U.S. Congressman Frank A. LoBiondo (NJ-02), Ranking Member of the House Coast Guard & Maritime Security Subcommittee, today blasted drastic reductions in port and maritime security as outlined in President Obama's Fiscal Year 2011 budget proposal.
"If not for the critical importance of securing our ports and protecting our nation, these proposed cuts would be laughable. To severely undercut the Coast Guard's capabilities to patrol and protect the nation's ports and maritime transportation system would give terrorists an opportunity to exploit this weakness," blasted House Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Ranking Member LoBiondo. "Port security has long been in the shadows of our priorities, failing to receive a fraction of the investment made to aviation security. This proposed budget would permanently place port security at the bottom of the river."
Under President Obama's FY2011 budget proposal, the U.S. Coast Guard would eliminate five (5) maritime safety and security teams (MSST), including the team stationed at the Port of New York/New Jersey, the nation's second largest port. MSSTs are responsible for boarding suspect vessels, conducting anti-terrorism activities, patrolling critical infrastructure, escorting potentially hazardous cargo (i.e. liquid natural gas vessels, liquid propane gas vessels etc), and responding to unanticipated events such as terrorist attacks, natural disasters etc. MSST were created in 2002 under the "Maritime Transportation Security Act", co-authored by LoBiondo, in direct response to the September 11th terrorist attacks.
In addition to the Port of New York/New Jersey, the following MSSTs would be decommissioned: Anchorage, AK; San Francisco, CA; New Orleans, LA; and Kings Bay, GA (a military load/unload port).
Additionally, President Obama's FY2011 budget calls for the U.S. Coast Guard to mothball five (5) HH-65 Dolphin helicopters in the Great Lakes region. Identical to the helicopters stationed at Air Station Atlantic City, these helicopters were re-engined three years ago which allowed for the life of the asset to be extended for a decade. To ensure adequate coverage in the region, the U.S. Coast Guard would be required to move two H-60 Jayhawk helicopters out of Virginia, where they are dedicated to anti-terrorism efforts, and two H-60 Jayhawk helicopters from the Bahamas, where they are dedicated to the international drug interdiction mission.
"Rather than giving the Coast Guard the support and resources it needs to succeed in its myriad of missions, the Obama Administration is intent on letting some of the core missions of the Service fall by the wayside," continued LoBiondo. "This is absolutely unacceptable. I will fight to restore these resources to ensure the safety and mission of the men and women of the Coast Guard are not jeopardized. Our shared goal must be to make our country more secure and more safe, not the opposite."
In total, President Obama proposed cutting the U.S. Coast Guard's FY2011 budget by two percent for operations - a net reduction in the force by 773 personnel - and ten percent for equipment/asset acquisitions.