November 16, 2021

Chair Carbajal Statement from Hearing on the U.S. Coast Guard’s Shoreside Infrastructure Backlog

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Salud Carbajal (D-CA) during today’s hearing titled, “Rebuilding Coast Guard Infrastructure to Sustain and Enhance Mission Capability.”

More information on the hearing can be found here.

Chair Carbajal:

Good morning, and welcome to today’s Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation subcommittee hearing on “Rebuilding Coast Guard Infrastructure to Sustain and Enhance Mission Capability.”  We will hear from the Coast Guard Deputy Commandant for Mission Support, Vice Admiral Paul Thomas, and the GAO’s Acting Director of Homeland Security and Justice, Ms. Heather MacLeod. With infrastructure in national focus, today’s hearing will highlight the need to invest in Coast Guard infrastructure, including $429 million in the recently enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and $650 million for shoreside infrastructure in the Build Back Better Act, which is currently under consideration.

As a sea service often stationed in remote locations and subject to extreme weather conditions, the Coast Guard is and always will be on the front line. And as an agency whose roots date back to our nation’s founding, including the U.S. Lighthouse and Lifesaving Services, its shoreside facilities are steeped with maritime history that define our early nation. With this comes a key challenge: aging infrastructure. Under constant attack by wind, waves, rain, sea-level rise, flooding, and storms, many of the Service’s facilities are in critical condition.

In 2019, GAO found that 45% of the Coast Guard’s shore infrastructure assets were beyond their 65-year service life. The Service is operating with a nearly $3 billion facility maintenance, repair, and recapitalization backlog. For reference, the Service estimates its shore facility inventory at $21 billion.

On average, 10 to 15 projects are added to the backlog per year amounting to approximately $300 to $450 million. It is imperative that Congress stop the annual growth of the backlog to sustain operations.

Not only does this impact the quality of mission-supporting facilities, but it threatens the health and safety of our servicemembers should critical failures occur at their housing and childcare facilities or duty stations. Further, outdated facilities could be a demoralizing force over time, leading to lower workforce recruitment and retention.

The Service reversed its position on the GAO’s 2019 recommendation to employ asset line models for predicting the outcome of investments, analyzing trade-offs, and optimizing decisions among competing investments. I am eager to understand why and hear the Coast Guard’s plan to address this information gap.

The Service’s data and IT infrastructure are similarly aging and in need of investment. While the Service has prioritized what it calls a “Tech Revolution,” its tech and data systems remain far behind the curve. The Service has been operating on 1990s-era hardware and software, which, according to Commandant Schultz, is at the “brink of catastrophic failure” and could affect communications between cutters and shoreside units. The Coast Guard currently operates with a $300 million annual IT shortfall. In March 2021, the Service released its first Data Strategy, and in May 2021, its first Cloud Strategy. I look forward to hearing updates on these strategies and any progress on the “Tech Revolution.”

I’m eager to hear how the Coast Guard prioritizes investments in its shoreside facilities, IT network, and data systems across the Service. Congress just passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which included $429 million for Coast Guard infrastructure. I commend Chair DeFazio’s work on this historic legislation, which provides vital investment in the country’s infrastructure. Aging, failing, and condemned infrastructure presents an operational and mission critical challenge, but this is also a great opportunity to invest in the Coast Guard to ensure it is resilient against more frequent and severe climate change hazards in the future.

I look forward to a productive conversation on shoring up the Coast Guard’s aging infrastructure.