The Coast Guard faces major budget cuts next year under a new plan unveiled by President Barack Obama to reduce the federal deficit.
For fiscal year 2014, which begins Oct. 1, 2013, the Coast Guard has requested $9.79 billion, 13 percent less than the $11.03 billion approved by Congress for FY 2013. The figure is also less than the $10.68 billion approved for FY 2012.
“No one’s more disappointed than I am,” said Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp during a Congressional budget hearing, “but with the current fiscal constraints, I was confronted with a lot of tough decisions to make.”
Papp’s comment came in response to a question about cuts to the Coast Guard’s budget for acquiring new ships and aircraft. That section of the budget has been slashed 37 percent — from $1.48 billion to $951 million.
“I was disappointed to see in the latest budget proposal to see that was being scaled back,” said Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce subcommittee for Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and the Coast Guard.
The budget proposal actually raises the amount the Coast Guard will spend to acquire new ships, but at the cost of cutting 98 percent of the budget for new aircraft.
The lion’s share of the $951 million — $616 million — is budgeted for construction of a seventh Legend-class National Security Cutter, the latest and greatest of the Coast Guard’s ships.
The budget does not include money to begin building the eighth National Security Cutter, which is still planned, Papp said.
Icebreakers remain a priority for the Coast Guard, Papp told Sen. Mark Begich, chairman of the Senate Commerce subcommittee for Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and the Coast Guard. The icebreaker Polar Star will travel to Alaska this summer, and the budget includes $2 million to cover continued planning for a new polar icebreaker.
According to preliminary figures, operations budget cuts could mean 1,600 fewer civilian and active-duty personnel nationwide.
The budget also calls for decommissioning two high-endurance cutters, retiring the Coast Guard’s remaining HU-25 aircraft, retiring two HC-130H aircraft and closing air stations in Newport, Ore. and Charleston, S.C.
Rep. Hal Rogers of Texas, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, last month called for rejecting the Coast Guard budget cuts as part of an overall disapproval of the Department of Homeland Security budget. Another Republican on that committee expressed similar concerns.
“This budget submission severely diminishes current, near-term and future capabilities. Admiral, to put it mildly, this is a budget that is very difficult for us to accept,” said Republican Rep. John Carter of Texas.
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