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Commandant says Coast Guard hindered by budget

In his first State of the Coast Guard Address, Adm. Paul Zukunft, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, said he is concerned that “aging platforms and crumbling infrastructure continue to hinder mission success.”

“This is not a case of neglect,” Zukunft told attendees Tuesday in the Cdr. Raymond J. “Ray” Evans Conference Center at U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington.

“It is a case of resources — regrettably, we have lost nearly 40 percent of our acquisition budget over the last four years. We have $40 million a year, to buy down $1.4 billion in needed shore infrastructure repairs,” he said.

Zukunft’s top investment priority is the Offshore Patrol Cutter, which “is essential to stopping smugglers at sea; for interdicting undocumented migrants, rescuing people, enforcing fisheries laws, responding to disasters, and protecting our ports.”

“By the time we begin laying the keel for the first OPC, some of our legacy Cutters will be over 55 years old. These ships are well beyond their intended life span, and they are compromising the safety of our people,” he said.

Zukunft explained that the Coast Guard is at “a confluence” of a strained budget and increasing demand for services. He cited increased human activity in the Arctic; instability in Central America as a result of transnational organized crime in the western hemisphere; the U.S. leading the world in oil and gas production, much of it being transported by sea; and growing cyber threats.

“Never in our history have four such growth areas converged on the Coast Guard at the same time,” he said.

The address came during a trying time in Congress. The Senate on Monday failed to pass a funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security. Lawmakers are in a deadlock over funding the department because Republicans have added provisions, which the Democrats oppose, that would reverse the president’s immigrants plan. The department is currently operating on a continuing resolution that expires on Friday. Congress has until then to pass a bill funding the department.

On the Coast Guard’s official blog, Zukunft wrote an article, published Monday, titled “Impacts of a Potential Continuing Resolution or Lapse in Appropriation.” In it he wrote that the service’s “efforts and mission success depend on reliable and predictable funding.”

He continued, “Unreliable funding jeopardizes aircraft, cutter and boat maintenance and operations.” He echoed “a call to action” made by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson to pass “a clean, full-year appropriations bill.”

j.bergman@theday.com

Twitter: @JuliaSBergman

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