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Coast Guard authorization bill sent to Senate

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A bill authorizing Coast Guard discretionary spending for two years at $8.7 billion annually sailed through the House of Representatives – to the chagrin of some on the House Homeland Security Committee.

The House approved the reauthorization bill (H.R. 4005) by a voice vote April 1.

It would cap annual Coast Guard spending on acquisition at $1.54 billion for the next and subsequent fiscal years and reduce to 6,700 from 7,200 the number of commissioned officers on the active duty promotion list. The actual amount of acquisition spending, which is controlled by lawmakers on the appropriations committees, could fall short of the caps by hundreds of millions, if recent years' enacted amounts constitute a trend.

The bill went directly from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in late March to the House floor after the chairmen of the House Homeland Security and Armed Services committees waived jurisdiction over it – something that previous committee chairmen have also done for Coast Guard authorization legislation. 

During floor debate, House Homeland Security Committee Ranking Member Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) criticized the lack of referral to his committee, saying that its members "could inform the bill's security-related provisions in an open markup setting."

He cited as an example of an unaddressed security provision a concern voiced earlier by Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.) that the bill doesn't require port authorities to account for cybersecurity in the five year security plans they submit for Coast Guard review.

"The House has before it a bill that does not fully take into account the statutory mission of the Department of Homeland Security component it authorizes," Thompson charged.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee from where the bill originated said he will work to include cybersecurity as an element of port facility security plans. "We need to figure out who is the best at it, who can do it," he said, suggesting that the Navy might be the best authority.

The Coast Guard is a military service but forms a part of the Homeland Security Department; occasionally in its history, it's been a part of the Navy but has mostly been overseen by civilian federal departments.

Among the bill's provisions is one that would authorize the Coast Guard to enter into a multiyear contract for building Offshore Patrol Cutters. The statute permitting multiyear procurement within the Homeland Security Department requires that the thing being bought have "a stable design."

Chuck Hill, a close Coast Guard observer, notes that "in the case of shipbuilding, this usually means that the first ship is at least complete" and adds that by then, at least three OPCs could be under contract.

The bill also would prevent the Coast Guard from dismantling Long Range Navigation – better known as LORAN – infrastructure for a year or until the departmental secretary sends written notice that the system isn't required as a backup to the satellite-based GPS system. LORAN towers that pose a hazard to human life would be exempted from the delay in the planned dismantling; one such 650 foot tower in Florida reportedly is without warning lights due to a failed electrical system.

For more:
- go to the Congress.gov page for H.R. 4005

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