Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz told the House Homeland Security Transportation and Maritime Security Subcommittee at a Tuesday budget hearing that the Coast Guard has “lost about 10 percent purchasing power in the last eight to 10 years under the Budget Control Act conditions.”
Schultz described the Coast Guard to lawmakers as “a unique and enduring value proposition for the nation.”
“We are deployed on any given day, support five of the six geographic combatant commanders whether it’s drugs in the SOUTHCOM area, we’ve got, you know, the Antarctic, the Arctic with polar icebreakers, we’re in the South China Sea, as you noted, with a National Security Cutter today. We domestically rescue more than 20,000 people on an annual basis. We have border security missions. We are a locally based domestic organization with global responsibilities and we have unique authorities,” he said.
“I would say 11 statutory missions are tough to roll up in a three-line elevator speech. So we’re a complex organization that brings a lot to the table. The ’20 budget proposes some ability to bite into the eroding readiness that we suffered in recent years, the capital budget maintains momentum on our top priorities, that’s maintaining momentum on the Polar Security acquisition, on the Offshore Patrol Cutter acquisition, those are our top priorities.”
Schultz, who stressed that “new icebreakers will not come fast enough,” anticipates awarding a contract for the polar icebreaker “probably in the next 30 to 45 days.”
“It’s an exciting time in terms of new capital assets for the Coast Guard with the Congress’ and the administration’s support,” he said.
Where the Coast Guard has struggled in recent years is with the operating budget, Schultz noted, and that’s why he’s laboring “diligently to tell this story so people understand we’re the fifth armed service.”
“We’re an armed service first and foremost every day, appropriately situated in the Department of Homeland Security, but with that sometimes the conversations that raise the bar about the armed services, we’re not in that conversation. That’s my job to make sure I communicate that narrative,” he said.
The commandant warned that “after almost a decade of near flat-line operations and support funding, Coast Guard readiness is eroding just like the other armed services.”
“Yet unlike the Department of Defense, the Coast Guard funding is categorized as non-defense discretionary, which means we were excluded from the focus efforts to rebuild the military and continue to find ourselves on the outside looking in when it comes to material operations and support plus-up’s,” Schultz said. “In 2017, the Department of Defense received a 12 percent boost in operations while the Coast Guard funding increased only 4 percent yet the Coast Guards military contributions are immutable. Every year we proudly spend over $1 billion on defense-related activities in direct support of the combatant commanders, but the $340 million of defense readiness monies that we receive has not changed in more than 18 years.”
Purchasing power has declined, he stressed, adding that “if we continue to neglect our growing backlog of deferred repairs on our capital assets, including shore infrastructure, we will lose ground in the fight to defend our homeland from evolving threats and challenges across the nation.”
Schultz reminded lawmakers that “critical investments in our marine inspections workforce and to our cybersecurity operations” are necessary to “build the capabilities that facilitate that $5.4 trillion of annual economic activity on our nations waterways and protect critical infrastructure.”
“A dollar invested in the Coast Guard is a dollar well spent,” he said.