(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, as the chairman of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) held a hearing to examine the Coast Guard's budget for Fiscal year 2003.

Senator Murray's opening statement follows:

Today, the Subcommittee will hear testimony on the Coast Guard's budget request for Fiscal Year 2003. We are pleased to be joined by the Department of Transportation's Inspector General, Kenneth Mead. We also want to welcome our Coast Guard Commandant, Admiral Jim Loy. This is likely to be Admiral Loy's last appearance before the Subcommittee as his four-year term comes to a close at the end of May. Admiral, on behalf of the entire subcommittee, I want to thank you for your four years of excellent service.

Last week, the President announced his intention to nominate Vice Admiral Tom Collins to be the next Commandant. I understand that he is in the audience today, and I would like to congratulate him as well.

During our hearing with Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson last week, I pointed out that this Subcommittee will face extraordinary challenges in financing a balanced Transportation bill this year.

The President has proposed a $9 billion cut in highway spending.

Amtrak is near bankruptcy, and the funding requirements of the new transportation Security Administration are expected to grow by more than 250 percent to $4.8 billion.

With this backdrop, the Administration has also requested an increase in the Coast Guard budget of almost 20 percent.

There is no question that the Coast Guard is in a period of rapid change coming on the heels of a national tragedy. In some ways, this period is similar to the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez tragedy in 1989.

As we attempt to respond to the tragedy of September 11th, it is clear that we must do more to protect our country from terrorist attacks.

This is especially true when you reflect on how vulnerable our port communities are to further attack.

At the same time, we must not allow the events of September 11th to divert the Coast Guard away from the other core responsibilities that loomed so large on September 10th.

The Administration has requested the largest increase in Coast Guard spending in history. But I think it is important for us to ask what we are getting if we are successful in fully funding the Administration's request.

If we are successful in providing this historic funding increase, the Coast Guard's level of effort at fisheries enforcement will still be below what it was last year.

If we are successful in providing this historic funding increase, the Coast Guard's level of effort at marine environmental protection will still be below what is was last year.

If we are successful in providing this historic funding increase, the Coast Guard's level of effort at drug interdiction will still be below what it was last year.

As much as I want the Coast Guard to respond fully to all our Homeland Security needs, the fact is, massive amounts of funding are also being provided for this function to the Department of Defense and the Transportation Security Administration - the DOT agency that is supposed to be responsible for security in all the transportation modes.

We are even told that the Department of Defense will soon be appointing its own Commander and Chief, of "CINC" for Homeland Defense.

One thing that I do know is that we cannot depend on the Department of Defense or the Transportation Security Administration to conduct fisheries patrols. We cannot depend on them to inspect oil tankers or respond to an oil spill.

The Navy's level of effort in maritime drug interdiction is driven largely by whether they have ships available.

And even when they do conduct drug patrols, they generally require Coast Guard law enforcement detachments on board to actually inspect and prosecute suspect vessels.

The tension between Homeland Security and the Coast Guard's traditional missions is perhaps starkest in my area of the country. Puget Sound has many critical Department of Defense installations.

Immediately after September 11th, Coast Guard vessels traditionally used for Search and Rescue were diverted to establish a twenty-four hour security zone around those facilities and to escort Navy ships.

It took months for those Search and Rescue boats to return to their normal stations. Only after I petitioned the Commander in Chief for the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Fargo, did the Navy expand its own efforts to guard its own assets.

When the President submitted his supplemental request for the Coast Guard, I doubled the amount of funding requested for Marine Safety and Security Teams so that Puget Sound could have its own Coast Guard unit to prosecute this mission without diverting other Coast Guard units from their traditional missions.

No one wants to see the needs of the Coast Guard fully met more than I do. When I think of the needs of the Coast Guard, I do not think of Washington, D.C. I think of the seamen and petty officers in Washington State. They deserve the best equipment and best training that we can give them. They also deserve a humane workweek so they can conduct all their missions with excellence, not exhaustion.

So as we once again expand the Coast Guard's efforts in a critically important mission, I intend to make sure that it is not done entirely on the backs of the hard working Coast Guard members in the field.

I also intend to make sure that the expansion of this mission is in balance with the continuing needs of all other missions and that all the appropriate federal agencies pay their fair share of the cost.