Rep. Elijah Cummings says the Coast Guard
has made improvements, but there are still missteps
U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., calls himself the Coast
Guard’s biggest supporter and harshest critic. Since 2006, he has
chaired the House Transportation and Infrastructure Coast Guard
and maritime transportation subcommittee. He has presided over
congressional hearings that chastised the Coast Guard’s handling of
the multibillion-dollar Deepwater modernization program and stood
beside them at ceremonies marking a record number of cocaine
seizures in 2007.
Cummings is not afraid to disagree with the Coast Guard
Commandant Adm. Thad W. Allen or President George W. Bush on
service issues about which he is passionate. Cummings says he is
puzzled by the Coast Guard’s resistance to congressional help. He
also noted that although the service is stretched thin, it is the only
organization with the capabilities to handle the additional responsibilities of overseeing the transport of liquefied natural gas (LNG).
The seven-term congressman discussed the direction in which the
Coast Guard is now moving and the progress of the Deepwater program with Assistant Editor John C. Marcario. Excerpts follow.
How would you evaluate the Deepwater program during the past 12 months, and what is
your biggest concern in the next year?
CUMMINGS: I think, on a grade scale, I would give
them perhaps a C+ or a B. There have been some things
that I’ve been a bit disappointed with, and let me take
you down two parallel tracks here. We have tried to
work with the Coast Guard to bring in new rules and
new laws to try to make sure we avoid what happened
with regard to Deepwater. And I’ve been disappointed
at the resistance we’ve gotten on almost everything
we’ve tried to do.
I think you’ve got to understand that, from one
standpoint, military folks have concerns about legislative bodies having a say with regard to what they do. I
can understand that. But when you do what the Coast
Guard did, and that is to create a contract where
accountability, basically, went to those private companies that were involved — integrated teams where determination of bonuses was made by them, where there
were boats that didn’t float, where there was disappointment after disappointment after disappointment, where
perfectly good vessels were taken out of the sea and then
were supposed to be made better but were not.
When that happens, we, as legislators, have a duty to
step in a little bit further or deeper than we would normally because we are the ones who are elected by the people and they look to us to make sure their tax dollars are
spent effectively and efficiently. I would’ve liked to have
seen a little more cooperation from the Coast Guard.
That’s one track. With regard to what they actually
did to try to make things better, this is an ongoing
process and we’re trying to correct our mistakes as we
go along. And so, if you see mistakes, you ought to be