Did a proposed budget cause a real environmental disaster?

Balloon Juice recently derided HotAir for an article who’s headline asks “Did the government cause the Gulf oil spill?”. But since the Coast Guard is investigating itself for its response to the Deepwater Horizon fire, HotAir is simply repeating questions that the Coast Guard is asking itself.

On the other hand, HotAir is trying to link this with budget cuts from the Obama administration, and that is the kind of dishonesty that Balloon Juice should have been concentrating on. The troubles that the Coast Guard is currently experiencing have nothing to do with Obama. In fact, the the Coast Guard has more money in fy 2010 than they did in fy 2009. HotAir quotes the Washington Examiner which, in turn, incorrectly paraphrases The Foundry. The Foundry says: “The President’s proposed budget threatens to cut the Coast Guard’s blue water fleet by a full one-third, slash 1,000 personnel, five cutters, and several aircraft, including helicopters.” the Washington Examiner says: “Obama’s spending plan reduced the blue water fleet by a full one-third, slashed 1,000 personnel, five cutters, and several aircraft, including helicopters.” The difference is that the Examiner’s use of the word “reduced” suggests that these cuts, which have not been enacted, are a factor in the oil leak. But both of the quotes are referring to the FY2011 budget. The only bit of truth in the latter quote is that the Coast Guard has drawn down personnel in anticipation of the 2011 budget. But the Coast Guard was actually over-billeted in 2010, and had to reduce personnel just to comply with current FY funding.

The Coast Guard’s troubles are due to an aging cutter fleet and an modernization program which is way off schedule and over budget. The program, called “Deepwater” (not related to “Deepwater Horizon”), is an example of what happens when Government backs away and gives private companies too much control over vital programs. It In 2002, following the philosophy that Government is evil, incompetent, and can’t do anything right, the Coast Guard hired a joint group of defense contractors to plan and provide a massive recapitalization of its fleet. This effort included pretty posters of all the cool new ships and aircraft that Deepwater would provide. I knew someone who had one of these posters by his desk, and as various aspects of the program began to fail, he took to drawing big black X’s over the affected aircraft or cutter. The cutters that are supposedly under the axe due to Obama’s budget cuts are over 40 years old and were due to be replaced by the Deepwater program. But because of the problems with Deepwater, the Coast Guard will have to squeeze out a little more life from these old ships. Most people believe that the Coast Guard’s budget, when actually signed by the President, will include adequate funding to support the realities that the Coast Guard is currently facing. In fact, the Democratically controlled House and Senate have each passed budget bills with higher funding.

We’ll see what the Coast Guard’s budget ultimately will be, and we’ll also see if the Coast Guard actually contributed to the the gulf disaster. Either way, the 2011 budget proposal did not cause the 2010 disaster.

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