Budget battles

To see it in operation during the recent Operation Sail 2000, a casual observer would swear the U.S. Coast Guard was right on top of its game. But behind the images of the proud USCG Eagle leading the international tall ships fleet on parade through New York Harbor and the dashing cutters that seemed to have leapt straight from the recruiting posters labors a service that has been badly hampered, nearly crippled in some cases, by the budget shortfalls of the 1990s and oil prices that shot right through the overhead in the first half of 2000.

The old Coast Guard joke about being able to do everything with nothing took on a more bitter tone.Adm. James M. Loy, commandant of the nation’s senior sea service, gave Congress the bad news on June 7 in remarks before the Coast Guard and Transportation Infrastructure Subcommittee. Starting in March, Loy said, he had ordered his senior commanders around the country to cut back on all but the most essential missions.

“I directed my Area and District Commanders last month [May 2000] to adjust operations to live within remaining fuel account funds,” said Loy.

And in late May, just a week before his appearance before the House Subcommittee, Loy said he directed administrative cuts and additional adjustments to generate savings and avoid costs.

At a time when the federal budget surplus is projected to reach about $4.2 trillion between 2001 and 2010, Loy said the Coast Guard is straining to find the money to pay for $24 million in fuel and personnel cost increases since the services $4.4 billion budget was passed last fall. The increases were $7 million for fuel and an estimated $17 million for personnel entitlements.

“Despite the hard work that dedicated Coast Guard men and women do every day, we find ourselves more and more challenged to achieve our mission performance goals,” Loy told Congress.

The short-term crisis was eased by a $700 million emergency supplemental appropriations bill that passed the Senate by a unanimous voice vote on June 30.

By Ocean Navigator