(CNSNews.com) – Top anti-narcotic officials in the Obama administration – including drug czar Gil Kerlikowske – told a House subcommittee on Wednesday they were not consulted about the proposed cuts to U.S. Coast Guard personnel and resources in the Homeland Security Department's proposed fiscal 2011 budget.
Under the Obama administration’s budget plan, the U.S. Coast Guard will receive $75 million less in fiscal 2011 than it received in fiscal 2010.
The Coast Guard’s fiscal 2011 budget includes the decommissioning of several cutters and aircraft -- and more controversially, a reduction in the number of Maritime Safety and Security Teams (MSSTs) from 12 to 7. The MSSTs were created after the 9/11 attacks to protect the nation’s seaports and waterways.
At a March 3 hearing of the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) asked, “Were you consulted, Mr. Kerlikowske, or anyone else here, when the administration proposed to cut the Coast Guard positions by 1,100, to mothball five recently upgraded helicopters, reducing the Coast Guard’s anti-drug operations in Florida, where I just happen to live, and the Caribbean – which we just cited was the main source of these people putting this crap in – that would dramatically reduce our nation’s capability? Were you consulted on these cuts?” Mica asked.
“No,” Kerlikowske said.
The other four men appearing with Kerlikowske included Assistant Secretary of State David Johnson of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement; Anthony Placido, assistant administrator and chief of intelligence for the Justice Department's Drug Enforcement Administration; Adam Szubin, director of the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control; and Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for Counternarcotics and Global Threats William Wechsler.
“Were you consulted, anyone on the panel?” Mica asked, but no one responded.
Mica told the panel that he would attend a hearing later Wednesday on the DHS budget, and he said he had already taken part in discussions about the Coast Guard cuts.
“Actually, both sides of the aisle were just stunned at the administration’s proposal,” Mica said of the proposed cuts. “Furthermore, in the same budget to cut border protection fencing, technology and infrastructure by more than, well it’s almost a quarter of a billion dollars, 225 million – were you consulted Mr. Kerlikowske, the drug czar, on this?
“I wasn’t consulted on the fencing, but I do know there are significant concerns about how effective that program has been.” Kerlikowske said.
At a Senate hearing last week about the proposed $56.3 million Homeland Security budget for fiscal year 2011, both the chairman and ranking member of the Homeland Security and Government Oversight and Governmental Affairs also expressed concern about cuts to the Coast Guard.
“The Coast Guard is also stretched thin - responsible for carrying out a range of missions, from port security to disaster response, drug smuggling interdiction, and the protection of our maritime resources,” Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said at the Feb. 24 hearing where Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified about the budget.
“I am pleased that the budget request funds additional, necessary Deepwater (sic) assets, but regret that it would cut the Coast Guard workforce by over 1,100 people, when the Coast Guard, in my view, needs reinforcement not retrenchment.”
“Almost 20 percent of this proposed increase - $200 million - is dedicated to providing security in large metropolitan areas in the United States for the trials of suspected terrorists now held at Guantanamo Bay,” ranking member Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said at the same hearing.
“These terrorists could be tried on military bases before military tribunals, without incurring this unnecessary expense and security risk. Given all the demands on the budget, why spend hundreds of millions of dollars to move the trials to vulnerable locations within the United States when there are safer alternatives?” Collins said.
“There are far more urgent needs going unaddressed in the DHS budget. For example, the president proposes to slash the Coast Guard's funding by $75 million below last year's budget and reduce the number of uniformed personnel by more than 1,100 positions,” Collins said.
“Instead of wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on civilian trials in large American cities for the Guantanamo detainees, that $200 million would be better spent on the Coast Guard,” she added.
“The Coast Guard took on an expanded homeland security mission after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks,” Collins said. “While remaining responsible for its traditional missions, including life-saving search and rescue operations, the Coast Guard now is also responsible for protecting our ports from a wide variety of threats, including the potential smuggling of weapons of mass destruction.
“An attack on a major port would have devastating consequences, causing widespread loss of life,” Collins said. “Because the ports are vital economic centers, an attack would also send ripple effects throughout our economy. As we look forward, it is clear that the Coast Guard's role in homeland security missions will only expand.
“The extraordinary performance of Coast Guard men and women in response to the earthquake in Haiti stands as the most recent reminder of how much we need this vital service,” Collins said.
“As Commandant Allen noted in his final State of the Coast Guard Address, Coast Guard personnel are the ‘federal first responders for the nation.’ We cannot compromise the swiftness and flexibility of the Coast Guard, and we cannot afford to cut the Coast Guard's funding when we need them more than ever,” she added.
At Wednesday’s House hearing, Anthony Placido, assistant administrator for Intelligence Drug Enforcement Administration with the Department of Justice, said drug trafficking is a $394 billion a year industry that spans the globe.
Placido said in his prepared testimony that 24 of the 55 organizations targeted by the DEA for drug trafficking and money laundering in fiscal year 2009 were associated with terrorist groups.