Bill would allow Coast Guard to help pay for museum's design, engineering
By JULIA BERGMAN | The Day, New London, Conn. | Published: May 31, 2018
NEW LONDON, Conn. (Tribune News Service) — A bill authorizing funding for the Coast Guard includes a provision that would enable the service to pay for design and engineering work for the National Coast Guard Museum planned in downtown New London.
The Coast Guard authorization bill, which covers fiscal years 2018 and 2019, was attached to a larger $716 billion defense policy package for next year that the U.S. House passed a few weeks ago by a 351-66 vote.
Normally, money authorized for the Coast Guard — which falls under the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Defense — is not included as part of the defense policy bill, but leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee requested that it be voted on with the defense policy bill to speed up the process.
The Senate Armed Services Committee did not attach the Coast Guard authorization bill to the $716 billion defense policy bill it passed by a vote of 25 to 2.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said he and his colleague U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, are working on an amendment to have the full Senate consider the authorization bill when it takes up the defense policy bill at a yet to be determined date. Blumenthal introduced a provision last year to remove the restriction on the Coast Guard providing funding for the museum, but it didn't pass.
"I'm going to fight for it on the Senate side," he said by phone Wednesday. "I'm very hopeful the Senate will receive our request to provide a museum for the only military service that lacks one now."
There is a museum on the Coast Guard Academy's campus, but no national museum for the service exists.
Even if the provision ultimately is approved, it doesn't mean the Coast Guard will choose to dedicate its resources to design and engineering work for the museum. The Coast Guard, the smallest branch of the military, is faced with an aging fleet of ships, and is about to build its first new Arctic icebreaker in 40 years, among other priorities.
In 2016, Blumenthal, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, worked to change federal law so that the federal government can now contribute funding to the interior aspects of the museum, such as displays and exhibits.
All three of the men said they supported allowing the Coast Guard to pay for design and engineering work and would be pushing for more federal funding for the museum. Already, $5 million in federal dollars has gone toward the museum. The National Coast Guard Museum association, which is raising money for the estimated $100 million museum, is seeking $30 million from the federal government.
"Passage of this new bill is another step by Congress to allow the Coast Guard to expand their participation in the New London museum," Courtney said in a statement Wednesday. "Two years ago, we breached the prohibition set in 2004 to permit funding to share artifacts and create exhibits. This latest legislation moves the ball even further by giving the Coast Guard authority to (fund) design and engineering of this cutting-edge facility."
"Fundraising privately is always a challenge, which is why the federal commitment is so important," Blumenthal said. "It sets a pace and a goal for private fundraising to match or exceed."
Drew Forster, the museum association's new director of communications and public relations, declined to comment on the possibility of the Coast Guard contributing money toward engineering and design of the museum.
So far, fundraising for the museum stands at about $36 million, including $11 million in private donations and the $5 million from the federal government, The Day has previously reported. The state is giving $20 million for a pedestrian bridge to provide access to the museum.
The planned site of the museum is adjacent to Union Station on one-third of an acre of land that the city donated to the Coast Guard in 2014. The project tentatively is scheduled to break ground in 2021, but that is subject to change.