The Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee today held a hearing on the challenges the U.S. Coast Guard faces maintaining its aging and increasingly unreliable vessels and aircraft, and how those challenges have impacted the Service's ability to meet mission performance goals. The Service's growing maintenance issues have been likened to a "death spiral."
"The Subcommittee is meeting this afternoon to review the challenges the Coast Guard faces maintaining its legacy assets and examine how those challenges impact the Service's mission performance. Findings by GAO and others over the years have accurately shown the rapid decline of legacy assets is causing the Coast Guard to fall short of its operational targets, forcing the Service to spend too much of its tight budget on maintenance, and undermining the success of its critical safety and security missions. This is a serious problem that has me deeply concerned.
"Rather than alleviate my concerns, the President's proposed fiscal year 2013 budget for the Coast Guard only makes the situation worse. The budget request would exacerbate the growing patrol boat mission hour gap by ending High-Tempo-High-Maintenance operations and retiring vessels before their replacements arrive. The budget request would also slash funding for critically needed replacement assets by $272 million or 19 percent below the current level.
"This would significantly delay the acquisition of the critically needed replacement assets, including fast response cutters, national security cutters, maritime patrol aircraft, and long range surveillance aircraft. It also proposes to put off important upgrades to the Jayhawk helicopter fleet and delay sustainment projects on buoy tenders. Fortunately, our colleagues on the Appropriations Committee have found the dollars to reverse these draconian cuts.
"However, the problem remains that as we are forced to pour more money into maintaining rapidly failing legacy assets, there is less available for replacement assets, and as we put off the acquisition of new assets, we only increase the strain on legacy assets. Admiral Allen used to call this the "death spiral.' While the Coast Guard has taken steps to improve the conditions of its legacy fleet and the efficiency of its maintenance command, more needs to be done.
"There are many questions that need to be answered as a result of GAO's latest study. The ballooning costs of scheduled and unscheduled maintenance are a major problem that needs to be addressed; so are the growing operational gaps in the legacy fleet. The Coast Guard continues to operate tens, and in some cases, hundreds of thousands of hours short of its operational targets. This means assets are not there for the Service to conduct drug and migrant interdiction, protect our environment, secure our ports, and ensure the safety of our waterways."