Coast Guard Suspends Routine Drug Patrols in Response To Possible Budget Cut
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Coast Guard, worried about a potential $230 million budget cut, has suspended routine drug patrols as part of an effort to avoid even harsher spending reductions later, its chief spokesman said Thursday.
″The bottom line is if it costs a dollar, don’t do it unless you have to,″ Capt. James Greene, chief of public affairs, said in an interview.
Greene and Coast Guard spokesmen in Miami, Boston and Astoria, Ore., said that also means stopping routine maintenance, reducing fisheries patrols, slowing down training, reducing recruiting and awarding no new contracts.
The steps are a response to orders that Adm. James Gracey, the Coast Guard commandant, issued last week just after the Senate approved the cut to stay within overall spending guidelines it had adopted in August.
The cut would reduce the Coast Guard’s budget for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 to less than $2.3 billion, instead of the $2.5 billion recommended by President Reagan and approved by the House.
Rep. Silvio O. Conte, R-Mass., a member of the House-Senate conference committee on the proposed Transportation Department budget, said House conferees are fighting to get the money restored. The Coast Guard is a unit of the Transportation Department.
The House, at Conte’s urging, also gave the Coast Guard $100 million Wednesday in unanticipated money as part of the 1986 defense spending bill.
But Greene said the cost-saving measures would continue until Congress as a whole adopts a Coast Guard budget.
Coast Guard officials outside Washington said they are taking the orders to cut spending seriously.
″I don’t want to give the impression that we’re going out of business,″ Lt. Cmdr. Jim Simpson said in Miami. ″It is important to know that major cutters will still patrol for smugglers. But what all this does mean is we can’t just go out and look for it with the smaller cutters.″
Petty Officer 2nd Class Norman Whitehurst said in Boston that Gracey’s order cancelled routine ship, aircraft and small boat patrols that amount to 1,000 hours a month off the New England coast.
Whitehurst said the Coast Guard still responds to reports of drug smuggling, but no longer is conducting random searches for boats loaded with contraband.
In Astoria, Ore., the cutter Resolute was supposed to go out on a routine law enforcement patrol Monday, but instead is sitting in its birth.
″It’s a little bit frustrating,″ said its skipper, Cmdr. Robert Gronberg. ″We’re just kind of hanging on, waiting to see what Congress decides to do.″
Greene and Whitehurst said the fear of a big budget cut also is taking a toll on the men and women who wear the Coast Guard uniform.
″People are reading the newspapers pretty carefully these days,″ Whitehurst said.
Gracey has said if the full $230 million is axed from his budget he will have to lay off 6,000 military and civilian employees, ground more than 40 airplanes and tie up more than 40 boats.
Greene said men and women nearing the end of an enlistment are especially worried about the possiblity of layoffs.