The United States Coast Guard’s continued struggle to meet mission performance goals due to an insufficient number of modern assets may be compromising the security of the nation’s ports and the safety of its waterways.
The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation convened a hearing last week to determine the status of the Coast Guard’s current acquisition program in light of recent budget cuts that have prevented the Coast Guard from acquiring key assets needed to achieve mission requirements.
“The only way to reverse the decline in the Coast Guard’s mission performance is to make the necessary investments to acquire new and improved assets,” said subcommittee chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.). “Unfortunately, based on the FY 2016 budget request, as well as the FY 2016 through 2020 capiital investment plan (CIP), it appears the president refuses to make those investments.”
“I have said for some time now, if the president is going to send us budgets that fail to pay for the assets needed to meet Coast Guard mission requirements, then it is time for him to review those mission requirements,” Duncan stated.
FY 2016 budget cuts funding needed to acquire critically needed replacement assets by 17 percent. Furthermore, according to the Coast Guard’s CIP, annual funding for acquisitions will never exceed $1.2 billion over the next five fiscal years.
“Thatis approximately $1 billion less than the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the former Commandant of the Coast Guard have testified is needed on an annual basis to keep the current acquisition program on schedule and on budget,” Duncan said. “The capital investment plan is nothing more than a roadmap to additional acquisition delays, increased costs for taxpayers, and ongoing mission performance failures.”
Last month, the subcommittee held a hearing to review how the Coast Guard allocates its assets and personnel to carry out each of its 11 statutory missions. US Coast Guard Deputy Commandant for Operations Vice Admiral Charles Michel stated failure to meet mission requirements can be attributed to an insufficient number of modern assets.
“All Coast Guard missions are impacted as we confront modern challenges. Increasing risks are rapidly changing the maritime domain, creating new efficiencies in some areas and additional mission demands in others,” Michel said. “These challenges coincide with austere fiscal realities that demand optimal effectiveness and efficiency in the performance of all Coast Guard missions, at a time when the Coast Guard must recapitalize critical operational assets in our aging fleet.”
Homeland Security Today reported last month that GAO found Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acquisition programs continue to face staffing, funding and requirements issues, which increase the likelihood that acquisition programs’ schedules will slip and costs will grow.
For example, in FY 2014, the funding plans DHS presented to Congress for the Coast Guard acquisition programs were incomplete, obscuring affordability issues GAO has reported on since 2011. These component-specific issues make it more challenging for DHS leadership and Congress to exercise oversight.
In addition, the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency recently expressed harsh criticism of DHS’s department-wide acquisition processes during an acquisition oversight hearing on how effectively DHS is safeguarding taxpayer dollars.
“A broken acquisition process delivers tools that are late, cost more and do less than anticipated. Watchdogs continue to find failures in DHS’s management of its acquisitions, which is unacceptable and puts taxpayer dollars at risk," subcommittee chairman Scott Perry (R-Penn.) said.
After the Coast Guard submits a revised mission need statement (MNS) to the committee in July, the subcommittee will hold a hearing to review it.
Duncan said the subcommittee will then “determine whether the Administration intends to continue the charade of expanding Coast Guard mission requirements without providing the Coast Guard the assets it needs to meet those requirements.”
Budget has failed to keep pace with increasing mission demands
Although the Coast Guard’s area of responsibility has grown since the tragic September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, budget growth has not kept pace with increasing mission demands, according to Navy League of the United States President James Offutt.
The challenges facing the Coast Guard are constantly evolving as the maritime threat landscape continues to change. The Coast Guard faces an increase in transnational crime from drug and human trafficking, increased activity in the Arctic, and cyberattacks with the ability to cripple the economy and compromise national security.
In the near future, the Coast Guard will need to make significant investments in its Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), sustainment and conversion work on fixed- and rotary-wing legacy aircraft and acquisition of six new Fast Response Cutters (FRCs) a year. One of the highest priorities is laying the groundwork for construction of the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC), which will replace 14 210-foot and 13 270-foot medium-endurance cutters built in the 1960s and 1980s, respectively.
“These changes will place even more stress on the Coast Guard and increase the service’s operational tempo, stretching limited and aging assets to the very limit,” Offutt said.
While many of these challenges and investments have incurred increased costs, they have not been met with increased funds. The administration’s continual budget requests of $1 billion or less for acquisition, construction and improvements (AC&I) over recent years makes it difficult for the Coast Guard to meet these challenges.
“The Navy League appreciates the necessity of being good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollar, but remains concerned with the increasing capability gap caused by the rapid decommissioning of operational assets before replacements are available,” Offutt said. “This cost-driven strategy is not in the best interests of homeland security.”
Recapitalization Key to strategy to allocate resources to meet ops requirements
Amid the complex array of challenges the Coast Guard faces today, the most significant is the condition of existing assets not yet addressed by the ongoing recapitalization program, according to Assistant Commandant for Acquisition and Chief Acquisition Officer, Rear Admiral Bruce D. Baffer.
“Recapitalization is a key component to the Coast Guard’s strategy to efficiently allocate resources to meet today’s operational requirements while investing in future capability to best serve the nation,” Baffer said. “Our acquisition enterprise is working every day to ensure every appropriated dollar is used to its best advantage.”
Baffer highlighted a number of recent acquisition successes, which demonstrate the great strides the Coast Guard has made in their efforts to recapitalize the Coast Guard fleet and support systems.
For example, in 2014, the Coast Guard awarded contracts for preliminary and contract design of the OPC to three shipyards – Bollinger Shipyards Lockport LLC, Eastern Shipbuilding Group Inc., and General Dynamics, Bath Iron Works.
Last month, the Coast Guard accepted delivery of the 13th FRC, which will be the first FRC to be based at Sector San Juan, Puerto Rico. Furthermore, earlier this year, the Coast Guard received delivery of the 174th RB-M, achieving full operating capability and transitioning the program from the acquisition stage to sustainment.
In addition, the Coast Guard is working with the US Navy and Customs and Border Protection to leverage their existing programs to develop UAS. Last year, the Coast Guard’s Research and Development Center concluded a series of evaluations of cutter-based UAS and the acquisition directorate has initiated a non-major program to acquire small UAS for the National Security Cutter class.
Baffer noted that Coast Guard acquisition personnel have been recognized as recipients of five FY 2013 DHS acquisition awards.
“Each day, the Coast Guard carries out its missions to protect lives, protect the environment, secure our maritime borders and facilitate commerce,” Baffer told lawmakers. “Our acquisition workforce is, likewise, working each day to acquire and deliver the assets and capabilities needed to support these critical missions in a manner that maximizes the nation’s return on its investment.”