You know it’s August when The Washington Post recycles news almost a decade old on its front page. This morning’s story on the Coast Guard leads with the well-worn worry that the Coast Guard’s homeland security responsibilities — inspecting cargo, patrolling near critical resources, ensuring port security — are interfering with its traditional duties, such as preventing oil spills.
But the Coast Guard has always pursued multiple missions. And by its own performance measures — good enough that the GAO cited them in 2009 testimony on the agency’s budget — the Coast Guard has been meeting its goals for both homeland security and environmental safety, while it’s had a harder time living up to expectations for “migrant interdiction” and “defense readiness.”
The agency’s real problem, one which the Post’s story passes over glibly, is not that it has too many missions but that expected budget cuts could make it more difficult to fulfill them all. Indeed, the Post itself reported back in February on former Commandant Thad Allen’s worries about the cuts: “Our force is more fragile this year than last and we are accepting increased operational risk while recapitalizing aging cutters,” Allen said.
What’s more, the Post wades into a long-fought dispute over who in Congress should has oversight over the Coast Guard. The story depends on Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) to argue the Coast Guard lacks the personnel to carry out its multiple mission, but again, the Post rushes over an important fact–that Oberstar favors moving the Coast Guard out of the Department of Homeland Security.
Since the creation of DHS, and more importantly, since the creation of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Oberstar’s Transportation and Infrastructure committee has had to share jurisdiction over the Coast Guard. If it’s true that the Coast Guard’s homeland security duties are taking away from its other missions, then, the logic goes, why not revert to a state of affairs closer to the pre-9/11 system? Move the Coast Guard out of DHS, have it focus on its traditional missions, and restore total oversight to Oberstar’s committee.
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