The Coast Guard would receive only a 2% increase under President Joe Biden's proposed fiscal 2022 budget, with less funding for non-mandatory expenses, or discretionary spending, than it received last year from Congress.
But a planned 6% increase in the service's critical operations and support budget is a boost service officials say they need to address immediate issues such as maintenance backlogs.
Under the Department of Homeland Security's $52.2 billion 2022 budget plan released Friday, the Coast Guard has requested $13.1 billion, including $10.9 billion for discretionary funding.
The proposal also includes funding for shore facility improvements in Charleston, South Carolina; Kodiak, Alaska; Cape May, New Jersey; and Honolulu, Hawaii, as well as new housing in Portage, Michigan. And it supports a 2.7% pay increase for active-duty Coast Guard members -- the same as in the Department of Defense budget for DoD service members.
The amounts are higher than last year's budget request under President Donald Trump, who requested $12.33 billion in overall funding and $10.24 billion in discretionary spending for the service.
Late last year, however, Congress increased the service's discretionary funds to $10.98 billion to improve Coast Guard housing and upgrade the service's aging technology and communications systems. With that increase, the fiscal 2022 budget proposal asks for 0.06% less in discretionary spending than the service received last year.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz has sounded an alarm on the effects that budget control measures had on the service from 2012 to 2019, forcing the Coast Guard to choose between supporting operations or conducting maintenance and repairs.
During a speech at the Surface Navy Association's annual symposium in January, Schultz said the service needs "a booster shot of sorts, about $900 million to $1 billion to address our most pressing needs."
During his annual state of the Coast Guard address, he specified that the service must have sustained growth of 3% to 5% in its operations and support budget -- which covers operations; command, control and communications; contingencies and disasters; shore infrastructure; and additional personnel -- to maintain readiness.
The Biden proposal meets that request, increasing spending in that category by 6.3%, to $535 million.
"The Coast Guard's fiscal 2022 President's Budget provides a critical increase to operations and support funding to address the service's immediate readiness concerns, including depot-level maintenance backlogs," said spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Brittany Panetta in a statement Tuesday.
The budget proposal includes $1.64 billion for procurement, construction and improvements,
$620 million less than it received last year and $130 million less than it was awarded in fiscal 2020.
The procurement account includes $170 million for management and long-lead time materials for the Polar Security Cutter program to prepare for construction of two ships; $597 million to build the service's fourth offshore patrol cutter and materials for a fifth; and $15 million for sustaining the Polar Star, the service's only currently running heavy icebreaker.
The procurement budget also includes $221 million to sustain aviation assets, including more than $85 million to adapt or modernize HC-27J Spartan cargo aircraft and HC-130 Hercules aircraft for Coast Guard use; $102.8 million to upgrade MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters; and $32 million to sustain the service's MH-65 Dolphin helicopter fleet.
The budget also calls for $500,000 for unmanned aerial systems for the service's national security cutters.
"The [budget] maintains momentum on the offshore patrol cutter and polar security cutter -- the service's two highest acquisition priorities," Panetta said. "[It] provides critical investments to grow the MH-60 fleet; sustain operational capability; recapitalize aging infrastructure and IT systems; and recruit, train and retain a diverse workforce."
In a letter accompanying the Coast Guard's budget release, Schultz cautioned that the service may soon face difficulties responding to disasters, such as those seen during the 2020 hurricane season, and "adequately conducting our statutorily mandated missions."
But, he said, the request is a "direct reflection of continued focus and commitment to ensuring U.S. Coast Guard readiness."
"I'm certain that with the continued support of Congress, the Coast Guard will remain Semper Paratus -- Always Ready," Schultz wrote.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.