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Murkowski Criticizes Homeland Security Plans

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Feb. 24 told Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that she is "greatly concerned" about the Obama administration's proposal to decommission the Ketchikan-based Coast Guard Cutter ACUSHNET.

Murkowski noted that the Coast Guard covers 3.5 million square miles of ocean around Alaska and that decommissioning the ACUSHNET will make it "exceptionally difficult for the Coast Guard to meet an already challenging mission it faces in Alaska."

Murkowski was speaking at a Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee hearing to consider the Department of Homeland Security's Fiscal Year 2011 budget proposal. The budget, for the fiscal year that begins Oct.1, calls for decommissioning the Medium Endurance Cutter ACUSHNET, which is homeported in Ketchikan and employs 80 crew members.

After Murkowski spoke, the chairman of the subcommittee, U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., told Napolitano that he shared Murkowski's concerns about decommissioning Coast Guard cutters without replacements to fill the gap. Along with the ACUSHNET, the administration has proposed decommissioning four High Endurance Cutters.

Napolitano was unable to elaborate on the administration's budget proposal to decommission the ACUSHNET but pledged to get back with Murkowski on the matter.

Murkowski also asked Napolitano about the Transportation Worker Identification Credential, or TWIC, program. All transportation workers working around secure areas and mariners holding Coast Guard-issued credentials must obtain a biometric ID card. There are four TWIC centers in Alaska - Anchorage, Juneau, Valdez and Soldotna - but Murkowski said it's difficult for transportation workers and mariners living outside those areas to get to the centers for the credential. She used examples of workers living in Unalaska having to fly to Anchorage, and workers living in Ketchikan having to fly to Juneau.

These workers have to travel twice to a center - once to apply and once to pick up the ID.

"It's bad enough to have to send you to Anchorage to get your card, but it's really kind of a poke in the eye that you have to travel back to pick it up," Murkowski said.

Napolitano told Murkowski: "I will task somebody to work with your office and let's see if we can fix this."

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