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July 12, 2002

Turf battle threatens Coast guard move to new agency

The Coast Guard may not sail into a new Department of Homeland Security as smoothly as the Bush Administration had hoped. As widely predicted, Congressional turf battles are already affecting efforts to create the new agency. About 54 percent of the new department's employees and about half its estimated $37 million budget would come from departments currently the responsibility of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Yesterday the committee voted against several key proposals in the Homeland Security Agency proposal. Notably, it voted to prevent the Coast Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency from being absorbed into the proposed new agency.

The bipartisan amendment to the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (H.R. 5005) was approved by a voice vote.  The amendment was authored by Committee Chairman Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) and Ranking Democrat Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN). "There is no doubt that after the events of September 11, the President must be given the resources to protect this country from all attacks, whether terrorist or otherwise," Young said during the markup.  "I want to make it clear that I do not object to the creation of a Department of Homeland Security.  However, the bill as introduced raises many concerns which this Congress has a responsibility to address."

On the issue of the Coast Guard, Young noted that"the legislation states that the primary mission of this department is to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks. It is very likely that all other important missions of the Coast Guard... will become secondary to the effort to combat terrorism."

Young told the Committee that "the Coast Guard provides a long list of services to average citizens and has had limited responsibility in the area of security." 

Though maritime security was an extremely important function of the Coast Guard that should not be minimized, said Young, "Other functions are also extremely important. The Coast Guard provides for search and rescue of boaters, they keep our waterways open to navigation through their ice breaking efforts and maintaining aids to navigation, they protect our environment and fisheries resources, they keep passengers safe on commercial vessels of all types, and interdict both drugs and illegal immigrants.

"We've given the Coast Guard a great deal of work to do and they have always carried out their dutieswith distinction.  If the Secretary of Homeland Security wants to commit his entire effort to preventing terrorist attacks, under this bill he can reduce the resources of the Coast Guard for these other missions and direct those resources entirely to security."

"I have the same concerns regarding FEMA.  FEMA is doing a great job responding to both natural and man-made disasters throughout the country.  FEMA has many other responsibilities as well.

The amendment passed by Young's Committee keeps the U.S. Coast Guard in the Department of Transportation, creates a new Coast Guard Undersecretary whose duties include Homeland Security, and ensures that Coast Guard core missions are performed at adequate levels as envisioned by Congress.

The amendment requires the Coast Guard to continue to devote an adequate amount of resources to core Coast Guard missions of search and rescue, fisheries law enforcement, drug interdiction, migrant interdiction, marine environmental protection, and marine safety.

Other House committees have also made numerous amendments to the Homeland Security Act. Now a special panel headed by House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R. Texas) will try to put them all together into a single package. That panel plans to write its bill next week and bring it to the House floor the following week.

Armey's panel has the power to reverse all the decisions taken by the various committees. Young has urged his 75-member committee to block the bill on the floor if they don't get a chance to amend it.

Meantime, the Senate must also pass its version of the legislation.

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