March 30, 2005

Senators slam revised Deepwater plan

Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) are dissatisfied with a report released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on its Revised Deepwater Implementation Plan.

DHS was required to present a revised implementation plan for the U.S. Coast Guard modernization program at the same time that the Administration submitted to Congress its fiscal year 2006 budget request last month.

"This report is inadequate," said Senators Collins and Lieberman in a joint statement. "The DHS report only provides a five year capital investment plan, rather than a plan for the completion of the Deepwater program as required. The report also falls short of providing a clear annual budget forecast, which prevents a true evaluation of the Department's intent and commitment to completing the program."

"In addition, the DHS report not only fails to accelerate the Deepwater program, it actually extends the estimate for completion by up to another five years," added the Senators.

"Unfortunately, this report doesn't even seem to take into account the Coast Guard's recent priorities list provided to Congress, which stated that the service needed $700 million more in FY06 for the Deepwater program and legacy asset sustainment, so it could meet its ever increasing responsibilities. We have said repeatedly that the nation's security cannot afford a slowing of the implementation of Deepwater. Such a move would not be wise from a national security, crew safety, or government spending perspective. The daily demands on operational Coast Guard assets are unrelenting in the post 9/11 environment. That unyielding pace is taking a serious toll on aging ships and aircraft, resulting in a surge in maintenance costs, at the expense of modernizing the fleet to meet today's national security, search and rescue, and other traditional needs."

Given a 25-percent increase in the Coast Guard's responsibilities since the 9/11 terror attacks and the aging condition of many of the Guard's cutters and aircraft, the Senators have expressed deep concern about the readiness of the fleet. Senators Collins and Lieberman sent a letter earlier this month to Office of Management and Budget Director Joshua Bolten, asking that he consider an accelerated 10-year schedule, arguing that "the nation simply cannot afford to wait until 2024 or later for the Coast Guard to employ more effective and reliable assets to achieve more effective homeland security."

"The DHS plan appears to propose continued spending on legacy assets at the expense of new assets," said Senators Collins and Lieberman, pointing out that the report maintains eleven 1960's vintage 378-foot cutters in 2010, compared to the old plan which only maintained five of these old cutters by the same year.

A RAND Corporation evaluation of the Deepwater program called for accelerating the program to 10 or 15 years. A Center for Naval Analysis (CNA) evaluation recommended more Deepwater assets than the level reflected in the DHS report just to meet the non-homeland security missions required before 9/11, and noted that the current Deepwater program was insufficient to meet current and emerging requirements.

Senators Collins and Lieberman have asked for a full briefing by DHS and the Coast Guard about the new implementation plan. The Senators may also consider requesting an evaluation of the new DHS Deepwater plan by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

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