Lawmakers Protest Proposed Coast Guard Cuts

Members of Congress have criticized proposed reductions to the budget of the US Coast Guard in the past several days, saying the fiscal 2011 budget proposal introduced by the White House Monday could leave the Coast Guard without the necessary resources to fulfill its responsibilities.

Rep. Peter T. King (R-NY), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, took aim Tuesday at specific cuts proposed for the USCG Maritime Safety and Security Teams.

"As unbelievable as it sounds, the Obama Administration wants to eliminate New York City’s federal defenses against waterborne terrorist attack," King protested in a statement. "This proposal to dismantle the New York-based Maritime Safety and Security Team is absolutely indefensible and puts the city–still at the top of al-Qaeda’s target list–at even greater risk."

The Coast Guard budget proposal would eliminate five of 12 USCG security teams–cutting the ones in New York City; Anchorage, Ala.; San Francisco; New Orleans; and Kings Bay, Ga.

In the past seven years, the Coast Guard has spent more than $1 million on the New York Maritime Safety and Security Team, which has boosted the security of the US national finance center in New York City, King argued.

Radical Islamic terrorists attacked the Indian financial center in Mumbai in 2008 and did so by boat, King said, making the Obama administration’s decision to eliminate any New York water-based defenses indefensible.

The day before, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee, decried general cuts to the USCG budget.

"I am concerned that under the administration’s spending plan, the Coast Guard’s overall budget would decrease by 3.3 percent, including a 7.7 percent decrease in funding for boat safety from the 2010 level of $129 million to $119 million in 2011," Cantwell said in a statement Monday.

The Coast Guard budget request reflects a total of $10.08 billion for fiscal 2011, a decrease of 3.3 percent from $10.42 billion in fiscal 2010.

USCG Commandant Adm. Thad Allen defended the budget in a letter to the Coast Guard Monday, saying the budget request "acknowledges the unique value we provide to the nation" while also acknowledging the challenges of spending in a severe economic recession.

The fiscal 2011 budget request would provide the Coast Guard with about $8.47 billion in discretionary funding, down about $75 million from fiscal 2010.

"It is critical that each member of our Coast Guard team understand the fiscal environment in which we are operating and how difficult tradeoffs were made in various funding categories, most notably between operating funds and funding to recapitalize our aging assets," Allen said in his letter.

The White House budget would save money by decommissioning five major cutters, four HU-25 Falcons, and five HH-65 helicopters, Allen stated.

Reductions in those assets and the Maritime Safety and Security Teams would permit the Coast Guard to fund its National Security Cutters, HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft, Response Boat-Mediums, and refurbishment of its helicopter fleet and shore infrastructure, Allen argued.

The Coast Guard also will reduce recruiting goals to cut its workforce by 773 full-time positions, Allen revealed.

The budget would provide the Coast Guard with a total of $1.4 billion to recapitalize its fleet under the a host of acquisition projects, including the Integrated Deepwater Program.

Recapitalization funds include $538 million to build a fifth National Security Cutter; $240 million for four Fast Response Cutters; $101 million for aircraft, including one HC-144A Ocean Sentry; and $45 million to support the design of the Offshore Patrol Cutter.

The fiscal 2011 budget also would fund the Coast Guard with $6.65 billion for operating expenses, a 1.3 percent increase over fiscal 2010 levels. Operating expenses include workforce pay, training and recruiting as well as operation and maintenance of USCG assets.

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