Murkowski: DHS Must “Step It Up” on Arctic Commitment

Senator: DHS Budget Doesn’t Reflect Arctic Priorities

Senator Lisa Murkowski today questioned Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson on his department’s commitment to the Arctic – saying the U.S. is “woefully behind” in Arctic investments.  In a Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the DHS budget request for Fiscal Year 2016, Senator Murkowski noted that only $4 million out of a total $41 billion requested was designated for “initial acquisition activities” for a new polar icebreaker.

Senator Murkowski began her questions, saying:

“We are woefully behind. Russia has 3 or 4 times more icebreakers than we have here in the United States. This is a question of funding priorities, but we need to figure out how to build this path forward – not just for one icebreaker but the six that have been recommended.  Funding is an issue, we all know that, but it’s also ensuring that it’s a priority. I noted in your comments, there’s no mention of what we need to do in the Arctic, short of permafrost thawing. I need to hear from you, what you believe we might be able to do to step it up to assume those responsibilities that we have in the Arctic.”

(Senator Murkowski questions DHS Secretary how he plans to expedite construction of a polar icebreaker—click image to watch video.)

Secretary Johnson responded to her statement, acknowledging the importance of our icebreaking capability as a nation, saying:

“I believe that we need to get to a new icebreaker. I also believe we need to carefully look at what can be done with the USCGC Polar Sea. I know the importance to commerce, and to straight maritime security, of an icebreaker…I’m interested in re-capitalizing and rebuilding the entire Coast Guard fleet, but I do recognize the importance of having the right number of icebreakers for our Coast Guard. I note the fact that China and Russia have been able to fund a number of icebreakers. I know the great value there is in having very large icebreakers to free up commerce and to basically save people, pull them out of the ice.”

Background: In June 2013, the Department of Homeland Security released a Mission Need Statement, indicating the Coast Guard will need to expand its icebreaking capability, and require a fleet of up to six icebreakers.   Senator Murkowski also successfully added a budget amendment to the 2016 budget prioritizing the need for polar icebreakers as a national asset.