Coast Guard Waterways Commerce Cutter (WCC) Program: Background and Issues for Congress

link to page 1

Updated November 11, 2020
Coast Guard Waterways Commerce Cutter (WCC) Program:
Background and Issues for Congress

Figure 1. Coast Guard River Buoy Tender (WLR)
The Coast Guard’s Waterways Commerce Cutter (WCC)
program envisages procuring up to 35 replacements for the
Coast Guard’s 35 aging river buoy tenders (WLRs), inland
construction tenders (WLICs), and inland buoy tenders
(WLIs). The Coast Guard wants to award the first contract
for constructing the new WCCs in FY2022, and to have the
first new WCC be in service by 2025. The Coast Guard’s
proposed FY2021 budget requests $25.0 million in
procurement funding for the WCC program.
The issue for Congress is whether to approve, reject, or
modify the Coast Guard’s proposed acquisition strategy and

Source: Coast Guard photograph.
FY2021 funding request for the WCC program. Decisions

that Congress makes on this issue could affect Coast Guard
Geographic Distribution
capabilities and funding requirements, the U.S. shipbuilding
industry, and U.S. waterway commerce.
As of 2019, the 18 WLRs were based at cities along the
Mississippi and other inland rivers in Alabama, Arkansas,
Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky (two cutters), Mississippi (three
cutters), Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and
Cutters are Coast Guard vessels that are more than 65 feet
long and have accommodations for a crew. (Coast Guard
Tennessee (four cutters). Although these locations are in the
vessels less than 65 feet long are called boats.) The term
central and eastern United States, the rivers in question are
referred to by the Coast Guard as the western rivers.
waterways refers here to the intra-coastal waterways along
the U.S. East and Gulf coasts, and U.S. inland waterways,
such as the Mississippi River. Tenders are vessels whose
As of 2019, the 13 WLICs were based at cities along the
U.S. East and Gulf coasts in Alabama, Florida (three
primary mission is to maintain or repair something. The
designations of Coast Guard tenders begin with WL,
cutters), Louisiana (two cutters), Maryland, North Carolina,
meaning Coast Guard vessel (W) and tender (L). (The W in
South Carolina, Texas (three cutters), and Virginia. As of
the acronym WCC, however, stands for waterways.)
2019, the four WLIs were based at locations in Alaska,
Michigan, Oregon, and North Carolina.
WCC Missions
Coast Guard Rationale for Building New
WCCs perform three primary missions under the Coast
Guard’s statutory role of providing aids to navigation
(ATON): river buoy tending; inland construction tending
The Coast Guard wants to replace the 35 existing
waterways cutters because their annual maintenance costs
(which involves driving and removing piles and erecting
and repairing range towers and major lights); and inland
are rising rapidly, they break down frequently (and can
buoy tending. The waterborne commerce supported by
remain out of operation for periods of 30 to 45 days while
being repaired), and they have poor living conditions for
WCCs is important to the U.S. economy. Additional
missions for WCCs include ports, waterways, and coastal
their crew members. The Coast Guard argues that replacing
security (PWCS); search and rescue (SAR); marine
the aging cutters will be more cost effective than continuing
environmental protection; and marine safety.
to operate and maintain them.
Existing Waterways Cutters
WCC Program
The Coast Guard’s 35 existing WCCs (one of which is
Program Initiation and Name
shown in Figure 1), are built to nine different designs, and
include 18 WLRs, 13 WLICs, and four WLIs. As of 2020,
The WCC program was initiated in the Coast Guard’s
FY2018 budget submission. It was originally called the
the 35 vessels were an average of 56 years old, with the
oldest two being 76 and 75 years old, the youngest two
Inland Waterways and Western Rivers Tender (or Cutter)
being 30 years old, and the others 44 to 66 years old.
program. It was renamed the WCC program in the FY2019
budget submission. Some budget documents may continue
to use the program’s older name.

