The U.S. Coast Guard needs “predictable, stable” funding to maintain readiness of present forces and build upon that capability to meet future challenges, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation at a Wednesday hearing to discuss President Biden’s fiscal year 2023 budget request.
“The operations and support increase of more than 20 percent between the 2019 and 2022 budgets, and the administration’s 2023 budget request, better positions the Coast Guard by investing in our mission-ready total workforce, mission-enabling technologies, and modern assets and capabilities to meet the challenges today and in the future,” he said.
“But critically important work remains,” Schultz added. “To advance our national economic and environmental security interests in an increasingly complex geopolitical and technologically sophisticated environment, we must maintain this growth through our operational funding and a keen focus on the resilience of our capital infrastructure.”
The commandant noted that “while we have been very successful in replacing frontline operational units devastated by recent years’ hurricanes, my crews on the Great Lakes, praying for hurricanes to reach their region is a poor way and an unacceptable way to do business.”
The total FY23 Coast Guard budget request is $13.8 billion with $9.6 billion for Operations & Support; $1.6 billion for Procurement, Construction, & Improvements (PC&I); $252 million for Medicare-Eligible Retiree Health Care Fund (MERHCF); and $7.4 million for Research & Development (R&D).
The funding request includes $650 million to support construction of Offshore Patrol Cutter No. 5 and Long Lead Time Materials for OPC No. 6, $167.2 million for program management for the construction of Polar Security Cutter No. 1 and No. 2 and procurement of Long Lead Time Materials for PSC No. 3, and $120 million for the purchase of a commercially available polar icebreaker, including modifications and integrated logistics support required to reach initial operating capability for Coast Guard operations.
Schultz said the Offshore Patrol Cutter funding is “absolutely vital to replacing the capability provided by our legacy fleet of 210-foot and 270-foot medium-endurance cutters which largely operate in the Atlantic.”
The budget request also provides $110.5 million to continue the Service Life Extension Project for the Coast Guard’s fleet of MH-60T helicopters and includes funding to expand the MH-60T fleet beyond 48 aircraft, as well as $17 million to support modernization and sustainment of the Coast Guard’s MH-65 helicopter fleet.
“Beyond 2023, we must continue to restore the Coast Guard the nation needs to ably conduct domestic operations, facilitating the economic engine that is the marine transportation system, as 95 percent of overseas trade enters or leaves the U.S. by ship as well as resourcing expanded operations abroad in support of our national interests, including those detailed in the White House’s recent Indo-Pacific strategy,” Schultz continued.
The budget request includes $98 million to support shore facility and housing construction and improvement projects as well as construction and improvements to buoys and fixed structures assisting navigation on federal waterways, and $76.8 million to support shore facility infrastructure modifications, upgrades, new construction, and real property and land acquisition associated with homeporting new or modified cutters, boats, and aircraft.
“Our legacy assets remain vital operational contributors and we cannot shortchange their maintenance and sustainment funding,” Schultz told lawmakers. “Our forces are disaggregated across America’s coastal communities at roughly 1,000 individual units. Hence, we maintain a significant inventory and backlog for both recapitalization of infrastructure and asset maintenance.”
Included in the budget request is $24.5 million for recapitalization and modernization of the Cyber and Enterprise Mission Platform, $15 million for continued development, configuration, and testing of the future service logistics management solution, and $14 million to support the design, development, and information assurance posture of Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) integrated hardware and software systems.
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Jason Vanderhaden said the challenge that concerns him most is the USCG’s “ability to recruit and retain the workforce needed to operate our cutters, boats, and aircraft.”
“The Coast Guard enjoys the highest retention rate of all the military services. However, like the rest of the country, we are challenged to find the next generation of dedicated men and women who can and will serve in the military. It’s an all-hands-on-deck effort to attract the best and brightest and that’s why we’re expanding our Everyone Is A Recruiter program,” Vanderhaden told lawmakers. “Finding new ways to attract talent to the Coast Guard is tricky. If any of you know anybody that wants to serve in the Coast Guard, I got some Coast Guard swag for you, and we can hand that out. So we are really working hard to recruit. But it’s a tough recruiting environment right now.”
“A close second to recruiting is retention,” he added, stressing the need for “some legislative help in addressing the speed and flexibility to assess housing costs” as service members are forced to live very far from coastal units.
The Coast Guard is currently developing the implementation plan for its ready workforce 2030 strategy “which will help us leverage data and technology to improve the quality of life for our people,” Vanderhaden noted.
Vanderhaden is retiring next month at the culmination of a 34-year career, and thanked lawmakers for demonstrating “not just by word, but by action how much you care about the Coast Guard.” Master Chief Petty Officer Heath Jones will relieve Vanderhaden at a change of watch ceremony scheduled for May 19 at Training Center Cape May.
“Like the other Armed Forces and DHS operation components, the reality of high inflation as well as the needs of a modern workforce warrant immediate review and retooling of our policies to recruit, train, and retain the finest talent in order to sustain service readiness,” Schultz said. “While we diligently address policies to eliminate barriers to success, we must inject additional creativity in our thinking about how we organize, employ people to continue to meet operational demands.”