Senate Democrats on Thursday released a proposed Homeland Security funding bill that would complete long-lead funding for a third new heavy polar icebreaker for the Coast Guard and fully fund the request for a commercial polar icebreaker to help fill a near-term gap in the service’s icebreaking capabilities in the polar regions.
The Senate Appropriations Committee chairman’s mark of the fiscal year 2023 appropriations bill for the Coast Guard’s polar icebreaking needs matches a bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee in June.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Thursday released all 12 of his committee’s proposed federal funding bills. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the ranking member on the committee, quickly responded, calling the bills partisan and weak on border security and immigration enforcement.
When the House Appropriations Committee voted for its recommended FY ’23 DHS bill, no Republicans supported the measure, mainly due to the same concerns Senate Republicans have over the Biden administration’s approach to border security.
The proposed Senate bill provides $125 million in procurement funding for a commercial polar icebreaker, the same amount requested by the Coast Guard and agreed to by House appropriators.
Both the Senate and House proposals state concerns for full missionization costs of the commercial vessel, which then Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said would require another $125 million to $250 million in funding. Schultz retired on June 1.
Senate appropriators also want a detailed life-cycle cost estimate for the commercial icebreaker and how its capabilities would compare to the polar security cutter (PSC), which is the Coast Guard’s long-term solution for heavy polar icebreaking requirements.
In their proposal, House appropriators want the Coast Guard to also consider foreign-made commercial icebreakers. The Senate bill doesn’t mention the matter.
Under the recommendation of the Senate appropriators, which again is in line with the House appropriators, the PSC would receive $257.2 million, $90 million more than requested to obtain the remaining long-lead time materials funding for the third ship.
Halter Marine is the shipbuilder for the PSC, although the first vessel hasn’t started construction and is supposed to be delivered in spring 2025 and begin operations in 2027. The Coast Guard’s current plan is to acquire three PSCs.
The Coast Guard requested nearly $1.7 billion for procurement funding in FY ’23 and the Senate measure would provide just over $1.9 billion and House appropriators $2.3 billion. In addition to the PSC and commercial icebreaker, both measures fully fund the medium-endurance offshore patrol cutter (OPC) program at $650 million, which covers construction of the fourth ship and long-lead funding for the fifth vessel.
Eastern Shipbuilding Group (ESG) is building the first four OPCs and the Coast Guard recently awarded Austal USA a potential $3.3 billion contract for the next 11 vessels. ESG is protesting that award.
The Senate bill doesn’t mention the Coast Guard’s fast response cutter (FRC) program, for which House appropriators want to add more than $130 million to complete the purchase of two more vessels beyond the current program of record of 64 cutters. Bollinger Shipyards builds the FRCs.
Senate appropriators also recommend $9.7 billion for the Coast Guard’s operations and support account, $78.6 million above the request and $536.5 million more than funded in FY ’22. House appropriators recommend nearly $9.8 billion for the O&S account, which the Coast Guard is putting a priority on to sustain meet its commitments and tackle a huge backlog of infrastructure needs.