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Gibbs Statement from Hearing on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Program Budgets

Opening remarks, as prepared, of Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Ranking Member Bob Gibbs (R-OH) from today’s hearing entitled, “Review of Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Request for the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Programs”:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to our witnesses for being here today.

First, congratulations to Commandant Admiral Schultz as he completes his long service to the Nation in the next month.  He has done much to repair the damage done to the Service’s budget by the Budget Control Act and has begun what will be a long road to upgrading the Coast Guard’s digital capabilities to those needed by a 21st century law enforcement, marine safety, and environmental stewardship service.  I’m sure I speak for all my Subcommittee colleagues in wishing you well as you leave the Coast Guard in which you have served for more than 40 years. 

While we do celebrate your service to the Coast Guard, I have to mention the issues the Guard must address in your absence.  Since you appeared before the Subcommittee last July, nothing seems to have happened with respect to completing the regulations implementing the recommendations of the Atlantic Coast Port Route Study.  I look forward to hearing whether we are in any danger of seeing those regulations made final in the near future, or will the Coast Guard continue to defer to the Interior Department.  I continue to believe the Coast Guard should take its role as the primary federal agency responsible for maritime navigation safety seriously, rather than act as an adjunct permit reviewer for DOI.

I was heartened to see the FY23 increase in the request for the Coast Guard’s Operating and Support Account, but, as always, I’m extremely disappointed in the perennial reduction in the Procurement, Construction, and Improvement account.  The account falls from an appropriated level of more than $2 billion in FY22 and a House-passed authorized level of $3.4 billion in FY23 to a requested appropriations level of $1.6 billion in FY23. 

That level of funding will not even allow the Coast Guard to hold steady on the billions of dollars of shoreside construction and maintenance needs, prevent the Service from falling farther behind on its IT infrastructure, and allow progress in the Service’s far-behind-schedule cutter acquisition program. 

I urge the Commandant to ensure his legacy by telling us that he supports the acquisition of a twelfth National Security Cutter before that production line grows cold and that opportunity is lost. 

I will work to see that Congress steps in yet again to reverse the budget request’s harmful impact on the Coast Guard acquisition budget and, in turn, protect the Service’s future mission capabilities.  Like last year, I noticed no funds are requested for a new Great Lakes icebreaker.  I will work with my Great Lakes colleagues to correct that oversight.  I am also very interested in whether a common hull design could be used for a Great Lakes icebreaker and the notional Arctic Security Cutter, if the Coast Guard remains committed to a two-size polar icebreaker program. 

A provision included H.R. 6865 sets minimum standards for Alternative Oil Spill Response Planning Criteria in Western Alaska.  The section provides new authority that only applies if the Coast Guard determines that National Planning Criteria don’t apply in Western Alaska.  The Coast Guard has refused to set such criteria, thus leaving it to Congress to do the job.  I regret the Coast Guard has had difficulty understanding the plain language of this section, and I look forward to continuing to work with the Service on this issue.

An unprecedented surge of imported cargo is pressure testing the U.S. supply chain.  Both the House and the Senate have passed ocean shipping reform measures at the behest of beleaguered importers and exporters who are finding their products delayed in reaching their destinations.  Thus far, as I understand it, the Federal Maritime Commission has found no collusion, or illegal anti-competitive manipulation of vessels and equipment.  However, I look forward to hearing from our former colleague and now Federal Maritime Commission Chairman Dan Maffei to describe what resources the Commission needs to ensure that a robust, effective, ongoing ocean shipping regulatory program is maintained.  

I’m pleased again to see Lucinda Lessley back today as the Acting Maritime Administrator.  I look forward to hearing today what actions the Maritime Administration is taking to tighten down cargo preference regulations and ensure that all federal agencies abide by these important mandatory set-asides of cargo for carriage on U.S.-flag vessels.  I am also interested to hear if MARAD has received availability determination requests in regard to the increased rate of discharge from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.    

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