link to page 2
Coast Guard Waterways Commerce Cutter (WCC) Program: Background and Issues for Congress
Acquisition Strategy
business set-aside. Large businesses could team with a
The Coast Guard is proposing to replace the 35 existing
small business for the WLR/WLIC acquisition, but the
waterway commerce cutters with 35 or fewer new WCCs,
small business would need to be responsible for at least
with the exact number depending on the capabilities of the
51% of the total cost of the contract. The Coast Guard is
new WCCs. The Coast Guard states that it
still determining the WLI acquisition strategy. The winner
of the WLR/WLIC contract would be able to compete for
has taken steps to accelerate the WCC Program by
the WLI contract as well.
more than a year, following direction in the FY
2018 DHS Appropriations Act (P.L. 115-141)….
The Coast Guard wants the first new WCC to enter service
On the basis of market research, design studies, and
by 2025, and for all the WCCs to be in service by 2030. To
an independent analysis, the Coast Guard has
meet this schedule, up to six WCCs might be procured each
determined that three WCC variants will meet
mission needs best. Each variant will perform one
Program Funding
mission set (river buoy tending, inland construction,
or inland buoy tending). The Coast Guard is
The WCC program through FY2020 has received $33.6
million in procurement funding, which has been used for
planning to acquire the WLRs and WLICs on one
studies and analyses of program requirements and
contract; these variants are expected to be common
acquisition strategies, and for other program-management
except for hull length, working deck layouts, and
activities. As mentioned earlier, the Coast Guard’s
deck equipment, including the crane…. The WLIs
proposed FY2021 budget requests $25.0 million in
will be procured separately from the WLRs and
procurement funding for the program, which would be used
WLICs. The Coast Guard is examining whether
for continued program-management activities.
commercial vessels will meet this variant’s top-
level requirements….
Recent Program Events
(U.S. Coast Guard, Inland Waterways and Western
On January 10, 2020, the Coast Guard released a request for
River Tenders, Fiscal Year 2020 Report to
information (RFI) for the prospective WLIs. On July 29,
2020, the Coast Guard released a draft request for proposal
Congress, April 27, 2020, p. 4.)
(RFP) for the WLR/WLIC contract.
The Coast Guard states that the new WLRs are to be 170
feet to 180 feet long, the new WLICs are to be 150 feet
April 2020 Report to Congress
to 160 feet long, and the new WLIs are to be 100 to 120
The Senate Appropriations Committee’s report (S.Rept.
feet long (Figure 2). Vessels of this size can be built by
116-125 of September 26, 2019) on the FY2020
smaller U.S. shipyards. In 2018, the Commandant of the
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations
Coast Guard stated that WCCs might have a notional
act (S. 2582) directed the Coast Guard to provide an
unit procurement cost of roughly $25 million, but the
acquisition plan and requirements document detailing the
WCCs’ estimated unit procurement costs may have
Coast Guard’s plans to acquire new WCCs. The Coast
changed since then.
Guard provided the information in the report dated April
27, 2020, from which the earlier quote is taken.
Figure 2. Coast Guard Notional Designs for WLR,
Congressional Action on FY2021 Funding
In its report (H.Rept. 116-458 of July 20, 2020) on the
FY2021 DHS appropriations act (H.R. 7669), the House
Appropriations Committee recommends approving the
Coast Guard’s request for $25.0 million in procurement
funding for the WCC program.
In the explanatory statement that the Senate Appropriations
Committee released on November 10, 2020, for the FY2021

DHS appropriations act (S. XXXX), the committee
Source: Coast Guard il ustration showing indicative (i.e., notional)
recommends approving the Coast Guard’s request for $25.0
designs for the WLR (right), WLIC (middle), and WLI (left).
million in procurement funding for the WCC program.

Ronald O'Rourke, Specialist in Naval Affairs
The Coast Guard wants to award the WLR/WLIC contract
in FY2022. The WLR/WLIC acquisition is to be a small

Coast Guard Waterways Commerce Cutter (WCC) Program: Background and Issues for Congress

This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan shared staff to
congressional committees and Members of Congress. It operates solely at the behest of and under the direction of Congress.
Information in a CRS Report should not be relied upon for purposes other than public understanding of information that has
been provided by CRS to Members of Congress in connection with CRS’s institutional role. CRS Reports, as a work of the
United States Government, are not subject to copyright protection in the United States. Any CRS Report may be
reproduced and distributed in its entirety without permission from CRS. However, as a CRS Report may include
copyrighted images or material from a third party, you may need to obtain the permission of the copyright holder if you
wish to copy or otherwise use copyrighted material. | IF11672 · VERSION 2 · UPDATED