As appropriations bills work their way through Congress, efforts to boast the Coast Guard's modernization budget, the money needed to buy new ships, planes, and sensors, are sailing on troubled waters. That's a tragedy. The Coast Guard's contributions to homeland security are vital, and addressing the service's pressing requirement for new equipment has to be a Congressional priority.
Service Under Stress
Since 9/11 the demands on the U.S. Coast Guard homeland security responsibilities have expanded greatly. The service continues to undertake its traditional missions: executing search and rescue, ensuring the safety and security of commercial shipping, safeguarding U.S. fisheries, and interdicting drugs, arms, and human smuggling. Today, the Coast Guard plays a prominent role in every aspect of maritime security from inspecting ports overseas to checking ships and cargo, stopping illegal immigration, and overseeing the security at U.S. ports.
Now that the Coast Guard has more responsibilities, its equipment is wearing out faster than ever. "Deepwater", the pre-9/11 modernization program funded by the Congress, envisioned retiring the service's aging inventory of ships and planes over 30 years. The retired inventory would be replaced with an integrated set of assets including new vessels as well as sophisticated communications, computers, and sensors. The 30-year timeline is completely inadequate for a post-9/11 Coast Guard.
Speeding up Deepwater would make America safer by introducing more capable assets sooner. A faster modernization would also save as much as $3 billion. Buying units at a faster rate would reduce per unit costs, and retiring older equipment that is more expensive to operate and maintain sooner would save money as well.
Congress Out of Synch
In the response to Hurricane Katrina, the Coast Guard saved over 30,000 lives and stressed its available assets to the breaking point. The Senate added $600 million in supplemental spending to repair and replace equipment, but the House did not. Congressional authorizers approved $1.6 billion in spending for Deepwater next year, but it is not clear that the appropriations bill will include funding at that level. That's wrong. Congress should
- Approve $600 million in supplemental funding, and
- Approve an annual appropriation for Deepwater funding for $1.6 billion.
Speeding up Coast Guard modernization is one of the most valuable contributions Congress can make to enhance homeland security. It's time for the House and Senate to come together and give Coast Guard funding the priority it deserves.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.