In his recent budget request, President Obama cut funding for two Coast Guard National Security Cutters (NSC) that were slated to round out the fleet from six to eight. The Coast Guard Commandant recently stated his “most pressing concern is on the high seas,” and the Coast Guard has not changed its requirement for eight cutters. The Administration has passed off this decision as if it has no implications for U.S. security.
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano testified that the Administration made this cut “in light of what the Navy is doing.” Since her testimony before the House Committee on Homeland Security, neither she nor anyone from the Coast Guard has attempted to explain this vague statement further.
Security expert Robbin Laird raises a number of questions that the Administration is failing to answer regarding the NSC cut. “Where is the President’s presentation of the missions which are being eliminated,” he asks, as well as “Why can’t the country invest in shipbuilding, which is real versus spurious alternative energy investments in bankrupt companies?” These questions raise concerns about this Administration’s decision making when it comes to national security. The first indicates that the President makes strategic decisions based not on perceived threats but on fiscal policy initiatives. The second illustrates how Obama has placed his own vision for the future above America’s real, present needs.
Unfortunately for U.S. citizens, cutting the NSC program by 25 percent will have serious implications long after Obama leaves the White House. These vessels are replacing high-endurance cutters (HEC) that average 43 years in age. The Administration is decommissioning two HECs in fiscal year 2013, so it is shrinking the Coast Guard’s fleet on the back end as well. Each NSC is intended to serve for 30 years. Congress should look at whether these initial budget cuts are worth three decades of insufficient maritime security.
The NSC is the Coast Guard’s only option for the future. It fulfills a multitude of security missions, including port security, patrolling territorial waters, operating in adverse conditions such as hurricanes and the Arctic, and working alongside the U.S. Navy. Congress should act where the Administration has failed and uphold the Coast Guard’s requirement, which was based on real security threats.