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Legislation would authorize $1.5B annually for Coast Guard recapitalization

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A House-approved 2-year Coast Guard authorization bill expected to pass the Senate would permit the service to spend $1.5 billion annually on acquisition efforts.

The bill (H.R. 2838)--which doesn't make appropriations--authorizes a topline spending amount of $8.6 billion for the current fiscal year and $8.7 billion for the next. The bill is a result of conference negotiations with the Senate; the House approved it by a voice vote and it now goes back to the Senate for a likely final vote.

The acquisition amount is less than the $1.9 billion annually the Government Accountability Office says the Coast Guard needs to complete its recapitalization program of record, including eight National Security Cutters.

The bill would give the service multiyear contracting authority to complete the NSC program and would also permit it to buy materials for the construction of any cutter in advance of awarding a construction contract. Coast Guard officials have pushed for multiyear contracting, arguing that that lack of it makes shipbuilding more expensive.

The final bill places fewer conditions on the NSC program than an earlier version approved by the House in November 2011. The current bill only requires the Coast Guard commandant to submit a report to Congress on how the first three NSCs will achieve the goal of 225 days away from homeport before certifying the sixth NSC as ready for operations. The earlier version would have prevented the Coast Guard from starting production on the sixth cutter until NSCs actually achieved that 225-day goal.

Also gone from the bill is language that would have decommissioned the heavy icebreaker Polar Sea within 6 months and its sister ship Polar Star within 3 years. Instead, the bill calls on the Homeland Security Department to conduct a business case to examine the feasibility of extending the Polar Sea's service life through September 2022. The Polar Sea suffered massive engine failure in 2010 and has been set for decommissioning since February 2011; Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp has said the service has "no money in the budget to keep it around."

The Coast Guard's other heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, is undergoing a $57 million refurbishment by Vigor Shipyards in Seattle with a planned return to service in 2013. The Coast Guard requested $8 million in its fiscal 2013 budget request to begin acquisition of a new icebreaker, which could cost as much as $1 billion.

The bill also calls on the Coast Guard to conduct a feasibility study on construction of a deepwater seaport in the Arctic, a region growing in strategic importance due to its greater accessibility caused by global warming.

In addition, the bill authorizes establishment of an Integrated Cross-Border Maritime Law Enforcement Operations Program with Canada.

The Transportation Worker Identification Credential would also come in for revision under bill; it would require the Transportation Security Administration to reform the process for obtaining or renewing a TWIC card such that typically only one in-person visit to an enrollment center would be necessary.

For more:
- go to the THOMAS page for H.R. 2838
- read a press release about the bill from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

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