Naval boosters are coming out swinging against proposed U.S. Coast Guard cuts they say would "gut" the service.
The Navy League, an advocacy group based in Arlington, Virginia, on Friday said it "staunchly" opposes a proposal under consideration by the White House Office of Management and Budget to cut $1.3 billion from the Coast Guard's $10.3 billion budget as part of the fiscal 2018 spending plan.
While President Donald Trump has proposed a massive spending hike -- some $54 billion -- for the Defense Department in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, as well as a more modest increase for the Homeland Security Department -- of which the Coast Guard is a part -- the budget proposal would squeeze a number of areas, including the smallest military service.
"This would have a devastating impact on the service and undermine our national security and potentially cost American lives," states a release from the Navy League.
The Coast Guard conducts dozens of search and rescue missions that save, on average, 10 lives a day, Navy League National President Skip Witunski noted in the release. "To put more than 3,000 American lives at risk is a gross abdication of government responsibility," he added.
The service also plays a key role in curbing illegal trafficking of people and drugs into the U.S., interdicting more than 6,300 people entering the country illegally, and more than 200 metric tons of cocaine and nearly 53,000 pounds of marijuana, according to the statement.
"If the Trump administration is looking to strengthen border security, invest in our military and safeguard American lives, the right choice would be to invest more in the Coast Guard, not less," it states.
The Coast Guard's requested funding in fiscal 2017, which began Oct. 1, for a new polar icebreaker to meet growing demands in the polar regions, four new Fast Response Cutters, the Offshore Patrol Cutter and sustainment projects for two 140-foot-long WTGB Icebreaking Tugs and a 225-foot-long Seagoing Buoy Tender, according to budget documents.
The administration's proposed request, if unchanged, would likely force the cancellation of a contract for a new National Security Cutter.
Watch for Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft to defend funding for his service next week when he delivers his annual State of the Coast Guard address 2 p.m. Thursday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.