WASHINGTON – Despite an almost 28 percent increase, lawmakers said this week that the Coast Guard will not have enough in fiscal 2003 to do all the jobs it is being asked to do in the wake of Sept. 11.
President Bush’s budget boosts the Guard’s budget from $5.7 billion this year to $7.3 billion next year. But officials said $736 million of the increase is dedicated to a military retirement fund and that the Guard will be hard- pressed to stretch the rest of the money to cover the all the roles it is now playing.
“The funding for the Coast Guard is indeed Spartan,” Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said Thursday at a hearing of Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee.
With more than $700 million in new money going to the pension fund, the rest of the $1.6 billion increase does not scratch the surface of what the Guard needs, Mikulski said.
Guard spokesman Jack O’Dell called the proposed budget “a start.”
“It will help the Coast Guard significantly,” he said.
While the events of Sept. 11 caused the Coast Guard to take on additional responsibilities for homeland security, core responsibilities are falling by the wayside, according to an audit of the Coast Guard by Transportation Department Inspector General Kenneth M. Mead. Those responsibilities include fisheries enforcement, environmental protection and drug interdiction.
Mead noted that, for fiscal 2003, the Coast Guard plans to use 27 percent of its budget for port safety and security programs, roughly twice the amount that its fiscal 2002 budget had set aside for those jobs before to Sept. 11. Because of that, “the relative amount of resources Coast Guard plans to devote to drug interdiction and fisheries enforcement in FY2003 is expected to decrease from planed FY 2002 levels.”
He also noted that it leaves little room in the budget to deal with problems with the Search and Rescue program that he identified last year, including lack of training, equipment and personnel.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and chairman of the subcommittee, said the Guard “must do more to protect our country from terrorist attacks. This is especially true when you reflect on how vulnerable our port communities are to further attack.
“At the same time, we must not allow the events of Sept. 11 to divert the Coast Guard away from the other core responsibilities that loomed so large on Sept. 10,” Murray said.
O’Dell acknowledged that the Coast Guard was forced to make adjustments after Sept. 11, but added that “we will continue to meet our operations.”
“The public is not going to suffer. We are going to make sure that those essential needs are met,” he said.
Mikulski said committee members would do the best they can with the current budget proposal, but urged them to press President Bush and Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge to get the additional funding the Guard really needs.
“You might be underfunded, but you are not underdoubted,” Mikulski said.