Lawmakers oppose proposed cuts to USCG search-and-rescue

The Bush administration has proposed a 6 percent increase for the Department of Homeland Security, but one line item has drawn the ire of federal lawmakers in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The fiscal 2007 $42.7 billion budget proposal for DHS includes funding increases for Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but cuts grants for state and local first responders and, more notably,  U.S. Coast Guard search-and-rescue.

The DHS budget includes the Coast Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Administration, which senators suggested should be abolished and replaced with a streamlined agency in the wake of its performance in the Hurricane Katrina recovery process.

“Ironically, this budget proposes to expand the Coast Guard’s responsibilities even further by adding the mission of National Capital Region Air Defense,” said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chair of the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “Indeed, under the proposal, the Coast Guard would suffer cuts in the areas such as search-and-rescue, marine safety, and environmental protection. The cuts to search-and-rescue are particularly incomprehensible in light of the heroic performance of the Coast Guard during hurricanes Katrina and Rita.”

President Bush’s overall request for the Coast Guard is $8.2 billion, an increase of $127 million, or about 1.6 percent. But lawmakers say the increase is to cover higher fuel costs and personnel, with about $50 million set aside to begin designing a new headquarters for the agency.

Coast Guard officials who testified at the committee hearing contended the agency will use “creativity and extreme resourcefulness” to carry out its traditional missions.  

Michael Chertoff, DHS secretary, said the Coast Guard’s “capabilities” would not be compromised.

“One measure of how the Coast Guard has performed and the fact that we haven’t compromised its other missions is the magnificent performance found in New Orleans last summer where we got more rescues than in several of the previous years — 33,000 rescues,” Chertoff told the committee. “I think that shows the capabilities are there.”

Coast Guard officials said they could not comment on the proposed budget. 

                                — M. Gresham 

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