President Trump’s promise to construct a wall on the border with Mexico has taken on such overarching importance in the White House that the administration is reportedly considering drastic budget cuts to agencies with responsibility for major elements of national security, including the Transportation Security Agency and the Coast Guard.
First reported by Politico and later confirmed by multiple other outlets, the White House Office of Management and Budget is weighing a plan to lop off 14 percent of the Coast Guard’s budget for 2017, cutting its spending authority from $9.1 billion to $7.8 billion. The TSA would face a similar haircut, losing 11 percent of its budget, from $5.2 billion to $4.6 billion.
Cuts to the Federal Emergency Management Agency are also being considered, which would reduce its budget by 11 percent, from a little over $4 billion to $3.6 billion.
Taken in combination with the Trump administration’s promise to quickly and dramatically increase the number of agents working for the Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Border Control, the proposed cuts represent what appears to be a dramatic realignment of priorities in border security, with money and manpower being directed to the southern border at the expense of virtually all other points of entry to the country.
The TSA, best known to airline travelers as the employer of uniformed officers inspecting bags and delivering the occasional intrusive pat-down at airports, is considered a key element on the front lines of the national security state, charged with protecting travelers from physical attacks.
The proposal would eliminate TSA training programs, and funding for armed patrols of airports, train stations and other transportation hubs. It would also eliminate grants to local law enforcement agencies to increase patrols around airports.
The Coast Guard’s role is less obvious to most citizens but is also a key cog in the national security machine. Defunding it in the name of border security is even more ironic, if possible, than taking money from the TSA.
During the presidential campaign, Trump railed against the flow of both undocumented immigrants and drugs into the country. The Coast Guard plays an important role in combating both. Its fleet of cutters, airplanes and helicopters runs drug interdiction missions in the coastal waters of the United States and intercepts boatloads of would-be undocumented immigrants in the waters off Florida.
“OMB has always treated the Coast Guard like a little piggy bank that they can go after whenever they need money for anything else,” California Congressman Duncan Hunter, the Republican in charge of the subcommittee with oversight authority over the agency told The Washington Post. “If the president is serious about getting after the cartels and getting after drug networks, this makes no sense.”
FEMA’s role, while not related to national security per se, is well-known to the public from the news coverage of hurricanes, tornados and other natural disasters, where it assists with rescue, recovery and rebuilding.
What remains unclear is whether Trump’s proposed changes to the way the nation spends money on national security and border enforcement reflects the considered judgment of experts that it will actually make the nation safer, or simply the determination of the president to keep a campaign promise, regardless of the cost.