The Coast Guard needs more funding to protect the homeland, particularly in intercepting drug smugglers at sea, Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) said on Tuesday, and he expressed his disappointment that the Department of Homeland Security’s budget request for fiscal year 2021 excludes construction funds for a 12th National Security Cutter (NSC) that is supported by Congress.
“I know several of us are disappointed that we had funding, appropriated funds, for a 12th national security cutter only to see the president’s budget remove those funds,” Palazzo told Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf during a budget hearing of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee.
Highlighting that the Coast Guard “seizes more drugs than all other federal agencies combined,” amounting to $26 billion in street value over the last four years, Palazzo said, “We need more focus on the maritime border and the assets to patrol our oceans.”
Palazzo’s Mississippi congressional district includes a Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] shipyard, which builds the NSCs and Navy surface ships.
Congress provided $160.5 million in FY ’20 for long-lead materials for the 12th NSC, but the FY ’21 budget request for the Coast Guard doesn’t include the construction funds to complete the ship. A spokesman for the Coast Guard’s acquisition office told Defense Daily the administration has not sought to rescind or reprogram the long-lead funding for the vessel.
Wolf said the “U.S. government doesn’t have enough resources to interdict all of the narcotics coming from South American,” and pointed out that almost all the drug seizures interdicted in the Caribbean Sea and Eastern Pacific Ocean are done by the Coast Guard. He highlighted that the intelligence behind the seizures is performed through an interagency process and aided by air assets and crews from the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection.
Palazzo agreed “100 percent” with Wolf, which “reinforces why the National Security Cutter is so important.”
Coast Guard ships patrol parts of the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific for its counter-drug missions, seeking to intercept narcotics, primarily cocaine, closer to their source in South America.
The Coast Guard’s original program of record was for eight NSCs to replace 12 aging Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters, but Congress has successfully appropriated funds for additional ships with 11 under contract. HII received the contract for the 11th NSC in December 2018.
Wolf said Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz’s recapitalization priorities are the Polar Security Cutter and the Offshore Patrol Cutter.
“It’s a budget, like any other budget, where there’s tradeoffs that have to be made so we want to make sure that they have capability in the polar region as well as the new Offshore Patrol Cutter capability as well, but we’ll continue to work with Congress on what the right priorities are going forward,” Wolf said.
Palazzo also highlighted that the FY ’21 request doesn’t include funding for additional Coast Guard Fast Response Cutters. The FRC is built by Bollinger Shipyards in Louisiana.
After pointing out that the administration is seeking $710 million in new funding for a “drastic increase” in the number of detention beds for illegal migrants detained by DHS, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the subcommittee, also noted the lack of funding for the FRC and Coast Guard HC-130J maritime patrol aircraft, “which are critical to search and rescue activities, counter-drug operations, and disaster response.”
In her opening remarks, Roybal-Allard said proposed funding for the second Polar Security Cutter has “strong bipartisan support” but warned Wolf that the subcommittee won’t fund the increased detention beds and more funding for a border wall.
The administration is seeking $2 billion in the DHS budget for 82 miles of new border barriers along the southwest border. DHS, through direct appropriations and funding taking from the Pentagon and elsewhere in the department, has been given about $15 billion for its border wall system.
The subcommittee meets on Thursday morning to consider the budget request of Customs and Border Protection.