Trump considers cuts to FEMA, Coast Guard in border plan

The plan relies, in part, on a 14 percent cut to the Coast Guard's $9.1 billion budget and 11 percent cuts to both the TSA and FEMA


By Katherine Gregg
The Providence Journal, R.I.

WASHINGTON — Anticipated cuts to the U.S. Coast Guard to help finance President Donald Trump's border wall have sent ripples of concern through the Ocean State where the Coast Guard has been a $53 million a year operation with 383 uniformed and civilian personnel, patrolling hundreds of miles of Rhode Island coastline for drug traffickers, boaters and fishermen in distress and security-risks.

U.S. senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island were among the lawmakers from both parties who on Thursday were publicly questioning whether the potential cuts to the Coast Guard that were reported by the New York Times, Politico and other media outlets would serve Trump's stated goals.

Whitehouse was one of 23 senators who signed on to a letter urging Office of Management and Budget Administrator Mick Mulvaney not to make the "devastating $1.3 billion cut to the budget of the United States Coast Guard.''

"Throughout his campaign and time in office, President Trump has committed to stopping the flow of illegal drugs into the country, protecting our borders, investing in national security, and improving support for our armed service members and their families,'' said Whitehouse.

In his own statement, he also noted the "outsized role'' the Coast Guard has had in all of these areas.

"We urge you to restore the $1.3 billion dollar cut to the Coast Guard budget, which we firmly believe would result in catastrophic negative impacts to the Coast Guard and its critical role in protecting our homeland, our economy and our environment,'' he and the other senators wrote.

The Coast Guard in the 2016 fiscal year alone intercepted 6,346 undocumented immigrants, removed over 201 metric tons of cocaine and 52,613 pounds of marijuana worth an estimated $5.9 billion, detained 585 suspected smugglers for prosecution and responded to 11,835 pollution incident reports, according to Washington-based Public Affairs Officer Alana Miller.

Reed told The Journal the potential cuts could have especially severe impact in Rhode Island, which is the homeport of three buoy tenders, as well as a new shore support facility at Naval Station Newport. The state is also the home of the Coast Guard's Civil Engineering Unit for the Northeast, which is located in Warwick. The Coast Guard also operates stations at Castle Hill, Point Judith, and seasonally on Block Island.

"Any cut to the overall budget threatens the operation of these units in Rhode Island, and it goes right to the safety and security of Rhode Islanders, our navigation, our fishing industry and all of this is designed to pay for a wall on the Mexican border which would not be particularly effective,'' Reed said.

"In fact, ironically, if you lessen the Coast Guard presence, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico and other places, that might even be a better avenue to come into the United States illegally so it just doesn't make sense,'' Reed said.

The anticipated cuts to the budgets of the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to finance the president's proposed border wall between Mexico and the United States were described this way by the New York Times on Thursday:

"The goal is to shift about $5 billion toward hiring scores of additional agents for Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as toward infrastructure to support a crackdown on illegal immigration at the border. A significant portion of the money would go toward erecting a wall along the border with Mexico, one of President Trump's signature campaign promises.''

The plan relies, in part, on a 14 percent cut to the Coast Guard's $9.1 billion budget and 11 percent cuts to both the TSA and FEMA, according to The Times, which noted the high-profile role the three agencies have played in "the Department of Homeland Security's post-Sept. 11 security architecture.''

Trump is expected to present his budget proposal later this month.

"Given the vital installations they guard and how many drugs and contraband they intercept along our maritime borders, cutting the Coast Guard to pay for a vacuous and expensive vanity project like a border wall would be dangerous and irrational," Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic minority leader, said in a statement on Wednesday.

Copyright 2017 The Providence Journal

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