Chairman Rockefeller Remarks on Today's U.S. Coast Guard Budget and Oversight Hearing

June 23, 2011

Chairman Rockefeller asks Sec. Locke questions about strengthening manufacturing in America.WASHINGTON, D.C—Good morning.  As one of our nation’s primary first responders, the Coast Guard is vital to our national security, economic security, public safety, and environment.

 When I turn on the television or read the paper, I often see the courageous acts of our Coast Guard men and women.  Just last year they: saved more than 4,300 lives, seized more than 90 metric tons of cocaine bound for our streets, and interdicted more than 2,000 undocumented migrants on the high seas attempting to illegally cross our borders, in addition to countless other acts protecting and defending our homeland.  They did all of this last year, while leading the federal response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, one of the worst environmental disasters in our nation’s history. 

 Following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the Coast Guard was the first on the scene, immediately provided rescue and relief, and again reinforced its motto of Semper Paratus, or “Always Ready.”  These are truly remarkable accomplishments that underscore responsiveness, flexibility, and professionalism—all cornerstones of the U.S. Coast Guard.   

 As a nation, we depend on the Coast Guard to keep us safe and secure, but their ability to do that rests on their access to resources and other support necessary to perform their missions.  They can’t do things like respond to the biggest oil spill in U.S. history and a massive earthquake in Haiti, conduct search and rescue operations, and countless other things all on a shoestring budget.

 I am concerned that the Coast Guard does not have the necessary funding to do everything we expect them to do.  An aging fleet of ships and aircraft need to be replaced, numerous shore units, including boat houses, are crumbling and the Coast Guard does not have the money to fix it.  I share Chairman Begich’s concerns that the Coast Guard’s limited resources are affecting its operations in our polar regions, which are vital to our national security and its traditional search and rescue operations.

 I am concerned that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is under this Subcommittee’s jurisdiction, is also underfunded and unable to fulfill its obligations to monitor our polar regions, especially weather.  This will not only affect Alaska, but every community in our country because we all depend on accurate weather data.  The potential reorganization of the Department of Commerce has me deeply concerned that an agency as critical as NOAA will get lost in the shuffle and be placed in another department where it must compete for limited resources.  Further, it will affect its ability to fulfill its vital mission.  

 The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010, enacted this past October, provided the Coast Guard the essential tools to successfully carry out its missions by improving its organizational flexibility, updating its command structure, and reforming its acquisition practices.  I am proud of this legislation, and I look forward to working across the aisle and sponsoring another Coast Guard authorization bill that will give the Coast Guard the crucial resources it needs to carry out its missions successfully. 

 Today, we welcome Admiral Robert Papp, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.  Thank you for your exceptional leadership in these challenging times.