White House Hedges on Coast Guard Budget Cuts

The aging icebreaker Polar Star, due to be replaced in 2023 (file image courtesy USCG)

Published Mar 17, 2017 8:21 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Wednesday, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told reporters that reports of a $1.3 billion cut to the Coast Guard's budget were not entirely accurate, and that the Department of Homeland Security will have the discretion to allocate its department-wide budget in a manner of its choosing. His statement – and the absence of any discussion of Coast Guard funding in Trump's final budget outline – appears to be a reprieve for the perennially cash-strapped service.

"Regarding the Department of Homeland Security budget, as I think I mentioned earlier, the DHS budget, I think, is increased about six percent. There was a leak, I think, about a discontinuation or a proposed discontinuation of a Coast Guard cutter. That wasn’t – that’s not accurate. So DHS actually has a six percent increase," he said, according to the transcript from the White House's daily press briefing.

Mulvaney's denial of a plan to discontinue one cutter appeared to conflict with the statements of multiple elected officials, including Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, and dozens of other elected representatives who have protested the cuts over the past two weeks.

"Is the Coast Guard being reduced overall?" a reporter asked.

"Again, it’s sort of hard to say because the Department of Homeland – is it a secretary or is it a director?  I can’t remember.  It’s secretary, thanks. I’m sort of new at this – will have discretion as to how he wants to – General Kelly will have – Secretary Kelly will have the discretion as to how he wants to allocate," Mulvaney responded.

Coast Guard commandant calls for funding increase

On Thursday, Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft delivered his annual State of the Coast Guard address at the National Press Club, and he called for funding that is appropriate to the "power of the Coast Guard punch."

"We have always prided ourselves as a service that punches above our weight class. Yet, as our nation’s fifth armed service, somehow we find ourselves budgeted at the bottom," Zukunft said. "Using a boxing metaphor, we are funded in a flyweight class. After 226 years of service, the time is long overdue to up our weight class to at least the middleweight division." Zukunft stressed that the Coast Guard is an armed service, and that it performs military missions alongside the other service branches in theaters of operation around the world.

Separately, in a letter issued Thursday, Rep. Hunter called on the White House to move the USCG to the Defense Department rather than the Department of Homeland Security in order to improve its profile.

“Over time, the Coast Guard’s mission importance has not been properly recognized or advocated for — as demonstrated by years of underfunded budget requests, and perhaps most clearly, by this year’s grossly inadequate proposed Office of Management and Budget funding guidance,” Hunter wrote. "The Coast Guard is a military force. It deserves to be housed in a department that recognizes the importance of its mission, and has the capabilities to properly advocate for greatly needed resources."