Proposed 2018 Budget Slashes Coast Guard Funding to Pay for Immigration Enforcement
By Sylvia Longmire
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Every year, the president and his staff must prepare a budget proposal for Congress to review that usually represents a delicate funding balancing act between hundreds of agencies and projects. Numbers go up and down each year, some with more predictability than others, but President Trump’s proposal to slash the U.S. Coast Guard’s funding—along with that of other homeland security-related agencies—to pay for a border wall and immigration enforcement is causing significant concern. Specifically, many government officials worry the deep cuts will profoundly diminish national security.
According to a CNN report, the plan is to boost the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) total budget by 6 percent, up to $43.8 billion. That boost would be partially offset by a $1.3 billion cut to the Coast Guard’s $9 billion annual operating budget—a full 14 percent reduction. The Washington Post reported that the rest of the boost would be paid for with Transportation Security Agency (TSA) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) budget reductions of about 11 percent each to $4.5 billion and $3.6 billion, respectively.
Negative Reactions to Coast Guard Cuts
Several government officials are reacting very strongly to the proposed budget changes. Rep. Duncan Hunter (CA-R) wrote to Trump in a letter, “Such a drastic reduction in Coast Guard funding would not only diminish the Coast Guard’s standing and mission,” and that it “would severely undermine US national security.” Hunter’s chief of staff, Joe Kasper, told CNN, “A cut to the Coast Guard of $1.3 billion will effectively paralyze the service and create unnecessary risk and exposures to the homeland.” Retired Coast Guard Cdr. Stephen Flynn said, “To cut one to pay for the other makes no sense.”
Many Americans associate border security with the U.S. Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection. However, our borders technically extend several miles out to sea. Specifically, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of Coast Survey depicts on its nautical charts the U.S. territorial sea (12 nautical miles), contiguous zone (24nm), and exclusive economic zone (200nm, plus maritime boundaries with adjacent/opposite countries). The Coast Guard is responsible for monitoring and securing these areas. A source from the agency explained to CNN that the Coast Guard’s annual seizures at sea amount to more than three times the quantity of cocaine seized at U.S. borders and within the country combined.
Coast Guard’s Role in Drug Smuggling Prevention
Few people have a full understanding of the critical relationship the U.S. Coast Guard maintains with Central American governments, particularly in the realm of interdicting multi-ton loads of illegal drugs being hauled north off the Central American Pacific coast in drug submarines. In July 2015, the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton intercepted the 40-foot “self-propelled semi-submersible” in the Pacific Ocean 200 miles south of Mexico, arrested four alleged smugglers, and seized 275 bales of cocaine worth $181 million. It was the biggest bust of its kind in agency history. In fiscal year 2016, the Coast Guard interdicted six drug subs and recovered 416,000 pounds of cocaine in 260 additional drug interdictions, valued at $5.6 billion.
The budget proposal is likely to meet fierce opposition in Washington. However, political roadblocks and lack of rationale have not typically played into President Trump’s decision making since he took office. He has placed much faith in the Republican majority in Congress to support his Cabinet picks and executive orders. However, the allocation of billions of dollars when it comes to budget approval time has an impact on many congressional districts. Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran is a Republican from Mississippi, where the Coast Guard’s cutters are built. His office said in a statement, “Any proposals to reduce support for the Coast Guard will receive careful scrutiny in Congress.”
About the Author
Sylvia Longmire is a former officer and Special Agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and worked for four years as a Senior Intelligence Analyst for the California State Threat Assessment Center, specializing in southwest border violence and Mexico’s drug war. She received her Master’s degree from the University of South Florida in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and she is an award-winning writer and contributing editor for various media outlets.
Ms. Longmire has consulted for the producers of the History Channel and National Geographic Channel, and is regularly interviewed by national, international, and local media outlets for her knowledge and expertise on drug war and border security issues. She is the author of Cartel and Border Insecurity, both nominated for literary awards, and she has written for numerous peer-reviewed academic journals and online publications.