Coast Guard Warns Budget Shift Opens U.S. to More Smugglers

“I am worried about what lowered funding would mean not only for our readiness today, but with significant cuts slated for acquisitions, what that means for our preparedness for future activity, including the need to replace our polar class icebreakers,” Begich said.

Papp acknowledged that the Coast Guard maintains an aging fleet and that demand for its services is on the upswing.

“Unfortunately, like the weather and the seas we encounter on a daily basis, the Coast Guard cannot control the fiscal environment in which we operate,” he said. “We will make the best use of the resources you provide to faithfully and effectively undertake operations in the areas of greatest risk to the nation while recapitalizing our cutters, boats and aircraft to address current and emerging threats particularly in the offshore environment.”

Panel members expressed less concern about the proposed budget for another agency with a representative before the committee on Tuesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The president has proposed a modest spending increase to maintain satellite tracking capabilities, ocean observation, fish stock assessments, and basic research into climate and marine debris, among other programs.

But Begich expressed concern over the impact of furloughs necessitated by the sequester. And Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said NOAA services are desperately needed in the Red River Valley, which faces the potential for record-breaking floods this spring as a result of snow melt – the region experienced an additional half-foot of snow last week as a result of an unusual mid-April storm.

“For a while we thought the Fargo-Morehead area was going to be fine,” Klobuchar said. “The chance of a flood was low and there now is a 40 percent chance that this flood will set a new record and a 75 percent chance it will be at least the second highest on record.”

Officials in the region depend on base flood predictions and planning from the National Weather Service, a part of NOAA, to address the situation, Klobuchar said, and residents are concerned that sequestration will deprive them of vital resources.

Kathryn D. Sullivan, the acting NOAA administrator, said that despite the cuts and looming furloughs, “we will make sure we have a tailored approach to our core of critical services so those go uninterrupted to the American people.”

NOAA needs flexibility to deal with sequestration and is in the process of negotiating with personnel to lessen the severity of the cuts.

“We’re unhappy about sequester and the sort of harsh and blunt realities that it imposes on us but we are pleased we’ve been able to soften the blow on the order of up to four days of furlough agency-wide that is part of what has allowed us to take some of the impact off of the weather service,” she said. “That is still a tough thing to do but it brings the furlough impact down to a level that managers throughout the agency commonly deal with in dealing with employee illness or vacation levels.”

Sullivan said NOAA “will make sure that we provide our managers with the flexibility needed to adapt to emerging situations.”