Coast Guard warns against Deepwater cuts

A top U.S. Coast Guard official said not fully funding the Bush administration's $966 million budget request for the Integrated Deepwater System in fiscal 2006 could have a significant impact on the long-term modernization project, during a House subcommittee hearing today.

House lawmakers, unhappy with the Coast Guard's lack of responsiveness in submitting new plans for the project, are considering cutting up to $471 million next year from Bush's requested budget for Deepwater. Officials estimate that the project to acquire new vessels and aircraft and modernize communications operations could cost between $19 billion and $24 billion over the next 17 to 22 years.

The program would provide an interoperable network-centric command and control system, better speed and integrated weapons on select cutters, and detection and defense systems against chemical, biological and radiological threats. The project would enable Coast Guard officials to have a better common operating picture of any terrorist threats or criminal activity so they can quickly deploy their fleet and assets to where they're needed.

A large reduction in Deepwater's 2006 budget would create performance and capacity gaps, said Vice Adm. Thad Allen, the Coast Guard's chief of staff. Allen and Gregory Giddens, Deepwater's deputy program executive officer, testified during a hearing of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee's, which is part of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The Coast Guard has submitted four plans to the House, each with two different proposed funding streams and each with two different mixtures of vessels, aircraft and costs. However, the new information, while welcome, does not prioritize or provide recommendations among the four options, said Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.).

"When we required the Coast Guard to develop and submit a re-baselined plan to Congress, we envisioned it as a blueprint to guide the program in the future," LoBiondo said in his opening statement. "Instead, I am concerned that the four plans we received, with their broad ranges in the number of assets that will be acquired and the total costs of the program combined with the uncertainty of several funding proposals, leaves us without real direction."

Allen and Giddens weren't the only Coast Guard officials testifying this morning about Deepwater. Adm. Thomas H. Collins, commandant of the Coast Guard, spoke before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee's Fisheries and Coast Guard Subcommittee.

Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved $30.8 billion in discretionary funding for the Homeland Security Department. It recommended a $7.9 billion for the Coast Guard, including $905.6 million for the Deepwater project.


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