Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA)
Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation
“Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America: Coast Guard Stakeholders’ Perspectives and Jones Act Fleet Capabilities”
October 3, 2017
(Remarks as Prepared)
The Subcommittee is meeting today to discuss Coast Guard personnel and shore-side infrastructure and ongoing relief efforts for Puerto Rico by U.S.-flag vessels.
The Coast Guard is the smallest of the Armed Forces with 41,000 active duty and 6,400 reserve military personnel. It is also the only Service outside of the Department of Defense and has not been included in defense budget protections or increases. In fact, the Coast Guard has seen budget reductions requiring the elimination of over 1,500 positions between fiscal years 2013 and 2015. The Commandant has publicly stated he would like to grow the Coast Guard’s active duty workforce by 5,000 people over the next five years. Members, I believe of this Subcommittee, would support the Commandant’s request if sufficient detail were provided to the Committee regarding the requirements for such growth and information on current operational missions which are undermanned.
Limited budgets have also impacted the Coast Guard’s ability to maintain its shore-side infrastructure. Shore-side infrastructure supports Coast Guard assets and provides housing for some of its personnel. Shore-side infrastructure needs have been pushed off due to budget trade-offs, but these needs cannot be ignored over the long-term without having an impact on the infrastructure’s ability to support incoming new assets and on the personnel that have to live in degrading facilities.
Over the past month, the Coast Guard has shown its mettle during Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. The hurricanes impacted Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Prior to, during, and after the hurricanes, the Coast Guard has been an integral component in the support provided by the federal government. I want to thank the Coast Guard for its efforts to help everyone affected by these recent storms.
As a multi-mission Service, the Coast Guard provides personnel, aircraft, and cutters, as well as equipment to surge first responders, conducts Search and Rescue operations, provides humanitarian relief supplies, and conducts maritime and shore-side security. The Coast Guard proactively shut down ports and worked with its federal partners to open them as quickly as possible after the hurricanes.
The Coast Guard’s initial cost estimates for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma is $33.5 million for operational costs. Direct cost estimates for hurricane-related destruction of property is roughly $198.4 million for Hurricane Irma and $119.9 million for Hurricane Harvey. Indirect cost estimates for the two hurricanes is $337 million. Hurricane Maria cost estimates have not been provided.
Hurricane Maria was a category 5 hurricane when it hit the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Massive relief efforts were immediate and included over 7,000 emergency response personnel from various Departments and agencies, including the Department of Defense, the Coast Guard, FEMA, and the Army Corps of Engineers, among many others. Included in the response efforts were U.S.-flag vessels. There are fifteen vessels that regularly supply Puerto Rico with cargo. These vessels were prepared with food and water, equipment and supplies to restore power, and emergency relief provisions for FEMA and the Red Cross.
Critics continue to assail the U.S.-flag fleet and the Jones Act as an antiquated industry and law, unnecessary in today’s world. These critics promoted claims the law prohibited supplies from getting to Puerto Rico. However, as we know, that was false. Supplies have been getting to the island and have been backlogged at the ports, due to the devastation of logistics on the island. Foreign vessels are also bringing fuel and supplies to the island from foreign ports; the Jones Act does not prohibit that from happening.
There are over 40,000 U.S.-flag vessels that work U.S. waterways. These vessels are U.S. –built, –owned, and –crewed. These are good American jobs. This should be a positive thing, not critiqued as antiquated or expensive. The Jones Act also ensures that our country has U.S. merchant mariners available to man U.S. military support vessels. This is a point ignored by many and something that needs more attention. Currently, we have enough U.S. mariners to support our current sealift response needs. However, we could reach a shortage if multiple military events were to occur around the world. If we support made in America, U.S. jobs and U.S. citizens – we should always support the Jones Act.
I look forward to hearing from the witnesses today.