What do you think the impact of a new Congress
and president will be on the Coast Guard?
CUMMINGS: That’s hard to say. When a new president
comes in, of course, there will be a new head of Homeland
Security. Some of the resistance that we have gotten so far
has been — we’ve been told — from the [Homeland
Security] secretary’s office. It all depends on how the new
president views all of this. I think the Coast Guard is in a
very difficult position in that, again, they are asked to do a
lot of things and a lot of times the resources are not there.
Do you think putting the Coast Guard under
the Department of Homeland Security umbrella
was a good move?
CUMMINGS: I do believe the Coast Guard has some
very important homeland security functions. As a matter of fact, a great part of what they do is regarding
homeland security. I just want to make sure that, from
a functional standpoint, it stands out, that it is a military operation. I think the jury is still out as to whether
that military operation should come under [the
Homeland Security] umbrella or be separated.
I’m not so much concerned about what umbrella an
organization comes under, because too often what happens is we get caught up in those kinds of things and we
don’t spend enough time on the effectiveness and efficiency of the operation itself. You could title something anything you want, but if it’s not accomplishing the things it’s
supposed to accomplish, what does it matter?
So my concern is that it be treated as the strong military operation that it is, that it be given priority wherever it may be. Because they do have the functions of
securing our waters, addressing efforts to smuggle
drugs into our country, addressing folks trying to illegally come into our country, providing marine safety
and the many, many things that they do. I just want to
make sure they are treated with the utmost respect and
they get all the things they need to accomplish [all]
they have to do.
How would you evaluate the $9.35 billion
budget [up from $9.04 billion last year]
proposed for the Coast Guard for 2009?
CUMMINGS: I’m very proud of what we’ve done
because I think we have looked at just about every single aspect of the Coast Guard and we’ve addressed it as
if our lives depended on it. We wanted to make sure we
covered everything and I think we’ve done that. I think
we struck a perfect balance. We have made it so that
whatever monies are spent, again, they’re going to
effectiveness, efficiency and balance.
We’ve come up with reasonable changes to the
Coast Guard where we thought appropriate. We’ve
tried to work with other committees to make sure that
the appropriate funding is going to be there, and I feel
very good about it. It’s one of the most comprehensive
pieces of legislation I’ve seen since I’ve been here, and
I’ve been here 13 years. ■