The House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee fiscal 2014 spending bill, to be marked up by the subcommittee May 16, proposes $1.22 billion for the Coast Guard acquisition budget, an increase from the $951 million in the White House proposal-- but also still far less than the approximately $1.46 billion annually the service has been appropriated in recent years.
Release in short succession by the Coast Guard of a much anticipated notice of proposed rulemaking for the placement of Transportation Worker Identification Credential readers in maritime facilities and a report (.pdf) by the Government Accountability Office that heavily questions a TWIC reader pilot conducted by the Transportation Security Administration has brought new life to questions about the efficacy of the TWIC program and its implementation.
Pilot testing of Transportation Worker Identification Credential readers generated enough reliable data to support a conclusion that they contribute to port security, said the Transportation Security Administration official responsible for the TWIC program before a May 9 House panel.
Pilot testing of Transportation Worker Identification Credential readers was so flawed that Congress should require the Homeland Security Department to back off from their implementation until it conducts a proper test, says the Government Accountability Office. That new assessment of readers should also revisit the question of whether a more decentralized approach toward maritime identity cards might be better, auditors say.
The Coast Guard projects annual acquisition will never total more than $1.2 billion annually over the next 5 years, and will more often hover close to $1 billion annually, the service's 5 year capital investment plan shows. The Coast Guard received $1.4 billion for acquisition in fiscal 2012, an amount that Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp said in 2011 wasn't enough .
But although it would complete the NSC recapitalization program, the plan "calls for a radical change to [Coast Guard] capitalization efforts," said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), while chairing a hearing of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security.
The proposed Coast Guard budget for the coming fiscal year would fund the construction of just two Fast Response Cutters, a downgrade from the planned schedule of six annually that would require renegotiating the contract with manufacturer Bollinger Shipyards and result in a higher acquisition cost, Coast Guard Commandant Robert Papp told an April 16 congressional panel.
The deepest percentage cut in Coast Guard spending would come from the acquisition, construction and improvements budget line, the money source for the ongoing Coast Guard recapitalization effort. It would decrease from $1.476 billion to $951.12 million, a reduction of nearly 37 percent when factoring in inflation.
The rule, which would come into effect within 2 years after publication of the final rule, would affect 38 vessels and 532 facilities at an annual cost of about $26.5 million, the notice estimates. Fewer than 1 percent of vessels and about 16 percent of facilities that fall under Coast Guard security regulations would be required to install a TWIC reader.
A March 12 notice from the OMB Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs says the rule underwent an unspecified change that the OIRA considers to be consistent with the regulatory intent.