WASHINGTON -- Rep. Don Young's Transportation Committee has given the U.S. Coast Guard a massive budget increase that could allow more fishing law enforcement work in Alaska.
The committee's budget views, however, have a long way to go before they become law.
President Bush requested about $5.2 billion for the Coast Guard for he fiscal year that starts July 1. That's $545 million above the current year.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday decided that was not enough. The committee chaired by Young, R-Alaska, added $300 million for a total proposed increase of $845 million.
Young said Coast Guard operations in Alaska were curtailed this year because of a $92 million nationwide budget shortfall.
As a result, the Coast Guard "primarily concentrated on search and rescue," Young told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
The enforcement problems involve foreign boats in U.S. waters, Young said.
"They would easily identify them from the air, but they couldn't go out and intercept them. They didn't have the fuel to run the ships," Young said.
Young and some other congressmen say the Coast Guard has been underfunded for years, but the shortfall this year was caused in part by the tangled budget process in Congress.
Last year Congress passed the Coast Guard spending bill without accounting for military pay raises that it approved in a later bill. As a result, the service found itself short of cash and announced in March that it would reduce air and sea patrols by 10 percent.
Much of the proposed increase for next year would cover not just pay raises but also a new program to buy ships and aircraft. Bush's 2002 budget provides for both expenses but not enough to satisfy the committee.
"While the president's budget request proposes a solid increase to the Coast Guard's operating and acquisition accounts, the Coast Guard needs additional resources in the fiscal year 2002 budget to avoid the destructive cycle of budget shortfalls, operational cuts, and end-of-year supplemental bills," wrote Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., in an April 27 briefing paper for members of the Coast Guard subcommittee, of which he is chairman.
The Transportation Committee's action may be encouraging for the Coast Guard, but it is only an authorizing committee. Such committees write the bills that guide where money may be spent and that cap how much may be spent. But the appropriations committees in Congress write the bills that actually spend the money, and they often approve less than the caps suggested by the authorizing committees.
"I have a little problem with some of the appropriators. They don't quite see the urgency of it," Young said. "Everybody should be hitting their appropriators over the head."