At a time when all other military branches are receiving budget increases, the overburdened and under-equipped U.S. Coast Guard will be forced to cut its budget and personnel in exchange for restructuring its aging fleet.
Maritime forces will receive $10.08 billion for the 2011 fiscal year, which is a 3.3 percent decrease from 2010, according to the Navy Times. The federal budget includes $1.38 billion for acquisitions, construction and improvements, as well as $6.65 billion for operating expenses.
To save money for newer ships, the Coast Guard will cut 1,112 military personnel by relieving five marine safety and security teams, retiring four medium-range surveillance jet aircraft and five search-and-rescue helicopters and decommissioning five of its oldest and largest cutters – one of which entered Navy service as a salvage ship in 1944 according to the Washington Post.
The Coast Guard deployed 12 major cutters for Haitian relief efforts and 10 suffered significant breakdowns, according to the Post.
The money saved by cutting personnel and retiring the aging fleet will pay for two brand new national security cutters, a new patrol aircraft, four new fast response cutters and 10 medium response boats. Regrettably, these and other imminent actions will not replace the operating hours lost.
“There will be a decrease in cutter operations, and we will manage our available vessels to the most vital activities as a result,” Capt. Ron LaBrec, chief of Coast Guard Public Affairs, said in an e-mail to the Navy Times.
With 1,200 miles of coastline, Florida may be the most afflicted. Florida Rep. John L. Mica said in a press release that two helicopters dedicated to the prevention of drug smuggling and illegal immigration in the Caribbean will be lost. And an anti-terrorist team that “regularly provides security for high profile military and commercial vessels in the ports of Jacksonville and Mayport” will be eradicated.
As unemployment in Florida hit 11.9 percent in January, this is certainly not the right time to be eliminating jobs.
The Coast Guard serves as a first response unit for natural disasters and emergencies and combats illegal immigration and drug trafficking. However, because it is a part of Department of Homeland Security not the Department of Defense, the service does not benefit from the same budget increases as the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines.
Instead, it must compete with the Secret Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for funding. The TSA alone will see an increase of 4,500 employees in the 2011 fiscal year, Mica said.
Other departments are better candidates for budget cuts – like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a new aircraft not needed in the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will cost more than the entire Coast Guard’s budget for 2011, according to the New York Times.
The Coast Guard should not suffer budget cuts when other programs enjoy the continuing benefits of careless waste. Sacrifice is becoming a normalcy in an emaciated economy, but security is a necessity most Americans are not willing to give up.
Lydia Harvey is a junior majoring in mass communications.