House Lawmakers Advance $12.8 Billion Coast Guard Funding Bill

Patricia Kime

The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved a $50.72 billion Homeland Security funding bill that includes $12.8 billion for the Coast Guard -- $711 million more than the service's budget request, including additional money to improve Coast Guard housing and upgrade the service's aging technology and communications systems.

The increases over the administration's fiscal 2021 budget request aim to reduce a backlog in shore infrastructure maintenance, according to committee members. They are also designed to help the service modernize its technology, which Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz described in February as "1990s-era hardware, software and analytics."

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The bill contains $78 million for cyber, satellite and other communications upgrades -- including $6.5 million to upgrade the service's phone systems -- as well as $26.9 million for command, control, communications, computers, cyber and intelligence systems.

In a speech delivered in February on the state of the Coast Guard, Schultz described a service operating on low bandwidth, telling service members that in the past year 95 vital systems went offline for "several days" due to a single server malfunction.

"Our people will never fail our country, but our technology is failing our people," Schultz said.

At the time, the Coast Guard's information technology equipment and systems were experiencing a $300 million annual budget shortfall.

The bill is designed to cut into that shortfall, as well as a $2 billion maintenance backlog. It includes $312.9 million for shore facilities and aids to navigation, plus an additional $166 million for projects from the Coast Guard's housing, family support, safety and training facilities unfunded priority list.

More than $2 million would go to the Safe Homes Initiative, an effort to ensure that Coast Guard families live in homes that are free of environmental hazards such as mold, rot, pestilence and fire hazards -- the service's response to the housing scandal that erupted in 2018 involving the Department of Defense's privatized housing initiative.

In an investigation following a series of news reports by Reuters, hundreds of military families were found to be living in unsafe and unsanitary conditions that housing officials often dismissed or repaired poorly.

The bill includes an additional $12 million for training and course development and retention and recruitment, and $4.9 million for mental health support and services.

In terms of assets, the bill would fund a second polar security cutter, four fast response cutters and one HC-130J aircraft. And it includes $546 million for the offshore patrol cutter program.

In developing the legislation, the committee decided not to support the administration's request for $11.6 million for "civilian awards spending increases" and rejected the department's proposal to pay for overseas contingency operations (OCO) from its discretionary base budget. Instead, it provides $215 million in OCO funds for the Coast Guard. It also directs the service to develop a report on its role in the administration's Indo-Pacific Strategy.

And it requires the Coast Guard to draft a plan for establishing a Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps at public and private high schools

The bill passed the committee in a 30-22 vote. It will now move to the House for consideration and will have to be reconciled with the Senate's version of the Homeland Security funding bill before it can become law.

"This bill as a whole will strengthen our security and keep Americans safe, while upholding our American values of fairness and respect," House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-New York, said after passage. "Strong investments in modern, effective technologies will improve homeland security missions, from cybersecurity and disaster preparedness to border and maritime security."

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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