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Coast Guard Budget Crunch Could Affect Acquisition Work Force
Even in the best of times, the Coast Guard was starved for resources. Now, with a federal budget crisis looming, the service may be at risk of losing the acquisition work force it has slowly built up during the past few years.

Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., commandant of the Coast Guard, told the House subcommittee on border and maritime security June 14 that consistent funding is necessary to maintain the branch’s mission tempo as well as the human resources needed to manage its aircraft and ship programs.

“We can’t afford to lose any more acquisition people,” Papp said. “I’m confident we are where we need to be in terms of makeup and the structure and the number of people we have for our acquisition program right now.”

Much of the hiring of acquisition professionals in recent years was prompted by the Coast Guard's need to bring in-house the management of the Integrated Deepwater System, which previously had been overseen by contractors. The program seeks to modernize the Coast Guard's aging aircraft, ships and small boats. It was restructured in 2007 in the wake of major cost overruns. The service at the time did not have the personnel on hand to oversee such a complex system, federal watchdogs concluded. In a tight job market, where acquisition and contracting experts were in short supply, the service was forced to go out and hire a cadre of technocrats to take control of the program. Now, funding uncertainties could hurt the Coast Guard’s human resource gains, he said.  

“What we need is steady funding coming in for those projects so that we can keep those people employed,” Papp testified.

Committee members asked Papp if he had enough funding to carry out the post-9/11 homeland security mission.

“We have loaded up the Coast Guard with additional responsibility and asked them specifically to focus resources on port and maritime security,” subcommittee chairman Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., said. “In fact, the number of hours spent on ports, waterways and coastal security has increased by more than 900 percent since 9/11.” The service may need to reduce the number and range of missions it carries out until it is properly resourced, said Miller, who referenced statements Papp had made earlier this year.

Under current funding levels, the Coast Guard cannot carry out 100 percent of its missions 100 percent of the time, Papp said.

One of his biggest concerns is an aging fleet of cutters that has reached “block obsolescence,” Papp said. The average life of a Navy ship is 14 years, whereas the average life for a Coast Guard ship is 40 years. The 378 –foot high endurance cutters operating now were built in the 1960s and early 1970s and are “trying to get the job done.” They were designed for about 25 years of use, but some are approaching almost 50 years of service. The eight new national security cutters, which are part of the Deepwater program, can’t come soon enough, Papp said.

The first two national security cutters are operational, and the third will be delivered this year, Papp said. A contract has been awarded for the fourth cutter and the fifth has been funded.

“We must expedite the funding of the remaining three national security cutters for a minimum of eight total,” Papp said.

The Coast Guard needs a predictable funding stream to acquire the ships, he said. Building a large ship takes about three years from the time money is authorized. If funding is inconsistent, costs go up. It also makes it harder to keep acquisition workers on the payroll, he said.

— Reporting by David C. Ake


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