Cochran: What happened to Coast Guard cutters’ funding?

PASCAGOULA — U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) wants to know why the budget request for the U.S. Coast Guard no longer recommends funding for National Security Cutters (NSCs) #7 and #8, vessels that have long been planned for the agency.

Cochran questioned Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano about the Coast Guard’s shipbuilding budget during a Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee hearing to review the administration’s FY2013 budget for the Department of Homeland Security.

While the budget recommends fully funding NSC #6 in the FY2013 budget, the budget no longer reflects any funding for the two additional NSCs in the five-year outlook for the Coast Guard. The NSCs are the largest, most technologically capable ships in the Coast Guard’s fleet.

“It seems to me that we are on a collision course with the Coast Guard about the need for some assets that look to me to be very important. It seems that the Office of Management and Budget has probably tried to tamp down the requests or needs for shipbuilding against the recommendations of the Coast Guard leadership,” Cochran said. “I think the Coast Guard has been forced to devise an alternative, less preferable way to spend funds on aviation assets.”

Cochran said he found it curious that while NSCs #7 or #8 are not funded in out years, the administration adjusted the Coast Guard’s outlook for future aircraft procurement — doubling the projected need from $871 million in FY2012 to $1.9 billion in the FY2013 budget.

Napolitano testified that her agency owes Congress a revised five-year capital investment plan for the Coast Guard to accompany the FY2013 budget request, which may indicate that the five-year plan initially submitted to Congress this year might not be the last word on future NSC funding. She also said that the Coast Guard Commandant’s priorities are funded and that the agency was required to look for areas to trim to meet the budgetary limitations set by the Budget Control Act.

NSCs are built at the Huntington Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula. Northrup Grumman delivered three NSCs to the Coast Guard, the fourth is under construction and the fifth is under contract. The FY2013 budget asks Congress to provide $683 million to fully fund the sixth NSC.

“We build ships in Mississippi and have a great reputation for excellence of construction, and we know that some of these vessels are used by the Coast Guard to good advantage to protect the homeland,” Cochran said. “The administration will have to fully explain whether there has been change in the threat environment faced by the Coast Guard since last year to warrant not moving forward with building National Security Cutters #7 and #8.”

Since the Coast Guard in 2005 first outlined its minimum baseline need for eight NSCs to meet mission requirements, Cochran has consistently supported funding for long lead time materials for NSC production, which allows for cost-effective contracting. In addition, he has secured report language in successive appropriations bills that support the procurement of one National Security Cutter each year until all eight planned ships are procured.

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