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‘We got left behind’: The Coast Guard’s top officer laments being excluded from Trump’s military funding

The Coast Guard’s top officer said Monday that his service was “left behind” in an effort by the Trump administration to improve the armed force and that it still needs dozens of new ships and thousands more service members.

“I’m delighted that Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps are being plused up, but we’ve got nothing left,” said Adm. Paul Zukunft, the Coast Guard commandant, at a conference hosted by the Navy League at National Harbor in Maryland.

The admiral’s comments come after the Trump administration proposed to increase the Defense Department’s funding by $54 billion in its first budget plan, making it one of just a few departments earmarked for an increase. The Coast Guard’s funding stayed flat at about $9.1 billion for 2018, after an earlier draft budget showed that the Trump administration considered slashing $1.3 billion from the Coast Guard to help pay for the president’s planned wall on the southern U.S. border.

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The proposal to reduce Coast Guard funding ultimately was set aside after a bipartisan effort involving dozens of lawmakers. But Zukunft said Monday it still caused consternation, especially in Maritime Security Response Teams, which carry out counterterrorism patrols in ports and sensitive waterways and were targeted for cuts in the draft budget.

The Coast Guard, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, has often been scrutinized as a place to save money in the federal budget. Efforts have been made to exempt the military from some of the congressionally mandated budget cuts known as sequestration, but they have not applied to the Coast Guard because it is not a part of the Defense Department.

Zukunft has been more vocal about discussing the service’s funding in the past few weeks, describing planned upgrades to the service’s fleet of 35 cutters in stark terms in his annual “State of the Coast Address” last month.

“Twenty-five of these cutters are more than 50 years old, with the oldest being 73,” he said then. “Most of them are not configured for mixed-gender crews. All of them are being monitored for lead abatement and asbestos mitigation. The time to replace this legacy — or perhaps geriatric — class of cutters arrived over a decade ago.”

Zukunft told reporters last month that the service must pull itself out of the shadows and “put ourselves in the limelight.”

Among the projects the Coast Guard wants to take on is building three large icebreaker ships and three medium-size ones. Coast Guard officials say they are needed to patrol waterways in the Arctic that increasingly are open to navigation as climate change melts ice there.