Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft testified on the military branch’s Fiscal Year 2019 Budget before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, Wednesday, March 14, 2018.
Zukunft led his testimony by thanking the congress for its support and highlighting the incredible and unprecedented efforts of Coast Guard men and women responding to the 2017 devastating hurricane season. Over a five-week period, hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate impacted over 2,450 miles of shoreline, and Coast Guard men and women in helicopters, boats, cutters, vehicles and on foot rescued nearly 12,000 people.
“This was an all hands on deck campaign – but it came at a cost,” said Zukunft. “I thank you and this congress for the $835 million to address Coast Guard response costs and rebuild damaged infrastructure to modern standards.”
Zukunft then highlighted the Coast Guard’s ongoing efforts to combat dangerous transnational organized crime networks as part of the service’s Western Hemisphere Strategy, which strives to disrupt and dismantle vast criminal networks in North and South America.
Coast Guard counterdrug operations resulted in the seizure of a record 223 metric tons of cocaine in Fiscal Year 2017 and the transfer of over 600 suspected drug smugglers to the U.S. for prosecution, where the conviction rate averages 97 percent.
“Last year, our campaign to protect the U.S. border far out at sea netted $7.2 billion worth of cocaine – before it could reach our shores,” said Zukunft.
Zukunft called the service’s newest and most capable asset, the National Security Cutter, “a game changer” in the fight against transnational organized crime. He also highlighted the Coast Guard’s contributions as an armed force to U.S. combatant commanders on all seven continents. He expressed the need to re-capitalize the Coast Guard’s Medium Endurance Cutter fleet with the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) to more effectively enforce federal laws, secure our maritime borders, disrupt TCOs, and respond to 21st century threats.
“In Fiscal Year 2019, we appreciate continued support for our future major cutter fleet, highlighted by funding for the construction of the second Offshore Patrol Cutter and four Fast Response Cutters,” said Zukunft. “In concert with the extended range and capability of the NSC and the enhanced coastal patrol capability of the Fast Response Cutter (FRC), OPCs will be the backbone of the Coast Guard’s strategy to project and maintain offshore presence.”
The service chief reinforced the Coast Guard’s role in the Arctic and Antarctic.
“Given our important work in the high latitudes, coupled with an increasingly assertive Russia and China, I am very pleased the president’s budget includes $750 million for the polar icebreaker program as well,” said Zukunft.
He outlined how $150 million previously appropriated along with $750 million requested by the administration in Fiscal Year 2019, will provide the means to begin to construct a fleet of polar icebreakers.
“We are as close as we have been in over 40 years to recapitalizing our nation’s polar icebreaker fleet, and we must keep this momentum going,” said Zukunft.
The commandant discussed the importance of ensuring that we continue to maintain operations and to build tomorrows Coast Guard.
“Going forward, we require 5 percent annualized growth in our operations and maintenance account and a minimum of $2 billion in our acquisition account,” said Zukunft.
Stressing the return on investment, Zukunft remarked that the Coast Guard earned its fifth consecutive clean financial audit opinion – the only Armed service that can make such a claim.
“I have been honored to work alongside you these past four years,” said the commandant. “The more predictable the resource allocation process – the more ready our Coast Guard becomes. We’re on the right track.”