House subcommittee discusses Coast Guard icebreaker acquisition, National Maritime Strategy

The Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation heard testimony November 29 on two recent reports by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The GAO conducts reviews and audits to provide information for Congress to perform oversight functions to improve the performance and accountability of the federal government. The subcommittee reviewed the reports that discuss the Coast Guard’s icebreaker acquisition program and the need for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to release the National Maritime Strategy.


The Coast Guard is in the process of procuring the first new heavy icebreakers in over 40 years. Icebreakers are essential for Coast Guard operations in the Arctic and Antarctic and are critical to maintaining U.S. interests in these regions.

The three heavy polar icebreakers the Coast Guard says it needs are estimated to cost approximately $9.8 billion throughout their lifecycle. In such an important and costly acquisition program, congressional oversight is needed to ensure the program is on-time and on-budget.

However, GAO found that the estimates for the cost, schedule and performance baselines for the icebreaker acquisition program do not follow standard best practices. The National Academy of Science study expressed similar concerns last year.

The subcommittee is particularly interested to learn if the Coast Guard intends to wisely complete design of the first polar icebreaker before beginning construction or to imprudently start construction while design work is ongoing. This subcommittee has been a strong supporter of the icebreaker acquisition program and will continue to conduct oversight to ensure the program is a success.

Maritime strategy

The second GAO report focuses on the need for the DOT to release the National Maritime Strategy. Congress required this strategy to be completed by 2015, but three years after that deadline, the secretary still has not released it. The fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act extended the deadline to February 2020. This strategy is critical to addressing the challenges facing the U.S.-flag fleet, including a potential shortage of U.S. mariners and the decreasing number of U.S.-flag vessels.

Click here for additional information from last week’s hearing, including testimony, video and background information.

Maritime Editorial