modernization efforts in both operations and acquisitions by adapting to the dynamic nature of maritime operations.

MAXIMIZE READINESS TODAY AND TOMORROW: The FY 2020 Budget requests $7.9 billion for Operations & Support (O&S).  Budget highlights include: 

  • $118 million for requisite military pay and allowances as per the FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act requirements, which keeps DoD and Coast Guard military members compensated equitably, as well as providing civilian benefits and retirement contributions.
  • $59 million for new assets including: crew and shore-side support for NSC #9; operations and maintenance for FRCs #3741; crews for FRCs #39-43; shore-side maintenance personnel for FRC homeports; crew for OPC #1; maintenance support personnel for the C-27J fleet; and operations, maintenance, and flight crews for HC-130J aircraft #12. 
  • $27 million for human capital support infrastructure, and vessel, aircraft, and C5I maintenance funding to address spare parts inventory shortfalls that have led to decreased operations and lower readiness levels due to unplanned repairs. 
  • $22 million for the final phase of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) compliance upgrades, including the replacement of obsolete aircraft equipment and systems necessary to meet 2020 airspace requirements.

ADDRESS THE NATION’S COMPLEX MARITIME CHALLENGES: The FY 2020 Budget requests $1.2 billion for Procurement, Construction, & Improvements (PC&I) to continue recapitalization of the Service’s highest priority acquisitions: 

  • $792 million for vessels, including: $457 million for the construction of Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) #3 as well as long lead time materials for OPCs #4 and #5; $140 million for the procurement of two Fast Response Cutters (FRCs); $60 milllion for post-delivery activities for the seventh through eleventh National Security Cutters (NSCs); $35 million for program management and production activities associated with the detail design and construction contract for Polar Security Cutters (PSCs); and $15 million for a multi-year Service Life Extension Project (SLEP) for POLAR STAR. 
  • $200 million for aircraft, including: $20 million to support service life extensions for MH-60T helicopters; $50 million for a service life extension and avionics upgrade on the H-65 helicopter fleet; $120 million for missionization of fixed-wing HC-27J and HC-144A aircraft; and $9 million for small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS).
  • $174 million for shore infrastructure projects, including funding for: utility upgrades and construction at Air Station Ventura, CA; improvements at Station Tillamook Bay, OR; replacement of moorings at Station Siuslaw River, OR; and facility upgrades and construction to support FRC and OPC homeports.

DELIVER MISSION EXCELLENCE ANYTIME, ANYWHERE: In FY 2020, the Coast Guard will make sound, riskbased decisions to efficiently allocate resources while investing in critical recapitalization initiatives.  Highlights include: 

  • $15 million to address obsolete communications equipment on cutters, aircraft, and shore facilities to ensure continued interoperability with DoD Combatant Commanders (COCOMs) in theater, as well as in the high latitudes, and during disaster response.
  • $12 million in savings associated with the planned decommissioning of one High Endurance Cutter (WHEC) and three 110foot Patrol Boats (WPBs).  These assets are being replaced by new, more capable NSCs and FRCs, respectively.

My Commentary: 

The $118M quoted above for military pay and allowances is to fund the pay increase not the full amount of pay and allowances.

The top line amount in the budget request, $11.34B, is roughly $770M less than the final FY2019 budget and about $860M less than the FY2018 budget as enacted. Fortunately Congress has usually made additions to the request, but this request is also less than last year’s request.

The big difference, more than $1B, is in the Procurement, Construction, and Improvement account. Amounts requested for Ships and Boats, Aircraft, and Shore-side Infrastructure are all lower. The $1.2B total is little more than half the approximately $2B/year the Coast Guard has been saying they need.

Items missing in the description of the budget that might have been expected, are a second “Polar Security Cutter” (better to do it in 2020 when we are not trying to also fund two OPCs), the Waterways Commerce Cutter, any additional HC-130J aircraft, and a land based Unmanned Air System. The procurement of only two Fast Response Cutters is below the optimum build rate and appears to have resulted in higher unit costs.