U.S. Senate Passes Coast Guard Reauthorization

November 15, 2018

This week, the U.S. Senate passed the Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018, which authorizes funding and end-of-year strength levels for the Coast Guard. It also includes provisions relating to the Coast Guard’s fleet recapitalization, new rules for vessel discharge, and a complete recodification of the Coast Guard title of the United States Code (title 14).

Senate passage came about a month after both the House and Senate held hearings to examine the Coast Guard’s recapitalization efforts. The bill passed 94-6 and still awaits action by the House, which passed its own Coast Guard reauthorization earlier this year. Five Democrats—Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)—and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) opposed the bill. The bill has been pre-negotiated with the leaders of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, so the House will likely just take up the Senate-passed bill and agree to it after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Authorization of Appropriations. For FY19, the Senate-passed bill authorizes $7.914 billion for Coast Guard operations and maintenance not otherwise provided for, of which $16.7 million is specified for environmental compliance and restoration (previously a separate line-item in the U.S. Code) and $199 million is specified for Medicare-eligible retiree health care fund contributions to the Department of Defense (which is not mentioned in previous years’ authorizations).

Separately, $2.695 billion is authorized for the acquisition, construction, renovation, and improvement of aids to navigation, shore facilities, vessels, aircraft, and systems; this is in line with the FY18 enacted level and a 38.5% increase over FY17 levels. Additionally, $29 million is authorized for research and development. No money was authorized for the Coast Guard Reserve for FY19, though just under $115 million was authorized for FY18.

Authorization of Appropriations for U.S. Coast Guard, FY16-FY19 (Billions)

FY16 enacted FY17 enacted FY18 enacted FY19
Operations and maintenance 6.981 6.987 7.373 7.698*
Acquisition, construction, etc. 1.945 1.945 2.695 2.695
Coast Guard Reserve 0.14 0.134 0.115
Environmental compliance and restoration 0.017 0.017 0.013 0.017
Research & development 0.019 0.019 0.035 0.029
Retiree health care fund contribution 0.199

*$7.914 billion was authorized for operation and maintenance, of which $16.7 million was specified for environmental compliance and restoration and $199.36 million was set aside for Medicare-eligible retiree health care fund contributions to DOD

Authorized Levels of Military Strength and Training. The Senate bill increases end-of-year strength for active duty personnel from 43,000 in FY18 to 44,500 in FY19. It also maintains current military training student loads:

  • 2,500 student years for recruit and special training
  • 164 student years for flight training
  • 350 student years for professional training in military and civilian institutions
  • 1,200 student years for officer acquisitions

Fleet and Infrastructure Recapitalization. The reauthorization bill authorizes up to $167.5 million to acquire three fast response cutters, in addition to the 58 cutters approved under the existing acquisition baseline; up to $267.5 million to fund acquisition, construction, rebuilding, or improvement of Coast Guard shoreside infrastructure; and up to $3.5 million for analysis and program development for improvements to, or replacement of, rotary-wing aircraft.

The bill directs the Commandant of the Coast Guard to report to Congress before certifying an eighth national security cutter as ready for operations on the cost and performance of different approaches to achieving different levels of operational employment for its national security cutters. Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries & the Coast Guard Chairman Dan Sullivan (R-AK) previously quizzed Rear Admiral Michael Haycock, Assistant Commandant for Acquisition for the Coast Guard, as to whether the increased capability of the new cutters would be enough to make up for the fact that there will be fewer cutters in service after the recapitalization effort is complete.

It also requires the Commandant of the Coast Guard to submit a plan to replace or extend the life of the Coast Guard’s fleet of inland waterway and river tenders, as well as for the Bay-class icebreakers, including an analysis of the work required to extend the life of those vessels and a schedule for replacing them. The Coast Guard will replace a fleet of 35 small river tenders, barges, and construction tenders, many of which are nearing the end of their service lives.

On icebreakers, the Coast Guard may use funds for construction of a Great Lakes icebreaker at least as capable as the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw, and the agency must conduct an enhanced maintenance program on the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star to extend its service life at least through 2025.

Federal Maritime Commission Authorization. The bill authorizes roughly $28.5 million in FY19 for the Federal Maritime Commission, about one million more than in FY18.

Ports and Waterways Safety Act. The bill codifies the Ports and Waterways Safety Act of 1972, which authorizes the Coast Guard to establish vessel traffic service/separation schemes for ports, harbors, and other waters subject to congested vessel traffic. Under this law, the Coast Guard can construct, operate, maintain, improve, or expand vessel traffic services. This could include reporting and operating requirements, surveillance and communications systems, routing systems, and fairways.

Arctic Strategy. The bill gives the Coast Guard one year to report on the progress it has made toward implementing the strategic objectives described in the U.S. Coast Guard Arctic Strategy of May 2013. (Those objectives are to improve awareness, modernize governance, and broaden partnerships.) That report must include not only the agency’s progress towards those objectives, but also an analysis of the sufficiency of the distribution of national security cutters, offshore patrol cutters, and fast response cutters stationed in various Alaska ports, and plans to provide communications throughout Coastal Western Alaska.

Back in June, House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and Ranking Member John Garamendi (D-CA) voiced their frustration with the U.S. military’s lack of progress in the U.S. Arctic.

Vessel Incidental Discharge Act. The reauthorization includes the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, which was among the most contested provisions in the bill. The Act directs the EPA to develop national, uniform, environmentally sound standards and requirements for the performance of marine pollution control devices for each type of discharge incidental to the normal operation of vessels. The primary goal of these standards is to help prevent the introduction of invasive species into U.S. marine environments, such as zebra mussels in the Great Lakes. In general, it calls for “the application of the best conventional pollutant control technology” and “the use of best management practices to control or abate any discharge incidental to the normal operation of a vessel.”

Importantly, the provision gives states a consultation role as the EPA develops those standards and the ability to enforce them once implemented, but does not allow states to adopt standards stronger than federal law (as some currently do). It was this preemption of state law that had some environmental groups opposing the bill, though it is unclear whether this provision was why the five Democrats and Sen. Sanders opposed the larger reauthorization.

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