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Smaller FY 2015 budget stresses fleet modernization

Mar. 15, 2014 - 01:24PM   |  
Jeh Johnson Testifies At His Confirmation Hearing
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The Coast Guard hopes to continue its efforts to modernize the cutter fleet next year, even if that means reducing some mission funding to stay within budget.

The service is looking to cut its costs by about 4 percent, down to $9.8 billion, in fiscal 2015, according to the Homeland Security Department’s March 4 budget request.

“The basic missions of the Department of Homeland Security are, and should continue to be, preventing terrorism and enhancing security; securing and managing our borders; enforcing and administering our immigration laws; safeguarding cyberspace; safeguarding critical infrastructure; and strengthening national preparedness and resilience,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a news release. “The president’s FY 2015 budget request provides the resources necessary to further strengthen these efforts while also being agile and vigilant in the face of ever evolving threats and hazards.”

The service will allocate $83 million for pay, allowances, health care, civilian pay raises and civilian retirement contributions in 2015. Another $72 million will go to operations and maintenance of new shore facilities, ships and aircraft.

Upgrading the aging cutter fleet is at the top of the priority list, with $803 million set aside. In addition to maintaining existing ships, that money will go to:

■Acquisition funding for the eighth and final national security cutter.

■$110 million for the procurement of two new fast response cutters, to replace aging 110-foot patrol boats.

■$20 million for preliminary design review for the offshore patrol cutter, which will one day replace the 210- and 270-foot medium endurance cutters.

■Pre-acquisition activities for a third polar icebreaker.

On the aviation side, $68 million will go to maintaining the HC-144A Ocean Sentry, converting 14 C-27J Spartan aircraft recently acquired from the Air Force and maintaining the service’s fleet of HH-65 Dolphin helicopters.

The service plans to cut costs in other areas. The Coast Guard is asking for about $100 million for the Marine Oil Spill Program, down from last year’s $300 million. There’s also no money in the budget for overseas operations funding, down from $227 million in FY 14 and $240 million in 2013.

The biggest chunk will come from the acquisition, construction and improvements budget, which is $300 million lighter than last year.

A handful of operational reductions are also on the agenda. The Coast Guard will cut:

■$15 million through operational efficiencies, using “risk-based prioritization of patrols” and more efficient intelligence and communication technology.

■$1.4 million for vessel boarding and search teams.

■$4.9 million in flight hours.

■$2.2 million in fixed-wing readiness funding.

■$3.5 in aids to navigation.

During an interview for “This Week in Defense News with Vago Muradian” in October, Coast Guard commandant Adm. Bob Papp mentioned aids to navigation, such as buoys and sound signals, as a mission some have suggested the service should discontinue to save money.

“If you discontinue that program, Congress will take that portion of your budget, and somebody’s going to have to do it,” Papp said, explaining that the money could be used to pay federal contractors instead.

“I can’t drop any missions. The missions are statutory,” he said. “What I can do is reduce the level of effort in each one of those mission areas until someone tells me I don’t have to do a mission anymore.”

The service will save another $33 million by decommissioning two high endurance cutters, eight patrol boats and three HC-130H aircraft.

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