Roger Wicker

ROGER WICKER

On an average day, the U.S. Coast Guard saves 10 lives, conducts 45 search and rescue operations, seizes 874 pounds of cocaine, and facilitates the movement of $8.7 billion worth of goods. Mississippians know firsthand how vital the Coast Guard is to our state’s economy and security. As chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, I am working to strengthen the service.

The committee recently passed the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2019 after months of bipartisan work. The Coast Guard marks its 229th anniversary this month, and this bill would make sure these dedicated servicemen and women can continue their vital work for years to come. It would authorize Coast Guard funding for the next two years, bolster its recruiting, retention, and childcare programs, and improve the competitiveness of America’s maritime industry.

Maximizing readiness

Maximizing readiness is the Coast Guard’s top priority. But the service has suffered because of its reliance on outdated assets. Coast Guardsmen need new and more capable ships, boats, and aircraft to fulfill their missions. That includes the centerpiece of its fleet, our National Security Cutters (NSC). In addition, the Coast Guard’s obligations around the globe require it to protect America’s interests in both Polar Regions. This legislation would meet these needs by authorizing funding for a twelfth NSC and the new Polar Security Cutter, both to be made by Mississippi’s expert shipbuilders.

Strengthening the service also requires new technologies. Unmanned Maritime Systems could enhance ocean current monitoring and hurricane prediction, potentially saving lives. After Hurricane Katrina, Coast Guardsmen were all hands on deck and among the first to respond. This bill would direct the Coast Guard to assess how these new systems could be used going forward, giving it more tools for when the next storm hits.

Investing in additional and improved equipment is important, but the Coast Guard’s workforce needs to modernize if it is to become as effective as possible. This authorization would reform the Coast Guard’s personnel policies to make it a more competitive and attractive opportunity for potential recruits. Individuals with critical skills in areas like cybersecurity would be able to commission directly, officers with high-demand capabilities could be temporarily promoted, and families would have better access to child care.

Each of these measures would be impossible without steady and reliable funding. But that support has not always been available. Funding was cut off earlier this year when Coast Guard personnel – unlike every other member of the U.S. Armed Forces – were not paid during the five-week federal government shutdown. Coast Guardsmen showed up regardless, still performing their duties and keeping our shores safe during that time. This bill would ensure that, if another unfortunate congressional budget impasse ever happens, the Coast Guard would be treated just like every other branch of our military.

A vital mission

The Coast Guard’s 48,000 active-duty and reserve members and 25,000 auxiliary personnel are parts of a long blue line of service going back to Alexander Hamilton’s 1790 decision to buy 10 ships for the Revenue Cutter Service. In the 21st century, the Coast Guard is interdicting smugglers and illegal migrants, enforcing our nation’s laws and treaties, and protecting our people, ports, and natural resources.

As the men and women of the Coast Guard prepare for these missions, they deserve a service fully authorized for the challenges that lie ahead. I will continue to champion America’s Coast Guardsmen in the United States Senate so they have what they need to live up to their motto: Semper Paratus, “Always Ready.”

ROGER WICKER is a U.S. Senator from Mississippi. Contact him at 330 W. Jefferson St., Tupelo, MS 38803 or call (662) 844-5010.

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