CAPE MAY — Coast Guard officials say search-and-rescue missions off the New Jersey coast will not be compromised by the automatic federal budget cuts that took effect Friday under a process known as sequestration.
However, those budget cuts will affect Training Center Cape May, the nation’s only boot camp for Coast Guard enlistees.
Search and rescue, from bases such as Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City located in Egg Harbor Township, and by small-boat stations located from Cape May to Barnegat Light, will not face cuts. Search and rescue is part of the core mission that dates back to the Coast Guard’s predecessor agencies, such as the U.S. Lifesaving Service.
“The focus will be on maintaining these operations. Sequestration is going to have an impact across our mission, but the focus is to minimize impacts in critical operations,” Lt. Mike Patterson, a spokesman for the Coast Guard district that runs from the North Carolina-South Carolina border to the Toms River area, said Friday.
Patterson said there are no plans to decommission or close any operating facilities.
Another focus is to minimize the effect on the civilian work force, a large part of Coast Guard operations. While other military branches are talking about furloughs for civilian workers, the Coast Guard is trying to avoid that.
“The civilian work force is crucial to our operations. The focus is to minimize the impacts to civilian workers. The Coast Guard plan is not to immediately furlough civilians,” Patterson said.
However, sequestration could have a much bigger effect at Training Center Cape May, or TRACEN, where Chief Warrant Officer Donnie Brzuska said the center’s budget is being cut from $8 million to $5.9 million during the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.
Brzuska said TRACEN also has no plans to cut civilians, who number 180 of its 1,300 full-time workers, and will not skimp on basic training requirements. It may, however, put off purchases of things such as training equipment and some capital projects.
“We will provide basic training and meet personnel requirements,” Brzuska said.
TRACEN also provides support to 13 separate stations at the massive base on the east side of Cape May, ranging from a small-boat station to large cutters that dock there. Brzuska said sequestration will reduce some maintenance and capital projects at some of these facilities, but the support will still be there.
“We want to make sure they can go out when somebody calls and have a safe place to come back to,” Brzuska said.
Patterson said the commanders at each Coast Guard station will decide how to implement any cuts to maintain their primary missions. Patterson noted Commandant Adm. Robert Papp has said the people, including the civilian employees, are the Coast Guard’s primary resource.
“The Coast Guard has given us the maximum flexibility to manage the risks so we can maintain our mission,” Brzuska said.
Sequestration, which has happened five other times in the nation’s history, the last in 1991, began Friday after Congress and the Obama administration could not come to an agreement on the federal budget. The Budget Control Act of 2011 called for automatic sequestration cuts of $1.2 trillion from fiscal years 2013-21 if no deal were reached, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Cuts through Sept. 30 total $44 billion, and will reach $85 billion by the end of 2013. The reductions are actually just cuts on the growth of the budget over what was expected to be spent. Spending is expected to increase from $3.5 trillion in 2012 to $3.6 trillion this year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The cuts come at a time when the Coast Guard is in the midst of modernizing its aging fleet of vessels, an expenditure of $1.2 billion this year, and trying to acquire parity with the armed services within the Department of Defense for benefits such as child care and housing. The Coast Guard is under the Department of Homeland Security.
The Coast Guard’s budget already was reduced 3.9 percent in fiscal year 2013, but it had risen by 23 percent between fiscal years 2006 and 2012 as the nation gave it many more missions in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
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