Congress' efforts to build a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security without a doubt will directly affect the Coast Guard and its functions along Alaska's coast. But thanks to the efforts of the state's congressional delegation, it is looking promising that if Congress can put together a final package it could include protections to keep the Coast Guard from being lost in the shuffle.
The delegation had been working to keep the Coast Guard entirely separate from the proposed Homeland Security Department. But as the debate continued, it became increasingly clear that would not be possible. Instead, the House-passed version would move the Coast Guard into the new department, but it includes measures to keep its rescue and fisheries law enforcement operations -- so vital to Alaska -- protected.
U.S. Rep. Don Young, along with his Alaska counterparts in the Senate, fought hard to keep the Coast Guard out of the new department. But when it became clear the move was inevitable, he made the best deal possible in the House version. The bill states that while the Coast Guard would become part of the department, its ships and aircraft could not be transferred to the control of other divisions within the department. In addition, the Coast Guard commandant would report directly to the new secretary of homeland defense.
The bill making its way through the Senate has similar provisions, although an amendment proposed by Sen. Ted Stevens would allow the president to waive the restrictions for up to 90 days for an emergency requiring Coast Guard ships and aircraft.
All along the United States' coast, the Coast Guard provides a variety of valuable and too often unrecognized services. Its duties -- which include marine safety, search and rescue operations, fisheries law enforcement and marine environmental protection -- are particularly important in our state where maritime industries play a major role in our economy and our lives.
While it is certainly vital to develop a Homeland Security Department that can effectively deal with global terrorist threats, that need must be balanced with the other operations of the Coast Guard that so many coastal states depend on. These compromise measures making their way through the House and Senate would strike an acceptable balance.
-- Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
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