The Senate on Friday approved by voice vote a two-year authorization bill that provides funding for the Coast Guard for two years and gives the service the authority to spread the cost of a potential new heavy icebreaker over multiple fiscal years.

The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015, H.R. 4188, authorizes $9.1 billion for the Coast Guard in both FY ’16 and FY ’17. The House unanimously passed the legislation on Dec. 10.

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, a 420-foot polar icebreaker. Photo: Coast Guard
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, a 420-foot polar icebreaker. Congress has approved legislation permitting the Coast Guard to spread the cost of buying a new heavy icebreaker over multiple years. Photo: Coast Guard

Allowing the Coast Guard to acquire a heavy icebreaker, which is estimated to cost about $1 billion, would reduce the impact on the service’s overall acquisition budget, which typically is just over $1 billion each year. The bill permits $4 million in appropriations for Coast Guard heavy icebreaker pre-acquisition activities in FY ’16 and $10 million in FY ’17.

The Senate Commerce Committee points out that the Navy has used the incremental funding authority being provided for the purchase of an icebreaker to acquire aircraft carriers, assault ships, and destroyers.

Some of the other key provisions of the bill include aligning the Coast Guard’s leadership structure with that of the other armed services to improve interaction and cooperation with the other services, direct the service to explore commercial technologies to solve problems affecting mission performance, report on life-cycle cost estimates for new capital assets, conduct a fleet mix analysis of its fixed-wing aircraft, and produce a 20-year acquisition plan.

The bill also gives new authorities to combat illegal trafficking and smuggling and transnational criminal organizations.