WASHINGTON — As the Coast Guard continues to push for funding to modernize an aging fleet and handle a lack of personnel, a government watchdog agency is calling attention to the service’s serious need for strategic planning.
The Coast Guard has been producing five-year capital investment plans, or CIP, for Congress since 2012, but the GAO found that these reports are not accurate at a time when forward-looking strategy is vital.
The CIP does not prioritize future acquisitions, resulting in projections that are much larger than requested or received funding, the GAO said.
Senior Coast Guard officials have said the service needs $2 billion for acquisitions while in the White House budget, the service requested $1.1 billion for fiscal year 2017 and $1.2 billion for fiscal year 2018, according to the GAO.
To address this, the service has reduced its capabilities and pushed acquisitions to the future without measuring the negative effects or a realistic, prioritized plan for the future.
Since 2014, the GAO has recommended that the Coast Guard develop a 20-year plan to identify all necessary acquisitions and the funding needed for fielding them. The Department of Homeland Security agreed with the advice but has not produced the plan or said when it will be available.
This GAO recommendation comes after a dramatic response to a presidential budget proposal that slashed the Coast Guard’s budget by $1 billion. The reaction from advocates and lawmakers spurred U.S. President Donald Trump’s budget chief to go back to the drawing board and throw out the cut.
The Coast Guard’s only active heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, is nearing the end of its expected service life and the service plans to implement a limited service life extension estimated to cost $75 million.
This, paired with the expedited acquisition of a new polar icebreaker by 2023 with a cost estimate of $1.15 billion, would close the capability gap already seen by the aging heavy icebreaker.
However, there are concerns that even with the extended service life of the Polar Star, the funding for the acquisition would coincide with 2019 funding requests for the acquisition of an offshore patrol cutter, a massive acquisition that would occupy up to two-thirds of the budget. According to GAO, the Coast Guard has not said how it will prioritize these acquisitions.