House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) set a no-nonsense tone when he opened up a hearing yesterday to review the Administration's budget requests for the U.S. Coast Guard, the Federal Maritime Commission, and the Maritime Administration:
"This Congress must make extremely difficult decisions in the coming months to bring our spending under control and cut the deficit," he noted. ""The effort continues today with the presentation of the fiscal year 2012 budget request.
Looking at the $9.85 billion requested for the Coast Guard in FY 2012, Chairman LoBiondo commended the service for uncovering some savings through efficiencies in operations and the consolidation of services, but wanted to know "if more operational savings can be found that will not adversely impact safety, security, and mission success."
He was also concerned that the Coast Guard "continues to push off investments in the acquisition of assets. The five year Capital Improvement Plan proposes a fantastic 66 percent increase in funding over the next three fiscal years. The service needs to stop burying its head in the sand and propose a fiscally sustainable long term capital acquisition plan."
"I would point out we should have had at least a partial solution to this years ago, but the Service and the Department continue to refuse to provide this Subcommittee with the fleet mix analysis," he said. "I remind the Service that the Subcommittee requested the analysis over 13 months ago. I urge the Service, in the strongest possible terms, to satisfy our request for this document in short order.
"Second, the Service continues to lack the polar missions plan long sought by Congress. To add insult to injury, the Service intends to spend millions of unbudgeted dollars to refurbish the POLAR SEA's engine and then decommission the icebreaker. This is a classic example of throwing good money after bad.
"The budget request for the Maritime Administration represents a 1.4 percent reduction below the current level. Most of the cuts come from zeroing out funding for grants and other programs which are meant to revitalize the maritime sector and protect U.S. mariner jobs.
"At the same time, the budget proposes to increase funding for operations and administration at the agency. While I appreciate the difficult choices the Administrator made in developing this budget, I am concerned these programs are being cut while operating expenses continue to grow.
"I am also concerned with the tremendous amount of time it takes the Administration to process applications for Title XI loans. This is even more concerning given the fact the budget proposes to rescind $54 million in unobligated Title XI loan guarantees when they have nearly $100 million worth of applications still to process. If all the applications were approved it would provide $1.5 billion to U.S. shipyards and create thousands of new jobs.
"Finally, the budget request for the Federal Maritime Commission proposes a 3 percent increase over current levels. Although a 3 percent increase in the FMC budget amounts to less than $1 million, I think it sends the wrong signal in the current fiscal environment.
"The Commission needs to take a much closer look at their operations and try to develop savings through consolidation of services and more efficient operations."
March 2, 2011