Draft documents of the White House budget request indicate that President Trump intends to follow through on his campaign vows to build a wall on the border of the United States and Mexico. But that wall could come at the expense of other security measures.
Overall, the Department of Homeland Security would get a 6 percent boost to its budget, to $43.8 billion, according to documents obtained by reporters. But the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is reportedly seeking significant cuts to the budgets of the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which oversees the national response to disasters.
Throughout his campaign, the now-president repeatedly called for a wall on the border of the US and Mexico to stop dangerous criminals from entering the country illegally. Now, it looks as though Mr. Trump's wall, at one time dismissed by opponents and supporters alike as nothing more than political posturing, could soon become a reality. But, critics say, building it at the expense of sea or air security would be counterproductive.
"It is ignorant of what constitutes national security," said retired Adm. James Loy, a former Coast Guard commandant who served as deputy Homeland Security secretary and TSA administrator under former-President George W. Bush, to Politico. "They simply don’t understand the equation."
According to the draft documents, OMB is seeking a 14 percent cut to the Coast Guard's $9.1 billion budget – a cut that experts say could be detrimental to its role in protecting national security. The Coast Guard interdicted 6,346 undocumented migrants, 201 metric tons of cocaine, and 52,613 pounds of marijuana in 2016, a Coast Guard official told CNN. These seizures, the official said, amount to more than three times the quantity of cocaine seized at US borders and within the country combined.
And, critics note, the construction of a border wall and hiring of additional border agents will likely increase the need for guarding ports and coastlines.
"[A]s preparations are made for a wall on the Southwest border, migrants, smugglers and potential terrorists will look to America’s shores and waterways for entry," writes Rep. Duncan Hunter (R) of California, one of Trump's earliest backers, in an opinion piece for Fox News. "Absent a strong Coast Guard, America will be less safe and President Trump’s ambition to fully reconstitute the military and enhance security will go unmet."
Defenders of the TSA, the budget of which would be cut by 11 percent, cite similar concerns. The cuts would reportedly eliminate four programs that cost the agency $187 million and have been considered, according to The Washington Post, "a vital piece of airport security and for preventing a repetition of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings after planes are aloft."
"This would be a terrible black eye, having gotten the agency well along the path of something they can be proud of," Adm. Loy, who also served as administrator of the TSA when it was established after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, told Politico. "Now they would have to figure out how to do their job with significantly less resources."
"This is the amazing reality," he added, "despite the fact that the bad guys have a love affair with commercial aviation as a target."
FEMA, for its part, would also undergo an 11 percent – or $370 million – cut, including a 25 percent ($280 million) reduction in the program for countering violent extremism and preparations for a wide-scale terrorist attack, along with a 40 percent ($80 million) cut for FEMA's port transit security grant program, Politico reports. These cuts, critics say, would undermine progress made in recent years in refining the national response system in local communities throughout the country.
"When you propose not just cuts but draconian cuts, your ability to respond to a disaster can cause lives to be lost and property to be damaged," said Nick Crossley, emergency management director in Hamilton County, Ohio, and first vice president of the International Association of Emergency Managers, to the Post.
“Defense and security at the border are important,” he said. “But you’re damaging the national system that makes us the strongest country when it comes to being prepared for disasters.”
The cuts revealed in the draft documents are still subject to change, as the administration is still early in the process of working on the budget, officials noted.
"The budget blueprint will be released in mid-March. It would be premature for us to comment – or anyone to report – on the specifics of this internal discussion before its publication," said OMB spokesman John Czwartacki, as reported by CNN. "The President and his Cabinet are working collaboratively as we speak to create a budget that keeps the President's promises."
This report includes material from the Associated Press.