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Marine Log

March 9, 2007

Cummings calls for accountability for Deepwater

At a March 8 hearing on the FY 2008 Coast Guard budget, Rep. Elijah Cummings, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, expressed concern that the budget proposal was inadequate for the Coast Guard to successfully fulfill its mission. But he also called for accountability for the troubled Deepwater program.

Opening the hearing, Chairman Cummings noted that nearly $5.9 billion was requested to fund Coast Guard's operations--an increase of $416 million over the FY 2007 enacted level of just under $5.5 billion. Of the $998 million total request for the Coast Guard's capital budget, $837 million was for Deepwater-- a decrease of approximately $250 million below the amount appropriated for Deepwater in FY 2007.

"While I am concerned that $837 million may not be adequate funding for Deepwater," said Cummings, "we have just begun our oversight of this program and before I advocate for an increase in funding, I want to know in detail the steps that the Coast Guard is taking to correct Deepwater and I want evidence that the steps are producing the results that we expect."

At the same time, he continued, the committee is "concerned that insufficient capital funding is being directed toward the maintenance of on-shore facilities. The President's budget requests only $35 million for this purpose --which appears to be far below the amount required to meet the maintenance needs of existing infrastructure."

The committee, he said, supports the appropriation of $360 million for non-Deepwater capital expenditures -- the level of funding appropriated in FY 2005.

"I am also very concerned about the funding levels for some of the Coast Guard's historical programs," said Cummings. "Proposed funding levels for search and rescue, marine safety, aids-to-navigation, icebreaking, and the protection of living resources are all lower than amounts that were appropriated for these purposes in FY 2007. I have heard concerns from throughout the maritime industry and labor organizations about the Coast Guard's lack of support for traditional maritime safety programs. Some have even advocated transferring this mission back to the Department of Transportation where they believe it will receive better support."

Returning to the topic of Deepwater, Cummings noted that since the panel's last hearing on the program, the DHS Inspector General had issued a new report on the 123-foot patrol boats.

"The DHS IG has found that aside from the hull problems, the contractors failed to meet the requirements of the Deepwater contract by failing to install low-smoke cabling and failing to install topside equipment that would have been operable in all of the weather conditions the patrol boats were expected to face," noted Cummings..

He called the IG's findings "particularly disturbing because they identify specific instances in which the contractor failed to meet the requirements of the Deepwater contract--and they identify failures that were apparently not immediately recognized by the Coast Guard. Further, the use of non low-smoke cabling could have needlessly exposed the crews on these boats to safety risks, including excessive toxic smoke in the event of an on-board fire."

Cummings said "such instances of shoddy performance ... are completely unacceptable--and let me say to everyone here that I hope these are the last instances we hear about in the Deepwater contract."