Stories of heroism in the U.S. Coast Guard are part of the service’s legacy. Indeed, the Coast Guard conducts an average of 45 search and rescue missions per day. But those rescue missions are just one part of a highly capable and diverse agency that protects our national security, enables safe shipping and trade, and safeguards the maritime environment.
The motto of the Coast Guard is “always ready,” and the men and women who serve as Coasties live up to that motto every day. What often goes unreported, however, is the woeful lack of resources supporting the Coast Guard’s missions.
In too many cases, the Coast Guard operates out of trailers in parking lots, uninhabitable buildings and crumbling piers. It is time to give this branch of our armed forces its rightful attention and support.
The Coast Guard facilitates diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific region, partners with the Navy in the South China Sea, delivers maritime security in the Middle East, provides a surface presence in the Arctic and deters illegal fishing in international waters. It enforces our domestic fisheries laws, keeps our rivers open, and protects U.S. ports and waterways.
Without a doubt, the Coast Guard is one of America’s most versatile and valuable assets. Its funding should reflect this important role.
As Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz has stated, every mission begins on shore and at the waterfront. However, more than half of all Coast Guard facilities are beyond their service life, with over 5,000 facilities suffering from unfunded deferred maintenance. As of June 2021, the Coast Guard’s maintenance and infrastructure backlog had reached a staggering $3 billion. Without adequate bases, buildings and piers, the Coast Guard cannot continue to fulfill its responsibilities effectively.
In February of this year, I wrote to President Joe Biden in support of increased funding for the Coast Guard. I was disappointed when his fiscal 2022 budget failed to address these needs. The 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, negotiated by President Biden and a small group of senators, will be another missed opportunity to provide our Coast Guard with the funding it deserves. I sponsored and co-sponsored several amendments to boost funding for the service and have been disappointed by the Senate’s lack of interest in adopting these measures.
In addition to these amendments, I recently introduced the Unwavering Support for our Coast Guard (USCG) Act to address some of the Coast Guard’s longstanding challenges. This bill would provide full funding to eliminate the shore-side facility maintenance backlog and build resiliency into these facilities. It would also support renovations to the Coast Guard Yard in Maryland. As the Coast Guard’s only shipyard, this facility is responsible for most long-term fleet maintenance and is in urgent need of modernization. Without these upgrades, the shipyard will be unable to maintain and service the current and future fleet.
The USCG Act would also protect pay and allowances for Coast Guard members through any gap in federal funding. During the most recent government shutdown, Coast Guard members were the only service members who went without pay while continuing to serve. My bill would ensure that Washington’s failures do not impact the men and women who keep us safe.
Finally, as Congress looks to support the Coast Guard’s future missions, the USCG Act would require the Coast Guard to evaluate the facilities and assets needed to complete its missions.
Since 2010, the Coast Guard has seen only a modest 8 percent increase in operation and support funding. By comparison, all other services have seen increases between 28 and 42 percent. Having the Coast Guard clearly identify its needs will inform Congress about how to modernize and recapitalize our Coast Guard fleet to meet its mission requirements.
It is popular for members of Congress to publicly support the Coast Guard, as evidenced by the 34 senators who tweeted birthday wishes on Aug. 4. Adequate funding of Coast Guard needs would be a much more meaningful show of support.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., is a member of the Armed Services Committee and ranking member of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.