Senate panel ups Deepwater funding

U.S. Coast Guard

A Senate committee authorized $702 million for the U.S. Coast Guard's Deepwater program Thursday, $172 million more than what the House appropriated to it.

Deepwater is the Coast Guard's $17 billion plan to build new ships and planes. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), the bill's sponsor, said the increase is enough money to rectify a funding shortfall and put the program back on track. This new bill represents a 15 percent increase over last year's authorization.

Snowe has worked to accelerate the Deepwater program to modernize the Coast Guard fleet so it can keep pace with the expansion of its homeland security duties. According to Snowe, the Coast Guard's deployment to the Middle East during the recent conflict in Iraq marked the agency's first support of a wartime contingency since the Vietnam War.

"New cutters and surveillance assets built by the Deepwater program will allow the Coast Guard to carry out its new homeland security missions as well as better perform its traditional missions of search and rescue, drug interdiction and fisheries enforcement," Snowe said.

Overall, the bill, approved by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee, boosts Coast Guard spending to $7 billion next year. It includes allocations of: $134 million to Rescue 21, the Coast Guard's effort to modernize its system to receive and respond to distress calls from boats and ships; $70 million to analyze port security plans; $40 million for the automatic identification system; and $36 million for three additional marine safety and security teams.

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