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Gibbs Statement from Hearing on Coast Guard, FMC, and MARAD Budgets

Washington, D.C., July 21, 2021 | Justin Harclerode (202) 225-9446 | comments
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Opening remarks, as prepared, of Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Ranking Member Bob Gibbs (R-OH) from today’s hearing entitled, “Review of Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Request for the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Programs”:

Thank you to our witnesses for being here today.

Before getting to my comments on the budget request for federal maritime programs, I want to express to the Commandant the Committee’s disappointment at the Coast Guard relying on the Department of Interior for its maritime navigation safety responsibilities.  

Since Congress passed section 414 of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2006, the Committee has repeatedly reminded the Coast Guard of its responsibilities to establish areas necessary for safe navigation before Interior leased areas on the outer continental shelf for wind farms.  Navigation safety should have taken precedence.

In 2016, after a decade of Coast Guard inaction, Congress directed the Service to undertake an Atlantic Coast Ports Route Access Study.  The study was conducted; the Coast Guard responded with silence when it came to implementing the study’s recommendations. 

But the Coast Guard is late to the party. Only after Interior began moving forward with significant leasing did the Coast Guard finally undertake a rulemaking to implement the study’s recommendations.  Yet, Coast Guard staff assures the Committee that they are participating in Interior’s permit reviews even though that rulemaking is now pushed off until next year.

I believe the Coast Guard should take its role as the primary federal agency responsible for maritime navigation safety seriously, rather than act as a secondary agency commenting on Interior permits.

I was certainly heartened to see the increase in the request for the Coast Guard’s Operating and Support Account.  That account has suffered restrictions under the Budget Control Act to which the other Armed Services were not subject.  

However, I am extremely disappointed to see yet another new Administration fail to embrace desperately needed capital funding for the Coast Guard.  The Procurement, Construction, and Improvement Account falls from an appropriated level of $2.2 billion and an authorized level of $3.3 billion in FY ’21 to a requested level of $1.6 billion in FY ’22. 

That level of funding will not even allow the Coast Guard to hold steady on the billions of dollars of shoreside construction and maintenance needs and will restrict the Service’s far-behind-schedule cutter acquisition program.  Though I do commend the Commandant for managing to get some amounts added to begin the long process of rehabilitating the Service’s crumbling IT infrastructure, an issue I have raised in the past.

Slashing the PC&I Account would also eliminate the opportunity to purchase a twelfth National Security Cutter and up to six Fast Response Cutters before those production lines grow cold and those opportunities are lost.  I will work to see that Congress steps in yet again to reverse the budget request’s harmful impact on the Coast Guard acquisition budget and in turn, the Service’s future mission capabilities.   

The Coast Guard’s missions have grown more numerous and more complex since the Department of Homeland Security blessed the current fleet mix.  Congress has directed the Coast Guard to re-examine that fleet mix, and I look forward to hearing from the Commandant when we will see that updated analysis. 

I also noticed there are no requested funds for a new Great Lakes icebreaker.  I will work with colleagues in the Great Lakes delegation to correct that oversight. 

Perhaps not today, but I would like to discuss further with the Coast Guard whether a single design may be used for a cutter that can break ice in the Great Lakes and carry out the missions of the notional Arctic Security Cutter.

Finally, let me commend the Coast Guard Ensign for an article in the US Naval Institute’s publication, Proceedings, recommending the Coast Guard establish and operate e-LORAN.  Since 2008 when the Coast Guard discontinued the LORAN-C signal, DOT and the interagency committee on position, timing, and navigation has manifestly failed to provide a recommendation on or follow Congress’ direction to establish a backup timing signal.  It’s nice to see someone outside of Congress understands the urgency of this situation. 

As we all know only too well, the United States is in the midst of a surge of imported cargo that is pressure testing the supply chain. It has led to greatly increased shipping costs and has negatively affected those who distribute and retail imports, and hurt some U.S. exporters, particularly ag exporters. 

I hope Federal Maritime Commission Chairman Dan Maffei can update us on the status of Fact Finding #29 and provide any recommendations for minimizing supply chain disruptions that may flow from that Fact Finding. 

In addition, I’m interested to know if the recent Executive Order on competition provides the Commission with any new authorities to prevent unfair and unreasonable practices by ocean shippers and marine terminal operators.

I’m pleased to see former Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee staffer Lucinda Lessley back today as the Acting Maritime Administrator.  Last year, Congress enacted a Maritime Transportation System Emergency Relief Program.  The U.S. maritime industry estimates it needs $3.5 billion under this program to offset unanticipated COVID related expenses.  Yet, no such funds were provided in the February COVID relief package, and none are sought in the FY ’22 budget request.  I look forward to hearing MARAD’s position on whether these funds are needed to help the U.S. maritime industry weather the pandemic’s economic storm.  

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