Collins, Lieberman Urge Budget Committee to Fund Key Coast Guard Project

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Pointing to engine fires, faulty helicopters and deteriorating vessels that make it difficult for the Coast Guard to operate effectively, Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ranking Member Joe Lieberman (D-CT) today urged the Senate Budget Committee to include increased funding in the Fiscal Year 2005 budget to accelerate the completion of the Coast Guard’s Integrated Deepwater System Project.

In a letter sent today to Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles (R-OK) and Ranking Member Kent Conrad (D-ND), Senators Collins and Lieberman wrote, “The Committee on Governmental Affairs urges you to seriously consider enough funding for the Coast Guard to ensure replacement of its aging fleet within the next 10 years. Such a commitment would require $1.862 billion for the Deepwater project in Fiscal Year 2005. While we understand the strict budget climate under which the government must operate, the Deepwater project is one that should be completed sooner rather than later. In the first four years of the project, the Coast Guard has already spent $140 million above what it had planned to keep its aging fleet operational. Each year the project is extended, these repair costs will increase exponentially as legacy assets further decay. Acceleration to a 10-year schedule will provide the Coast Guard with the tools it needs to protect our ports and waterways while giving taxpayers the best value.”

Under the current budget plan, Deepwater acquisition is expected to take 22 years. The Senators are urging the Administration to provide extra funding upfront to complete the acquisition in 10 years, an investment that is estimated to save $4 billion in acquisition costs over the life of the project and generate almost one million additional Coast Guard mission hours dedicated to homeland security.

The Coast Guard’s fleet is one of the oldest of the world’s 41 maritime fleets, and its maintenance costs are spiraling upward at an alarming rate. Most of the Coast Guard’s cutters were built 30 years ago, and many of its aircraft are from the 1970s and 1980s. The Deepwater project would provide an integrated approach to upgrading existing assets while transitioning to newer, more capable platforms with improved communications and surveillance equipment and innovative logistics support systems.

“We are receiving increasing reports of cutters being sidelined for emergency repairs due to engine fires and cracks in the hull as well as helicopters losing power in flight. Without acceleration, the Coast Guard will continue to struggle significantly to keep up with its workload as it continues to redirect money from replacement of assets to repairs. This phenomenon further delays Deepwater and the wasteful cycle continues resulting in dangers to crew members, reduced readiness, and increased total project costs,” wrote the Senators, who are longtime supporters of the project’s acceleration.

“The Deepwater replacement project would provide a robust system of technologically advanced ships, helicopters and airplanes linked together by an interoperable communications system. … The nation simply cannot afford to wait another 20 years or longer for the Coast Guard to employ more effective and reliable assets in the name of better homeland security. Of course, an increase of this magnitude would warrant careful oversight by the Coast Guard and Congress to ensure that the contracts are managed properly,” the letter concluded.