WASHINGTON (AP) _ Rep. Peter DeFazio urged the head of the Coast Guard Thursday to give up his private jet so the agency can afford to maintain lifesaving services at 23 Coast Guard stations slated for closure.

``It is simply a question of priorities,'' DeFazio, D-Ore., said in a letter to Transportation Secretary Federico Pena.

``Who should wait, a helpless victim in the cold waters off the coast of Oregon or a Coast Guard official at National Airport?'' he wrote.

A Coast Guard spokesman said the commandant, Adm. Robert Kramek, needs the jet.

DeFazio, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said Coast Guard officials have admitted they could keep the 23 small boat stations open for about $2 million a year.

That's the same as the annual operating costs for the 12-seat Gulfstream jet aircraft reserved for Kramek's personal use, DeFazio said.

``The Coast Guard commandant's jet is used to ferry members of Congress around and serve as the admiral's private perk... a pretentious perk that has no place in a government committed to downsizing,'' he said.

Kramek should fly commercial coach, he said.

Neither Pena nor Kramek had any immediate comment, agency officials said.

But the Coast Guard spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Pat Philbin, said the commandant needs the jet. He said the closure of the 23 stations is part of a larger realignment that will focus resources on the greatest work loads without sacrificing safety at any site.

``The commandant is a service chief of an armed force _ one of the five armed services,'' Philbin said. ``As such, it is necessary for him to have the ability to communicate constantly with Coast Guard forces throughout the world.''

The Transportation Department's inspector general said in February that each of the jet's 163 trips cost taxpayers an average $16,000 in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 1994.

The plane was used primarily for administrative, not operational, purposes, DeFazio said.

The 23 Coast Guard stations, scheduled for closure under the GOP-backed budget that cleared the House in May, are in Oregon, Rhode Island, Maine, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Delaware, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and California.