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No large spending increases under proposed Coast Guard reauthorization

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A newly introduced two year Coast Guard reauthorization bill would cap spending at levels not distant from current and past years' amounts.

The bill (H.R. 4005) originates from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the Coast Guard's traditional authorizers.

It would authorize the service to spend $6.98 billion on operations and maintenance during fiscals 2015 and 2016 and $1.545 billion on acquisition and construction during those years.

In addition, it would authorize an active duty level of 43,000 for those two fiscal years, a number greater than the 40,066 positions it estimated for the current fiscal year in its budget proposal for fiscal 2014, the current federal fiscal year.

Among its provisions would be one authorizing the service to enter into a multiyear contract for procurement of Offshore Patrol Cutter ships. The Coast Guard and its advocates have a long-standing argument with the Office of Management and Budget over whether it should have multiyear funding for ship procurement. The Coast Guard contends it keeps the per-unit cost of new ships down; OMB prefers to have ships fully funded before the service lets a new acquisition contract.

In addition, the proposed reauthorization would require the service to submit a Homeland Security Department-approved plan for the decommissioning of 210 foot medium endurance cutters and for extending the life of 270 foot medium endurance cutters. During a recent hearing, Coast Guard Commandant Robert Papp said the average age of MECs is now 46 years, adding that three required emergency dry dock repairs for their failing hulls this past year.

"We can't continue to run the old ships," he said.

The Coast Guard must keep at least some MECs active until their replacements – the Offshore Patrol Cutters – can be commissioned. Papp said the service is close to awarding a contract to three finalists for the OPC design competition.

The reauthorization bill would also require the Coast Guard to produce a strategy for Arctic ice operations through 2050 – and, if it decides not to reactivate the laid-up heavy icebreaker USCGC Polar Sea (a likely outcome, given the conclusions of an internal analysis) also a strategy for how it'll maintain polar icebreaking capacity through 2024.

The bill would prohibit the Coast Guard from participating in the funding of a polar-class icebreaker if that icebreaker would be "based on an operational requirement of another federal department or agency."

Service officials maintain that new heavy icebreakers should be a "whole of government" acquisition, since the Coast Guard would find it difficult to absorb the $1 billion a new heavy icebreaker is likely to cost, and because other federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the Defense Department have a stake in arctic icebreaking, as well.

For more:
- go to the Congress.gov webpage for H.R. 4005
- read a committee statement about the reauthorization bill
- download a committee synopsis (.pdf)

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