WASHINGTON: The White House has dropped plans for a 14 percent cut to the Coast Guard, instead promising a budget that “sustains current funding levels.” The bad news is that “current funding levels” are already too low. The Coast Guard has to give almost 600 drug shipments a pass each year because they don’t have the ships or planes to catch them — and that’s their top-priority mission. Elsewhere, the Coast Guard has cut corners on everything from patrolling the Pacific, to maintaining its bases and to working with the Navy, the Coast Guard Commandant told reporters today.
“Where we’ve seen the most pain is we’ve deferred a lot of our shore (facilities) maintenance,” Adm. Paul Zukunft told the Defense Writers’ Group. “We have a lot of our crew who are out there, if they’re not out doing operations, then they’re fixing utilities, they’re patching roofs.” It took Hurricane Sandy battering the Coast Guard Academy to free up necessary funding for repairs there, he said: “That’s no way to run a railroad.”
Another asset wearing thin is the nation’s only heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star. The 40-year-old ship is “on life support” until a replacement arrives in 2023, Zukunft said, but it still has to break “chunks of ice the size of a Metro bus,” so after each deployment it needs a lot of time in the shipyard. Between deployments and overhauls, he said, “that crew is going to be away from home over 200 days this year.”
There appears to be an end in sight. The 2017 budget includes $1 billion in Navy funding to start the new icebreaker. The Coast Guard’s own modernization account rose to $2 billion last year with the addition of a ninth National Security Cutter. (The 14 percent cut would have cancelled it). Construction continues on the smaller Offshore Patrol Cutters and Fast Response Cutters.
All told, Zukunft said, “on the acquisition…