A $7.1 billion authorization for the U.S. Coast Guard’s fiscal year 2004 activities was unanimously approved by the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on June 25.
The measure approved was a manager's amendment of the bill as introduced. It authorizes the agency to expend $7.1 billion during FY 2004. Monies are specifically authorized for review and approval of vessel and facility security plans
. Non-tank vessels over 400 gross tons will be required to have oil spill response plans, similar to those required of tank vessels. The liability provisions of OPA 90 are conformed to those found in the Superfund legislation. The measure now goes to the full House for consideration.
“I am optimistic that this legislation will provide the Coast Guard with the resources and legal authorities necessary to get the service back to an acceptable state of mission balance,” said Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young.
Highlights of the legislation include:
· Authorizes $4,996,000,000 for Operating Expenses, $1,097,000,000 for Capital Acquisitions, and $1,020,000,000 for Retired Pay for Fiscal Year 2004. These are the amounts requested by the Administration plus $459 million for:
· review and approval of vessel and port facility security plans;
· an additional HITRON squadron;
· the first avionics package for four already delivered C130-Js;
· the Deepwater Integrated Systems (Deepwater);
· foreign port assessments;
· foreign vessel inspections; and
· Truman-Hobbs bridge alterations.
· Authorizes a Coast Guard end-of-year strength of 45,500 active duty military personnel for Fiscal Year 2004, the Administration’s request.
· Allows the Commandant to enter into leases of up to 20 years for an Alumni visitor facility at the Coast Guard Academy, or for non-Federal entities carrying out cooperative agreements under Section 4 (e) of the Ports and Waterways Safety Act.
· Provides authority for Coast Guard exchanges and morale, welfare and recreation systems (MWR) to enter into contracts with Federal entities to provide goods and services. Department of Defense non-appropriated fund instrumentalities currently have this authority.
· Authorizes the Commandant of the Coast Guard to accept original enlistments for other than full years. This is consistent with Department of Defense enlistments.
· Authorizes the Coast Guard to offer an incentive bonus to encourage enlisted members to enter critical skill specialties which are difficult to fill.
· Eliminates the requirement to fire a warning shot when use of such a shot is not practical.
· Defines what constitutes the costs to the Coast Guard of collecting a fee or charge, so that it explicitly includes reasonable administrative, personnel, contract, equipment, supply, training, and travel expenses related to administration, management, and oversight of user fees authorized by law.
· Conforms Coast Guard housing authorities to those of the Department of Defense.
· Changes the mandatory retirement age for Coast Guard officers from sixty-two to sixty.
· Authorizes the Coast Guard Congressional Fellowship Program.
· Authorizes the Secretary to lease property for an air search and rescue facility.
· Authorizes the Commandant to establish a National Coast Guard Museum, but prohibits the use of Federal funds for such a project.
· Raises the cap on active Coast Guard officers from 6,200 to 6,700 in Fiscal Year 2004.
· Requires the Commandant to report to the Committee before initiating changes in the structure and location of Coast Guard districts.
· Authorizes the Secretary to prohibit the use on the bridges of vessels of certain electric and electronic devices that interfere with communications or navigation equipment.
· Makes the Inland Navigation Rules regulatory.
· Gives the Secretary the authority to require reports from vessel charterers, in addition to owners and masters.
· Gives the Coast Guard the discretion to suspend a mariner’s credentials in dangerous drug law conviction cases. Under current law, the credentials must be revoked.
· Conforms the record protection and release policies for merchant mariner’s documents to those of the Privacy Act and Freedom of Information Act.
· Exempts unmanned barges on foreign voyages from the requirement to be under the control of a U.S citizen crewmember.
· Requires that foreign flag vessels visiting U.S. ports comply with the International Safety Management Code (ISM).
· Increases the maximum civil administrative penalty from $2,000 to a maximum of $5,000, and increases the maximum for a related series of violations from $100,000 to $250,000 for violations related to the wrongful manufacture, sale or labeling, and failure to notify of a recall regarding a recreational boat.
· Corrects a technical error dealing with the temporary suspension or revocation of a merchant mariner’s credential (MMC), and provides authority to temporarily suspend an MMC if the holder threatens the security of a vessel or the port.
· Allows the Coast Guard to suspend or revoke a merchant mariner’s credential (MMC) if the mariner commits an act of incompetence whether or not the mariner is acting under the authority of the MMC at the time the act occurs. The section also adds security threat as a basis for which the Secretary may suspend or revoke an MMC.
· Addresses crew endurance issues on towing vessels.
· Requires shipboard automatic identification systems to include electronic charts and related displays.
· Allows the Coast Guard to prevent a foreign vessel from leaving a U.S. port if it does not comply with the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea.
· Provides the Administration request for the Federal Maritime Commission in Fiscal Year 2004.
· Increases penalties for violations of certain bridge statutes.
· Authorizes the Secretary of Transportation to study cargo transportation on the Great Lakes.
· Authorizes the Secretary of Transportation to conduct a demonstration project to look at ways to improve port efficiency and security.
· Requires the Congressional Budget Office to do a study of the impact of foreign charterers on the U.S. dredging industry.
· Requires vessel response plans for non-tank vessels over 400 gross tons. Such plans are currently required for tank vessels.
· Allows the Coast Guard to establish requirements for oil tank level and pressure monitoring devices.
· Conforms the liability provisions for owners and operators of vessels and facilities in the Oil Pollution Act with those in Superfund.
Two additional amendments were approved today, one offered by Ranking Member Oberstar making a technical clarification, and one offered by U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) requiring the Secretary in charge of the Department in which the Coast Guard is operating to report on the numbers and types of foreign vessels and containers entering U.S. ports, and the cost of conducting security inspections on these vessels and containers. All amendments were approved by voice vote.