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Papp: Coast Guard faces worst budget crisis in 2 decades

Sep. 27, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By CHRIS AMOS   |   Comments
In the midst of a budget crisis, Admiral Robert Papp says the Coast Guard will find a way to continue effectively performing its statutory missions, including maritime rescue and drug interdiction.
In the midst of a budget crisis, Admiral Robert Papp says the Coast Guard will find a way to continue effectively performing its statutory missions, including maritime rescue and drug interdiction. (Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason Oyler/Coast Guard)

The Coast Guard has been forced to pare drug interdiction, boat maintenance, border protection, polar icebreaking, and pilot training, and has eliminated summer hiring and most overtime for civilian employees in an effort to meet budget restrictions imposed by the federal budget sequester.

A new statement by the Coast Guard said the service was adapting to the changes, but predicted that reductions in training time would eventually harm the readiness of its personnel.

The sequester, which went into effect in March after lawmakers failed to reach a long-term deficit reduction deal, required the Coast Guard to immediately find hundreds of millions in cuts for the remaining six months of the 2013 fiscal year, and a similar number of cuts each year until 2021.

In all, the service was expected to lose $439 million in operational and capital funding from its nearly $10 billion budget for the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year, which ended yesterday, according to projections released by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. The cuts, which are a percentage of overall budgets and affect most federal agencies and all military branches, were to continue during each fiscal year until 2021 unless Congress acts to stop them.

During his State of the Coast Guard address in Washington earlier this year, Admiral Robert Papp, the Coast Guard’s highest ranking officer, recounted a conversation he had with a freshman student at the Coast Guard Academy who expressed worries about the effect the sequester and related budget cuts would have on the service. “I explained the budget process and told her that this was the worst fiscal mess I had seen in my career — and that with the threat of sequestration, the debt ceiling, and the continuing resolution, we were facing a fiscal perfect storm,” he said.

The Coast Guard says it has no plans to eliminate any uniformed or civilian positions, shutter bases or facilities, or decommission ships.

But air and sea operations have been cut by up to 25 percent. Coastal security, migrant interdiction, and drug interdiction mission hours have been slashed by up to 32 percent. And military training hours have been reduced by up to 18 percent.

The Coast Guard says it has empowered local base commanders to more specifically allocate these cuts based on a “risk-based prioritization” of local mission needs.

In the Coast Guard’s Delaware Bay District, which includes much of the New Jersey coast, the Delaware coast, and waterways in the Philadelphia area, local officers are delaying maintenance of navigation buoys in less travelled waterways and requesting assistance from state and local governments in responding to law enforcement issues within their jurisdictions when the Coast Guard is unable to respond, according to district spokeswoman Lt. Veronica Smith.

Smith said local commanders have also cut community outreach and recruiting programs and limited travel by uniformed and civilian personnel. The base commander recently skipped a conference in North Carolina and instead participated by Skype to cut travel expenses.

Smith said local officials have prioritized the service’s mandated missions of providing emergency rescue services to mariners and enforcing federal laws in coastal waters, but declined to say whether the cuts have caused longer emergency response times or reduced the effectiveness of its law enforcement role.

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