Coast Guard Budget Proposal 'Dead on Arrival' in Congress, Lawmaker Says

Master Chief Petty Officer Gregory Zerfass and Petty Officer 1st Class Allen Birt, members of Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star's navigation division, play catch during ice liberty is the Ross Sea, Jan. 9, 2015. (U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener)
Master Chief Petty Officer Gregory Zerfass and Petty Officer 1st Class Allen Birt, members of Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star's navigation division, play catch during ice liberty is the Ross Sea, Jan. 9, 2015. (U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener)

The White House budget proposal for the Coast Guard would underfund critical missions and is "dead on arrival" in Congress, Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz was told during a House hearing Tuesday.

Under the administration's proposal for the Department of Homeland Security, "Coast Guard operational capabilities will be reduced" and long-term funding for the planned new heavy icebreaker, or Polar Security Cutter, would be jeopardized, Rep. Lou Correa, chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security, said in his opening remarks.

"This budget proposal is dead on arrival since Congress will not entertain these cuts," Correa, D-California, said at the hearing on funding proposals for the Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration.

If President Donald Trump's budget proposals are enacted, "the Coast Guard will need to scale back operations," Correa said. He did not give any immediate indications of how much more funding Congress might seek for the Coast Guard above the administration's proposal.

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Correa's charges were seconded by Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.

"The administration proposes underfunding the Coast Guard at a time when national disasters, cyber attacks and drug trafficking are making its efforts more difficult every day," Thompson said.

The administration also proposes cutting 815 personnel from the TSA and eliminating 55 canine teams, he added.

Thompson challenged Schultz on the response to a Homeland Inspector General's report last year charging that a female lieutenant commander at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, was retaliated against for filing complaints of bullying and harassment by a superior.

The lawmaker charged that the Coast Guard has "stonewalled efforts of this committee" to obtain documents related to the IG report and called on Schultz to produce the material by the end of business Tuesday.

Schultz pledged to meet the deadline.

"We are going to deliver," he said. "We will meet that submission date today [and] be as responsive as possible."

He added that a superior officer at the Coast Guard Academy singled out in the IG report will retire from the service this fall.

The proposed $11.3 billion Coast Guard budget for fiscal 2020 includes $9.3 billion in discretionary funding, which must be appropriated by Congress. That figure is down from $10.3 billion in discretionary funding appropriated for fiscal 2019.

Schultz defended the budget proposal, saying it would allow the Coast Guard to "maintain momentum" on critical programs. But he acknowledged that the "flatlining" of funding over the last 10 years is having an effect.

"We're at a critical junction," he said, adding that readiness is in danger of eroding. "Our purchasing power has, in fact, declined."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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