Murkowski Presses for Increased Coast Guard Assets in the Arctic

Senator Questions DHS Secretary on Icebreakers, National Security Cutters

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) questioned Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in an Appropriations Committee hearing on his department’s commitment to increase Coast Guard assets in the Arctic, given the rise in activity throughout the region. Due to the Coast Guard’s need for expanded presence in the Arctic, Murkowski also tasked Secretary Johnson to look critically at the benefits of homeporting a National Security Cutter in Alaska.

(Senator Murkowski questions Secretary Johnson on Coast Guard acquisition projects—click image to watch video.)

Senator Murkowski acknowledged the Administration’s commitment to the construction of a new Polar icebreaker, something she has advocated for years, while also pressing Secretary Johnson to ensure it doesn’t jeopardize the recapitalization of the rest of the Coast Guard’s aging fleet:

“You also know that I have been a staunch defender of the Coast Guard at all levels and making sure that they have the assets they need to do their job. And so I want assurances from you, Mr. Secretary, that we do have adequate funding in this year’s budget to ensure the President’s deadline of awarding construction of a new icebreaker by 2020, while at the same time we’re on track with keeping the National Security Cutter, Offshore Patrol Cutter, and Fast Response Cutter acquisition programs on time and on budget? Because what I would hate to see is for one of these programs to suffer at the expense of the other.”  

Secretary Johnson responded by assuring Murkowski that the icebreaker acquisition programs for the National Security Cutter, Offshore Patrol Cutter, and Fast Response Cutter are still on track, saying:

“The answer is yes—both with respect to the current year and the request for the next year. I’m very pleased that in our request there is $150 million for the design of a new icebreaker. As you know, because of the increasing commercialization of the Arctic and for national security reasons we need a second heavy icebreaker. We are still continuing with the recapitalization of the Fast Response Cutters (FRCs). In this budget request there’s a request for four. We’re moving forward with the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC). I expect that we will make the selection for the contractor sometime this year. For the OPC I believe there’s $100 million to continue with that program. As you know, this year we are tasked and given funding to build a ninth National Security Cutter. So all three of those programs continue and are moving forward, which is a good thing. We have the money for the icebreaker. Some people are concerned that we might be moving too fast, but we believe we can stay on track and we should stay on track with respect to the $150 million we have this year, so that we can begin production by 2020.”