December 12, 2023

Ranking Members Larsen, Carbajal Statements from Hearing on Coast Guard National Security Missions

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Rick Larsen (D-WA) and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Salud Carbajal (D-CA) during today’s hearing titled, “Guardians of the Sea: National Security Missions of the United States Coast Guard.”

Video of Larsen and Carbajal’s opening statements can be found here and here.

More information on the hearing can be found here.

Ranking Member Larsen:
I’d like to start by taking a moment to acknowledge the courage of the five women who testified this morning before the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations about their experiences with sexual assault and sexual harassment at the Coast Guard Academy.

It is incumbent on the Coast Guard and Congress to do everything we can to ensure cadets are not exposed to sexual assault or harassment at the academy. Just yesterday, my staff reviewed a prosecution memo that shed light on a lack of accountability at the Coast Guard. While we continue to conduct oversight and listen to survivors, I am prepared to do whatever is necessary to ensure a safer experience for every Coastie.

Many people are aware of the Coast Guard’s search and rescue mission, but I am glad that we are having today’s hearing to examine the Coast Guard’s lesser-known missions including efforts to support national security interests in the Indo-Pacific and Arctic regions.

Extreme weather events are affecting every aspect of Coast Guard operations from severe storms causing maritime casualties to coastal erosion at Coast Guard stations.

The Service is forced to confront climate change on a daily basis, and no place is changing more than the thawing Arctic.

The Arctic is experiencing increased cargo and passenger vessel traffic, increased vessel traffic from foreign governments including Russia and China and a growing interest in natural resources including minerals, oil, gas, and fish.

The Coast Guard is the lead agency tasked with maritime safety, law enforcement and national security in the Arctic but, with current resources, it cannot meet the demand. 

The Coast Guard operates one heavy and one medium icebreaker that are responsible for maintaining a regular presence in the Arctic and Antarctic.

The combined age of those two icebreakers is 72 years. Given the Service’s need to be present in both the Arctic and the Antarctic annually, more resources are required.

While the Coast Guard is under contract to build more heavy icebreakers, I have serious concerns about the procurement and look forward to hearing how the Service plans to ensure the smooth construction and delivery of those cutters.

During times of war, the Coast Guard can be transferred in whole or in part to the Navy. Though this has not happened since World War I, the Coast Guard has experienced significant growth in its international missions in support of the Department of Defense.

The Coast Guard’s operations in the Indo-Pacific illustrate this point. Three Fast Response Cutters are currently deployed to Guam in support of Indo-Pacific operations and the Service regularly deploys National Security Cutters to patrol the region.

The Coast Guard’s presence in the Indo-Pacific is invaluable. As a non-DoD Service, the Coast Guard can operate in unique ways and places. For instance, in June of this year, a Coast Guard cutter transited the Taiwan Strait in conjunction with trilateral exercises with the Philippines and Japan – an operation that garners far less attention than if conducted by the U.S. Navy.

The Coast Guard’s presence in the Arctic and the Indo-Pacific are just two examples of a broader trend of increased demand on the Service. Unfortunately, this growth has not come with an increase in the requisite resources, and we are seeing mission strain across the Coast Guard.

Just last month, we were alerted that the Coast Guard has a servicemember shortage of 10% and, as a result, is suspending or scaling back operations at dozens of stations across the country.

Coast Guard shoreside infrastructure faces a maintenance backlog of at least $3 billion. Several cutter procurement programs face delays including Polar Security Cutters, Offshore Patrol Cutters, and Waterways Commerce Cutters.

There are real consequences associated with insufficient funding.

While their motto is “Semper Paratus” or “always ready,” I fear that we are quickly reaching a point where the Coast Guard will only be “sometimes ready.” It is time for Congress to fully resource the Coast Guard.

Thank you, Chairman Webster, for holding today’s hearing and I look forward to hearing how Congress can do better to support the Coast Guard.

Ranking Member Carbajal:
Thank you, Chairman Webster, for another opportunity to dive deeper into Coast Guard missions.

Before we get started, I want to begin by acknowledging the bravery of the survivors who came forward to testify in the Senate about a culture of sexual assault, sexual harassment, cover-up, abuse, and retaliation in the Coast Guard this morning. I hope our witness and every leader in the Coast Guard was watching. Your stories were deeply impactful, and I’m committed to doing everything I can to ensure it doesn’t happen to another person.

The U.S. Coast Guard is vital to national security, but their role in protecting this nation is often forgotten.

With Coast Guard presence on all seven continents, their missions extend far beyond our shores. Coast Guard operations in areas like the Arctic and the Indo-Pacific directly supports U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives in these regions.

Their unique capabilities, mission sets, and longstanding partnerships allow the Coast Guard to be valuable in enhancing maritime governance, safety, and security throughout the world.

Cutters and crews regularly engage in professional exchanges and capacity building with partner nations to support a free and open Indo-Pacific. This comes at a time when tensions are high in areas like the South China Sea where maritime encounters between China and allied nations have increased.

A white-hulled cutter poses a less significant threat compared to a grey-hulled Navy vessel, giving the Coast Guard the ability to conduct international diplomacy.

As our climate continues to change, the Arctic is melting at an alarming rateopening up shipping lanes and leading to an increase in commercial traffic in areas once inaccessible.

The Coast Guard is tasked with maintaining maritime safety, search and rescue, emergency response, and law enforcement across this vast landscape, but is continually provided insufficient resources.

Icebreaking capabilities and presence in the Arctic and Antarctic are limited due to the dismal fleet of two operational Coast Guard icebreakers. Increased shipping in the Arctic will increase the need for a Coast Guard presence.

The Coast Guard’s budget is less than 2% of the Department of Defense’s budget comparatively. Yet, along with significant mission growth elsewhere, the Coast Guard is continually expected to increase its assistance to DOD.

I am increasingly concerned that the Coast Guard is not receiving the appropriate resources to effectively conduct their missions. I’m also concerned that the reimbursement that the Coast Guard receives from the DOD has not kept pace with actual costs.

As mentioned last hearing, the Coast Guard is facing one of the worst staffing shortages in their history.

With a shortage of more than 4,000 personnel, the Service will soon begin closing stations and laying up cutters. This poses a serious threat to fulfilling their missions and ensuring national security.

Without greater resources and improved recruitment, the Coast Guard will not be able to maintain their international presence and support DOD.

While I understand we will not be able to resolve that today, I expect this hearing to help provide a pathway forward and demonstrate the needs of the Service.