When Congress and the White House agreed to sequestration, everyone involved knew it was a bad idea. To this day, each side remains hopeful that the other will relent. As a result, the outcome no one wants is fast approaching.
Congress voted for the sequestration as a way to force bipartisan compromise on reducing the deficit last year. The compromise failed to materialize, and so now, in a little more than three months, their bad idea will become reality. Sequestration will result in an initial round of $1.2 trillion in budget cuts -- in addition to the $1 trillion in cuts also planned over the next 10 years.
Last week, the Office of Management and Budget released the Sequestration Transparency Act report detailing the across-the-boards cuts. While providing the basics of the how, how much and where, OMB reiterated the obvious: that no amount of planning can mitigate the effect of these cuts, which are an irresponsible way for our nation to achieve deficit reduction. OMB went on to state that sequestration cuts will be destructive to our national security, domestic investments and core government functions. Because national security funding will absorb half the total cuts, it has received great attention and has been well-publicized. However, the other 50 percent will come from nearly every other federal agency or department, many of which provide critical functions ensuring the safety, security and well-being of our nation -- including the U.S. Coast Guard.
Under sequestration, the Coast Guard faces nearly a half-billion dollars in cuts in both its discretionary and mandatory programs. Though many take the day-to-day contributions of the Coast Guard for granted, the Coast Guard provides services to all Americans through 11 missions, including: port, waterway and costal security; drug interdiction; aids to navigation; search and rescue; living marine resources; marine safety; defense readiness; migrant interdiction; marine environmental protection; icebreaking operations; and law enforcement. Nearly every one of these programs is subject to the impacts of sequestration.
Domestically, one only has to think back to the response the Coast Guard provided during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, or internationally, to protection provided to U.S.-flagged mariners in attempted acts of piracy off the Somali coast, to realize their importance. In 2011 alone, the Coast Guard responded to more than 20,000 search-and-rescue cases, saving more than 3,800 lives; prevented more than 166,000 pounds of cocaine from hitting U.S. streets; interdicted nearly 2,500 migrants attempting to enter our country illegally; conducted more than 5,000 fishery conservation boardings; and responded to and investigated more than 3,000 pollution incidents.
To cut the deficit, the American people understand we need cutbacks. But how? And where? How many fewer lives saved? How much more cocaine brought into our country? Do we compromise boater safety or oil spill response? Do we ask the Coast Guard to ensure navigational safety, while allowing port and harbor security to lapse?
The purpose of sequestration was supposedly to force Congress to reach a deficit reduction compromise. As the Navy League has pointed out for the last year, we understand the need for a smaller bureaucracy and a balanced budget, but ensuring the safety and security of the people is the primary function of our government. The Coast Guard is a key player in providing this critical function. It must be allowed to do perform its duties unencumbered, properly funded and with clear direction; not used as a pawn in a political game of chicken.
Congress must do whatever it can to stop sequestration. Also, OMB's presentation of a plan to execute sequestration cuts does not relieve the Obama administration of further responsibility. The Executive branch, responsible for the day-to-day administration of our government, must lead from the front and do whatever it can to stop this train wreck.
Dale Lumme is national executive director of the Navy League of the United States.