S. 733. A bill to authorize appropriations for fiscal year 2004 for the United States Coast Guard, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I rise today to discuss the merits of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2003. This bill authorizes appropriations for fiscal year 2004 for the Coast Guard and will be introduced by my subcommittee chairman Senator SNOWE today. I thank Senator SNOWE for her work on this legislation and her willingness to work with me and others on the Commerce Committee to improve it.
The events of September 11 resulted in a new mandate for the Coast Guard as port security and homeland defense missions rose to the forefront of its responsibilities. Homeland Security officials realized that our ports and sddcoastlines were vulnerable to terrorist attacks and quickly charged the Coast Guard with additional missions to help protect the homeland.
Though I have no doubt that the Coast Guard will continue to play a valuable role in our domestic security, as it should, I have voiced my concern over the past year that traditional missions have suffered as a result of these new security responsibilities. Fishery patrols, drug and illegal immigrant interdiction and Marine resources protection have in large measure fallen by the wayside since September 11. We simply cannot allow this to happen. We should provide the Coast Guard sufficient funding to meet its new and traditional missions.
In light of this, I am pleased that the bill increases the Coast Guard's budget by 10 percent, to $6.8 billion. This reflects a $500 million increase over last year's budget and is virtually identical to what the President has requested. Of this amount, roughly $4.7 billion is earmarked for operating expenses, an increase of $400 million over fiscal year 2003. The bill also authorizes $775 million for acquisition, construction and improvements, a $33 million increase over fiscal year 2003.
Although I support these budget numbers, I have not co-sponsored the bill because it does not include an authorization for the costs the Coast Guard will incur complying with the Maritime Transportation Security Act we passed last year. We know that the Coast Guard will require addition funds to oversee and coordinate the port security upgrades mandated by the law, and I feel strongly that a port security provision needs to be added to the bill before it passes the Senate. Considering that we are waging a war on terror, port security should be part of any Coast Guard reauthorization bill. Senator SNOWE has agreed to work with me to draft additional language which would provide the Coast Guard with adequate funding. I look forward to drafting a comprehensive provision with my colleague to help the Coast Guard improve port security.
The Coast Guard has unique missions not covered by any other Federal agency. It is the only U.S. military service with domestic law enforcement authority, and it has taken on many new homeland security missions since September 11. As such, I am pleased that the bill authorizes an active duty personnel level of 45,500. I've consistently supported raising personnel levels because the agency is charged with patrolling 95,000 miles of coastline, enforcing fish and marine conservation laws, conducting search-and-rescue missions, drug and illegal immigrant interdiction, along with its new homeland security missions.
This is an awesome responsibility for an agency that is smaller than the New York City Police Department. Ultimately, as the Coast Guard becomes more integrated into the Department of Homeland Security, we may need to authorize higher personnel levels to ensure that the agency can adequately meet all its missions.
I am also pleased that the bill includes a provision increasing funding levels for the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. For the past 3 years, emergency fund expenditures have exceeded the $50 million annual appropriation, reaching a projected high of over $100 million this fiscal year. The fund has relied on carryovers from prior year balances to augment the annual appropriation and meet the increased need. This provision would increase the amount of the annual appropriation from $50 million to $150 million, thus reducing reliance on carryovers from prior year balances to augment the annual appropriation and meet the increased need.
I will also be working with my colleagues to include several other important provisions in this legislation as we move forward. For example, because the Coast Guard is still below pre-9/11 levels for fisheries enforcement, I will be seeking a provision that will require the Coast Guard to better coordinate its fisheries enforcement efforts with other Federal agencies, such as NOAA, and relevant State and local agencies. Also, some measures ought to be taken to extend certain provisions of the Oil Pollution Act to vessels that, due to their size, still pose a significant risk to our environment in the event of an oil spill.
Lastly, I would like to acknowledge the inclusion of a $25 million authorization for the Loran-C radio navigation system, which is used by fishermen and general aviation pilots as well as the Coast Guard. The Loran system is very reliable, and I feel strongly that we should continue to fund it as a secondary navigation system to the Global Positioning System.
Although GPS is certainly the most sophisticated and modern tracking system now in operation, it is imperative that we retain an alternative navigation system and not simply throw all of our eggs in one basket. GPS signals can be jammed and are subject to interference. The Loran-C provision has been in past Coast Guard reauthorization bills and was fully appropriated by the Congress for fiscal year 2003. It is important that we continue to support this system.
I support the provisions in this bill and I look forward to improving it as it moves through the legislative process.