Coast Guard's fate emerges as rising issue in Hill debate

As Congress works to sort out proposals to reorganize several agencies into a new Homeland Security Department, the Coast Guard may become one of the more prominent footballs.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said Wednesday he did not think it would be possible to separate the Coast Guard's security functions from its other duties, such as search-and-rescue and drug interdiction.

"There's no clear tear lines in their functions," Mineta told a group of House GOP moderates at a Republican Main Street Partnership breakfast.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, who has a key jurisdictional stake in the outcome of reorganization--and a soft spot for the Coast Guard--agreed that the agency should not be broken up.

However, during an interview, Young rhetorically asked, "Who said it would be in Homeland Security?"

Added Young of Mineta, "He's singing the administration's song, and that's his responsibility."

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, who formally introduced President Bush's homeland security plan Tuesday, is spearheading a series of meetings with administration officials and congressional leaders on the reorganization to try to develop consensus.

Armey met Wednesday with Mineta and Tuesday with Young.

"Where [the Coast Guard] is located, I think, is not as important to [Young], nor to me, than its ability to complete its mission," Armey told a Tuesday press briefing.

House leaders are shooting for a completed reorganization plan by July 14.

"This will all be worked out and at the end of the day, everyone will come to an agreement on a final product," said an Armey aide.

Mineta said he expects the entire Coast Guard and Transportation Security Administration operations to be phased into the Homeland Security Department after other agencies, such as the Customs Service.