The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump administration plans to use Coast Guard money to pay for border enforcement

President Trump salutes during a change-of-command ceremony as Adm. Karl Schultz takes over for Adm. Paul Zukunft as the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard at U.S. Coast Guard headquarters in Washington. (Saul Loebsaul/AFP/Getty Images)
Placeholder while article actions load

The Trump administration, facing a growing immigration enforcement mission on the southern U.S. border, is considering a plan to shift money from the U.S. Coast Guard to other parts of the Department of Homeland Security, according to U.S. officials and an internal Coast Guard message obtained by The Washington Post.

Most of the funding would go to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which also is part of Homeland Security. The department has the authority to move money around between its components and may also shift other funding to pay for ICE operations.

The Coast Guard message stated that $77 million could be shifted and that several courses of action have been presented to Adm. Karl Schultz, the Coast Guard commandant. The Coast Guard Reserve also “may be required to provide a contribution,” the message said.

Coast Guard officials, asked to comment on the message, referred questions to DHS.

“The Coast Guard doesn’t discuss any of our internal deliberative processes,” said Alana Miller, a service spokeswoman. “Additionally, any potential budget conversation would be predecisional in nature.”

A DHS spokeswoman, Lesley Fulop, said in a statement that the department is “currently evaluating the need to reallocate funds, and will do so in a manner to minimize the impact on its operations and mission execution to the maximum extent possible.”

Added Fulop: “The women and men of the Department of Homeland Security work together with one shared mission to secure our nation’s homeland and protect Americans from threats by land, sea, air and in cyberspace. Each year, the Department undergoes a routine process to assess the resource execution of programs, review emergent requirements and address leadership priorities.”

It marks at least the second time that the Trump administration has looked to the Coast Guard to pay for other Homeland Security needs.

In March 2017, draft versions of the administration’s first budget called for the Coast Guard budget to be cut 14 percent to about $7.8 billion as part of a broader plan to fund President Trump’s proposed border wall. The plan was scuttled after it was reported in the media and decried by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

But the administration and Congress have increased Coast Guard funding since then. The service ultimately received $10.5 billion in 2018, with $11.65 billion planned in 2019.

Trump, enamored with the Coast Guard’s response to devastating hurricanes last year, has repeatedly praised its “brand.”

“People have tremendous respect for the United States Coast Guard,” Trump said June 1, as the service replaced its retiring commandant, Adm. Paul Zukunft, with Schultz. “It’s true. Right? I’ve told you that before.”

The Coast Guard also set a record last year, confiscating more than 455,000 pounds of cocaine at sea. Most of that was traveling from Colombia to the West Coast of the United States, and was confiscated in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

Zukunft often raised concerns about the Coast Guard not getting enough money and said the service was “delighted” with the increasing funding from the new administration.

“The good news is we are now a middleweight contender,” he said in an April 10 speech. “We are not a nuclear enterprise, so we will never be the heavyweight, but we are right where we need to be.”