Commerce Committee Passes Cantwell's Coast Guard Authorization Bill

Contains Cantwell Provisions to Aggressively Overhaul Coast Guard's Acquisitions Program to Save Taxpayer Dollars

WASHINGTON, DC – On Wednesday, the U.S. Commerce Committee passed legislation authored by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), chair of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard.  This Coast Guard Authorization Bill authorizes the Coast Guard’s funding levels for fiscal years 2010 and 2011 and includes new authority for the Coast Guard to work with international maritime authorities and organizations.  It also includes provisions written by Cantwell to overhaul the Coast Guard’s acquisitions program to save taxpayers’ dollars. The Committee also included a Cantwell amendment which added numerous visions from her  Oil Pollution Prevention and Response Act of 2009, designed to add further protections against oil spills for our nation’s waterways.  The bipartisan bill is cosponsored by Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME).


“Day in and day out the Coast Guard performs critical functions from drug interdiction to saving lives, but what often goes unrecognized is the importance of the every-day work the Coast Guard does to keep our nation’s maritime economy running,” said Cantwell.  “The Ports of Seattle and Tacoma combined are responsible for over $75 billion in total trade and create more than 300,000 jobs.  The economic stakes of the Coast Guard successfully fulfilling its missions are huge.” 


This bill includes provisions based on Cantwell’s Deepwater reform bill, which she introduced during the last Congressional session, to make fundamental changes to the Coast Guard’s acquisition program.   It requires the Coast Guard to abandon the industry-led Lead Systems Integrator and create a process similar to the Department of Defense.  


“As a nation, we also rely on the Coast Guard to be a responsible steward of our taxpayer dollars,” Cantwell continued.  “The Coast Guard’s Deepwater program has been a stern lesson in the waste that can happen when the government abandons time-tested principles of accountability and thorough oversight.  This legislation will, if enacted reform the Coast Guard’s acquisition program, and provide the men and women of the Coast Guard with the legislative backing they need and deserve.”


Some of the bill’s provisions include:


New Coast Guard Authorities:  Given the large amount of international work done by the Coast Guard, this bill provides the Coast Guard greater authority to support and work with international maritime authorities and organizations.  This will help the Coast Guard get better access to global safety and security information on foreign vessels.  It will also allow the Coast Guard to work more cooperatively with other nations on law enforcement and maritime safety.


Coast Guard Organization:  This bill allows the Coast Guard to rework its command structure and increase its alignment with other armed forces.  This altered command structure is a next-step in the Coast Guard’s ongoing reorganization and modernization based on the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina and other recent disasters.


Coast Guard Personnel:  This bill makes several changes to better-support the men and women who serve their country in the U.S. Coast Guard.  It gives greater flexibility for service-members to retain leave in cases of major disasters and other emergencies, provides legal assistance for service-members, allows greater reimbursement for medical-related expenses, and allows Coast Guard service-members to participate in the Armed Forces Retirement Home system.


Acquisitions Reform:  Includes updated language from Cantwell’s Deepwater reform bill to make it stronger, more comprehensive, and apply to all Coast Guard acquisitions.  This language will outlaw use of a private lead systems integrator and create a fleshed-out acquisition process in statute similar to the Department of Defense.


Polar Icebreakers:  This bill’s icebreaker provision directs the Coast Guard to conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis of recapitalizing the Coast Guard’s polar icebreaker fleet.  The analysis will consider the costs and benefits of building new vessels versus rebuilding the existing vessels.