Coast Guard Commandant: ‘We Need to be Funded as a Military Service’
By JOHN C. MARCARIO, Special Correspondent
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Coast Guard is looking for reliable and repeatable budget processes in the fiscal years ahead, the service’s highest-ranking officer said during a Dec. 13 speech at the Navy League of the Unites States Special Topic Breakfast series.
The Department of Homeland Security agency has been on the offensive in recent months, asking to be funded as a military service.
“We are an armed service, I am not asking for the sky here,” Commandant Adm. Paul F. Zukunft noted during his remarks at the Westin Crystal City.
The service’s annual budgets have hovered around $10.5 billion, with roughly $1.5 billion accounting for acquisition.
Zukunft noted that 40 percent of his major cutter fleet is deployed, and works, with the Department of Defense, but only 4 percent of his yearly budget is funded through the defense discretionary funding.
Noting the biggest challenge he faces is resources, Zukunft said his agency is “on the floor” when it comes to budget caps.
“We need to be funded as a military service, it’s plain and simple,” he said.
The commandant said he would like to have a 5 percent annual growth in his operating expense account and a floor of $2 billion in his acquisition, construction and improvements budget. This would also allow the Coast Guard to grow the workforce, which stands around 38,000 active-duty billets now, by 5,000 people.
“If we do that we will have a Coast Guard that’s Semper Paratus for the 21st century,” Zukunft said.
Compounding current budget matters is the nearly billion-dollar shortfall the service is facing after responding to three major hurricanes in 2017 in Texas and Florida.
Damage to Coast Guard infrastructure, along with a backlog of aircraft and ship maintenance, accounted for most for the deficit, after the Coast Guard had an “all-hands-on-deck” response from personnel and assets across the country.
The Trump Administration’s emergency supplemental request is less than half of what is needed, leaving a $575.4 million shortfall.
“The budget is tight,” Zukunft said.
Disaster response is a core mission set for the Coast Guard, but funding gaps could pose problems that may start cutting into operations, the commandant said.
During hurricane response, the service was credited with saving more than 12,000 lives, and Zukunft said the Coast Guard’s profile rose during the well-publicized rescue efforts.
“We are working to make sure we get the supplement relief of $1 billion,” he said.
While discussing future acquisition projects, Zukunft said to expect a funding request for six icebreakers in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. The Coast Guard is hopeful a new heavy icebreaker will be ready by fiscal 2023. That is when the service life of Polar Star, its lone functional heavy icebreaker, will expire.
“We face a great risk having one [heavy] polar icebreaker,” Zukunft said.
He also noted that unmanned aerial systems, such as the Boieng Insitu ScanEagle, continue to be deployed and tested on National Security Cutters, such as Stratton.
Calling it a critical skillset, Zukunft said the service needs to have them in the fleet, and the more ships he deploys without them, the more those ships are not able to meet their full potential.