Senator Helps Steer 9th Coast Guard Cutter to Mississippi


WASHINGTON -- Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran doesn't believe that eight is enough.

The veteran Republican lawmaker is getting kudos and criticism for slipping a little-noticed provision into the omnibus spending bill that calls for the U.S. Coast Guard to build a ninth national security cutter ship in the Magnolia State.

The $640 million vessel will likely mean more work at Huntington Ingalls Industries' shipbuilding operation in Pascagoula, Miss. Ingalls, the nation's largest military shipbuilding company, already has delivered five cutters, and has three more under construction.

"We are pleased that once again Congress has seen the importance of investing in tomorrow's Navy and Coast Guard, and supporting the shipbuilding industrial base," said a statement from Ingalls spokesman Bill Glenn.

Cochran, who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, had originally supported funding a new cutter back in June through the fiscal year 2016 Homeland Security appropriations bill.

But federal budget hawks, the Obama administration and the Coast Guard itself said the current fleet of eight was sufficient.

In a July letter to Cochran, who is known for steering federal tax dollars to Mississippi, Sean Donovan, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, called the proposed new cutter "an unnecessary acquisition."

"Funding for the (Coast Guard) fleet and capital needs should be consistent with planned acquisitions including offshore patrol cutters and the icebreaker," Donovan wrote.

But in a June press statement, Cochran said the fleet of eight was "based on dated assessments and is insufficient to meet current or future requirements." A ninth cutter would "give the Coast Guard more certainty and capabilities to meet its operational requirements," he wrote.

"The demands on the Coast Guard to protect our coasts and waterways from terrorism, human trafficking, drug smuggling and other maritime threats are not diminishing. They're increasing and will continue to do so. ... The national security cutter is the best weapon we have to meet that demand," Cochran's statement read.

Chris Gallegos, a spokesman for Cochran, did not return a call Monday requesting comment.

The largest and most technologically advanced ship in the Coast Guard fleet, national security cutters conduct a variety of operations, including homeland security, environmental protection, law enforcement, marine safety and national defense missions.

They're replacing the 378-foot high-endurance cutters that began service in the 1960s. The national security cutters are 418 feet long, have a top speed of 28 knots and a range of 12,000 miles, and can accommodate crews of 110 for up to 60 days at sea.

They also have flight decks that serve a variety of manned and unmanned rotary-wing aircraft, according to Ingalls.

The omnibus legislation includes 12 annual appropriations bills, which set federal funding priorities through September 2016. President Barack Obama signed the legislation last week.

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