Coast Guard Commandant lays out budget, acquisition challenges for year ahead

While a shutdown for the Department of Homeland Security has been averted for now, the Coast Guard, which is a subcomponent of DHS, faces a host of other challenges, from aging ships to drug wars in Central America.

Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft told Federal News Radio’s Federal Drive radio show that the Coast Guard’s acquisition budget can’t keep up with its aging ships, some of which are more than 50-years old. The agency operates under a total budget of $10.5 billion.

“By sheer infrastructure alone, I’ve got about a $1.4 billion backlog,” he said.

That’s not an easy problem to fix while operating under a CR, Zukunft said. The agency can’t start new acquisition programs because funding is unstable.

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“It’s hard for our folks, equally hard for the industry with whom we’re doing work, to be able to say we can provide reliable, predictable funding, with a reliable and predictable budget,” Zukunft said.

The Coast Guard has operated under more than 12 CRs in the last four years, and that’s forced the agency to make some “difficult choices,” Zukunft said.

The agency already had to draw down by 1,500, out of its 40,000 active duty members. Going forward, Zukunft said, cutting force structure is not an option for the Coast Guard.

The Guard is optimistic about its 2016 budget request, which would allow full funding for 154-foot fast response cutters and the acquisition of an offshore patrol cutter.

“This is going to be the most significant acquisition in Coast Guard history,” he said. “It’s imperative that we get full funding to move that project forward.”

What comes next with 2015 funding for the agency?

While Congress averted a shutdown Friday, the agency could be back in the same position a week from now, as the funding bill only lasts for seven days.

Should an appropriations lapse occur, Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft said the Coast Guard’s workforce, acquisition programs and daily operations would be “adversely affected.”

Marshall Fitz, vice president for Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress, said during a press call with reporters Friday that if a shutdown occurs, “Many first responders are not getting the resources that DHS typically grants.”

Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley)

Zukunft didn’t say specifically how many Coast Guard employees would be furloughed, but DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has warned 30,000 employees throughout the department would be furloughed if funding for the agency runs out.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) said 3,260 Federal Emergency Management Agency employees would be furloughed. The Transportation Security Administration said about 2,820 employees, or about 6 percent of the workforce, would be furloughed.

“While the challenges of a shutdown are significant, I am optimistic we will get through it,” Zukunft said during the annual State of the Coast Guard Address Tuesday.

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