If a House Republican leadership plan to cap fiscal year 2024 discretionary spending at FY ‘22 levels goes forward, the Coast Guard would have an “immediate” $500 million shortfall, the service’s commandant said Wednesday.

“If the Coast Guard were held to the FY ‘22 enacted level that would create an immediate $500 million shortfall in the budget. That is compounded by inflation, increased fuel cost, increased costs of spare parts and what it takes to operate the organization,” Adm. Linda Fagan told the House Appropriations Homeland Security subcommittee during a hearing on April 19.

Rendering of Coast Guard offshore patrol cutter. (Source: Eastern Shipbuilding Group)
Rendering of Coast Guard offshore patrol cutter. (Source: Eastern Shipbuilding Group)

On Wednesday, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) unveiled his party leadership’s bill to allow the debt limit to raise by $1.5 trillion in exchange for reducing the FY ‘24 discretionary spending tp FY ‘22 levels and limit spending growth to one percent a year (Defense Daily, April 19).

While House  Republican leaders previously said this kind of plan would not include defense and select other areas of the discretionary budget, it does not explicitly exempt defense from cuts.

Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) argued during the hearing that “slashing federal spending this severely back” would cause the Department of Homeland Security to cut $3.4 billion.

“DHS reports this means the Coast Guard would quote immediately cease the advancement of acquisitions, procurement and construction, resulting in a reduction to operational readiness along the maritime borders. Further, these cuts would, and I’m quoting here, ‘reduce the ability to detect, deter, prevent and disrupt terrorist attacks, and other criminal acts in the U.S. maritime domain as well as our national defense strategy,’” she said.

When asked to elaborate, Fagan said as the service builds its budgets, “the priority goes to operating and maintaining the organization ensuring that our workforce is paid and has the support they need, that we’ve got fuel and ability to create frontline operations. Being held to a ‘22 budget level would have an immediate impact on readiness and capacity and would be particularly impactful to our acquisitions projects.”

Computer rendering of Coast Guard's proposed polar security cutter. (Image: Coast Guard)
Computer rendering of Coast Guard’s proposed polar security cutter. (Image: Coast Guard)

“You can’t scale on an acquisition. There are step functions there that would create immediate impact. We would prioritize providing services to the American public, but it would come at the expense, again major acquisitions, infrastructure investments and otherwise,” Fagan continued. 

A day earlier, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) also argued against the potential budget cuts during a hearing of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation. Larsen such a decision would cause the Coast Guard to pause its two highest priority vessel acquisitions.

“Some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have suggested reverting back to FY22 funding levels. Doing so would severely impact the Coast Guard, causing them to halt their two highest priority acquisitions–the Offshore Patrol Cutter and Polar Security Cutter–putting them further behind,” Larsen said in a written statement.

“Cutting Coast Guard funding would reduce operational readiness along our maritime borders and impact national security. We cannot allow this to happen,” he added.