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Coast Guard balances budget crisis

The ongoing political stalemate in Washington has pushed the Coast Guard into its worst budget crisis in more than two decades, the service’s highest-ranking officer said earlier this year during his annual State of the Coast Guard address.

Adm. Robert Papp, the Coast Guard’s commandant, recounted a conversation he had with a freshmen student at the Coast Guard Academy about looming budget cuts, according to the Federal Times.

“I explained the budget process and told her that this was the worst fiscal mess I had seen in my career — and that with the threat of sequestration, the debt ceiling and the continuing resolution we were facing a fiscal perfect storm,” Papp said.

Still, Papp and other high-ranking Coast Guard officials have insisted before congressional committees that the service will find a way to continue to effectively perform its statutory missions, including maritime rescue and drug interdiction.

The sequester, enacted earlier this year after a bipartisan congressional committee failed to agree on a plan to reduce the budget deficit, requires most federal government agencies to slash spending by as much as 7 percent and could leave those cuts in place for much of the next decade.

In all, the Coast Guard was projected to lose $439 million from its nearly $10 billion 2013 fiscal year budget because of the sequester, according to the federal government’s Office of Management and Budget. Some $297 million of that came from operational expenses and another $115 million came from acquisition and construction. Oil spill expenditures were cut by $8 million. Unless Congress acts, those cuts are to remain in place until the 2021 fiscal year.

The effects of the cuts were especially concentrated because they were enacted halfway through the fiscal year, officials said.

In response, the Coast Guard has empowered local base commanders to pare flight training time, community outreach efforts and employee travel and delay ship maintenance.

“We’re cutting things out whenever we can,” a spokesman for the Coast Guard’s Philadelphia station told the news outlet.

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