HOMELAND SECURITY: Coast Guard, Color-Coded Alerts

January 31, 2011 at 11:17 pm Leave a comment

But the Coast Guard Wears Two Hats

Among the proposals being floated by congressional Republicans to trim the projected trillion dollar federal deficit is one to move the U.S. Coast Guard out of the Homeland Security Department (DHS) and into the Defense Department.

U.S. Coast Guard photo by PA1 Adam Eggers

Unlike some of his colleagues, who want to cut federal spending over the next five years, freshman Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) suggests trimming $500 billion from the federal budget now (in Fiscal Year 2011). Among the new senator’s suggestions for getting the numbers down is to cut the DHS budget by 43%, according to a watchdog group, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Paul also proposes moving the Coast Guard – an armed, uniformed service – into Defense Dept. with all the other armed services. The Coast Guard would take its funding along with it to the Defense Department.

A summary explaining Paul’s bill, the “Cut Federal Spending Act of 2011,” states that the transfer from DHS “’will promote uniformity, administrative savings, and reduce duplicative functions.”

The way Paul and his advisers see it, the Coast Guard is practically a part of the Defense Dept. already because by law it operates under the authority of the Navy in time of war or when the president so directs. Coast Guard units are currently working with the Navy in the waters off Iraq as well as part of anti-piracy operations in and around the Horn of Africa.

But Paul’s folks seem to have forgotten, or ignored, the fact that the Coast Guard also has civilian law enforcement authority and is the only armed service exempt from the restrictions of the 1878 Posse Comitatus law that bars federal troops from enforcing civilian laws on U.S. soil (except in very limited situations like armed insurrection.)

Because of that law enforcement exemption, the Coast Guard’s mission has been repeatedly expanded – especially since 9/11 – to include drug and illegal migrant interdiction, port security, vessel safety inspection and intruder interdiction in the airspace over Washington, D.C.

Coast Guard advocates also note the entire Coast Guard is never made a part of the Navy in wartime, just designated units, vessels and personnel.

While Paul’s plan to move the Coast Guard is considered highly unlikely to pass, it does raise the question of what would happen to the Coast Guard’s role as the enforcer of U.S. maritime safety and security laws if it became just another armed service.

Color Us Relieved

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is dumping its confusing color-coded terrorist alert system. The five-color system, first introduced in 2002, ranged from Green (Low Risk of Terrorist Attack) through blue, yellow and orange up to Red (Severe Risk of Terrorist Attack). It has been stuck at Yellow (Elevated: Significant risk of Terrorist Attacks) for years. And U.S. airports and airlines have been at Orange (High Risk of Terrorist Atacks) since 2006.

Going, going, gone in April

In an announcement last week (Jan. 27) Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the new, two-tiered system “is built on a clear and simple premise: when a credible threat develops that could impact the public, we will tell you and provide whatever information we can so that you know how to keep yourselves, your families and your communities safe.”

The old system, which did not specifically tell people what to do when alert levels were raised or lowered became the butt of comedians’ jokes and a source of anxiety and frustration for average Americans. It will be phased out by April, the DHS said.

Entry filed under: Homeland Security, National Security and Defense, News Developments, Washington. Tags: , , , , , , .

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