After a lengthy markup, the House Appropriations Committee late Wednesday afternoon agreed to a $51.4 billion discretionary spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security in fiscal year 2019 and included a provision that would initiate funding for an additional National Security Cutter (NSC) for the Coast Guard.

The amendment for the 12th, and likely final, NSC was offered by Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.), whose congressional district includes the shipyard where prime contractor Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] builds the Coast Guard ships. The long-lead time funding for the 12th NSC will probably be for around $95 million, which is a precursor to the construction contract, which would be for around $500 million.

The first National Security Cutter Bertholf navigates through Alaskan waters. Photo: Coast Guard
The first National Security Cutter Bertholf navigates through Alaskan waters. Photo: Coast Guard

The Senate Appropriations Committee in its version of the FY ’19 DHS spending bill, provided $48.3 billion in discretionary spending for the department but no money toward the 12th NSC. However, the Senate appropriators said in their report accompanying the bill that they believe the 12th ship is needed and plan to work with the Coast Guard to understand the schedule and costs for the vessel.

Congress in the FY ’18 Omnibus appropriations bill earlier this year funded the 10th and 11th NSCs, which are not under construction contracts yet. While the Coast Guard originally planned for eight NSCs, recently retired Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) successfully fought to continue the program toward a one for one replacement for the 12 legacy high-endurance class ships they are replacing.

House appropriators didn’t provide funding for a new heavy polar icebreaker for the Coast Guard as requested by the Trump administration. Senate appropriators fully funded the $750 million request for the first of three planned heavy icebreakers.

In its report that was published this week to help explain the DHS funding bill, House appropriators said they “recognize that Polar icebreakers are essential” for national security and the economy but want a better understanding from the Coast Guard “to determine what is needed in fiscal year 2019 to advance this program.” The House and Senate appropriators will eventually resolve their differences over the icebreaker in conference.

The Coast Guard has an ambitious plan for its new heavy icebreakers, with a goal of awarding a contract for the first of three new vessels in FY ’19 to take delivery of the ship in 2023. Deliveries for the second and third ships are expected in 2025 and 2026.

The Coast Guard has one operational heavy icebreaker now, the Polar Star, which is more than 40 years old and needs extensive repairs annually to remain in service. The Coast Guard is planning a service life extension project for the Polar Star to possibly keep it operational until 2028, about five to eight years beyond its current expected life.

House appropriators recommended $15 million as requested for the Polar Star SLEP and expect a cost estimate on the project his summer.

The main difference between the House and Senate appropriations bills for DHS is the House’s inclusion of nearly $5 billion for more than 200 miles of physical barriers along the southern border. The Senate appropriators only provide $1.6 billion for the barriers, the same as requested.

The Senate panel approved the DHS bill on a 29 to 22 party line vote with Republicans in favor.