Republican leaders of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee today called cuts to the Coast Guard budget proposed by the Obama Administration a recipe for disaster, and cautioned that these actions would undermine U.S. port and maritime security.
The FY 2011 budget proposal reviewed today by the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee slashes more than 1,100 positions, reduces Coast Guard, maritime and security assets, and decommissions five recently refurbished helicopters.
"It's outrageous that the Administration would propose cutting the Coast Guard budget to this degree when it is our first line of national defense and maritime security," said U.S. Rep. John L. Mica (FL-07), the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Republican Leader.
"These cuts will be felt throughout the whole nation," Mica added. "Florida, with its 1,200 miles of coastline, will be particularly hard hit. This could close down our efforts to stop illegal immigration and drug smuggling. The cuts in helicopters will dramatically impact Florida, which will lose two helicopters dedicated to drug and illegal immigrant interdiction in the Caribbean. These aircraft also provide the Coast Guard with the capability to take back vessels that fall into the hands of terrorists."
U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (NJ-02), the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Ranking Member, reiterated the folly of the proposed cuts. "Under the President's budget, the Coast Guard will be forced to operate with less people, aboard fewer assets, and with less financial support. It's a recipe for disaster."
LoBiondo continued, "The budget proposes to eliminate more than 1,100 jobs at a time when record numbers of Americans are out of work, abolish five specially trained anti-terrorist teams responsible for providing security at our largest ports, reduce the number of vessels capable of carrying out Coast Guard missions, close air stations in the Great Lakes, and permanently ground five newly re-engined and enhanced helicopters, turning them into a multi-million dollar supply closet.
"The President has said this budget reflects his priorities in tough economic times, but I will not support a budget which makes it a priority to cut our ability to safeguard American lives at sea and to secure our ports and waterways from terrorist attack. These reductions in force and capabilities will undermine port security. How can these actions possibly be the priority of any Administration?"
LoBiondo further highlighted one of the proposed cuts that would diminish the nation's homeland security efforts. "I want to express my strong opposition to the proposal to eliminate five Maritime Safety and Security Teams, including the MSST stationed at our nation's second largest port, the Port of New York/New Jersey. These specially trained and equipped teams provide critical anti-terrorist capabilities. The Coast Guard already falls short of its requirements to escort high interest vessels."
Both Mica and LoBiondo commended the Coast Guard witnesses at today's hearing, including Admiral Thad Allen, for their years of able leadership and service to the country, but lamented the fact that they were forced to defend the President's indefensible budget proposal. "Unfortunately, the message you have received from your Commander-in-Chief is: the Coast Guard must do even more, with even less," added LoBiondo. "This is unacceptable."