The House committee authorizing Coast Guard activities approved a measure that would guarantee the service’s active duty and civilian personnel are paid in the event of a federal government shutdown, as part of a two-year spending authorization bill.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee included the Coast Guard pay amendment in its markup of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2019, which received broad support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. The House version authorizes Coast Guard spending through Fiscal Year 2021.
“The federal government may have been partially shut down earlier this year, but the brave men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard were still 100-percent on the job—in the dead of winter no less—carrying out life-saving rescues, interdicting drugs at sea, and doing whatever was necessary to keep our coastal communities safe,” Rep. Peter DeFazio, (D-Ore.) said during the hearing.
“It’s absolutely outrageous that our country held their paychecks hostage due to a partisan fight in the nation’s capital that had nothing to do with the Coast Guard or its missions. I want to make sure this hostage-taking never happens again, and that our country properly honors the members of the Coast Guard who prove each and every day just how critical they are to the safety and well-being of our nation.”
In December, several federal government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security which oversees the Coast Guard, were shuttered for 35 days until Congress and the White House agreed to a FY 2019 funding bill. During the shutdown, about 41,000 active duty Coast Guard members, 6,000 reservists and 8,500 civilian employees were not paid. The Department of Defense spending bill passed before the fiscal year started and therefore DoD employees were not affected.
The authorization bill also includes language suggesting the Coast Guard consider revamping its Great Lakes icebreaking fleet, including an authorization to spend $10 million on design work for new icebreakers.
“The reliability [of Coast Guard icebreaking] was abysmal last year,” James Weakley, president of the Lake Carriers Association, said last week during a hearing before House Transportation subcommittee on the Coast Guard and maritime transportation. “Five of the nine icebreakers [assigned to the Great Lakes] were inoperable.”
The language recommends the Coast Guard consider buying more icebreakers that are similar to the USCGC Mackinaw (WLBB-30), the service’s only heavy icebreaker on the Great Lakes.
“The Coast Guard Authorization Act helps provide the service with resources to improve its fleet of assets, stem the flow of illegal drugs and migrants into the country, protect our maritime borders, and promote maritime safety,” said Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.). “This is a good bill that also puts the men and women of the Coast Guard on a level with members of our other armed services.”