The necessary funding is a drop in the ocean for the federal governmentLower Columbia people are justifiably proud of the U.S. Coast Guard, with which we have a long and deep affiliation. It is a major economic force. Active and retired Coast Guard personnel are crucial contributors to our social fabric.

However, perhaps foremost among the reasons for our affection is the Coast Guard's proud history here of search and rescue, national defense and law enforcement.

Considering all it does, the Coast Guard was understaffed and underfunded on Sept. 10, 2001. On Sept. 11 and in the months that followed, that situation became much worse. Charged with many additional functions and now housed in the Department of Homeland Security, it has enormously more to do. Funding has not kept pace.

A RAND think tank study release Monday says the ongoing "Deepwater" modernization program provides only half the ships and two-thirds of the aircraft the Guard needs to protect 95,000 miles of U.S. coastline.

Instead of stringing the modernization along for 20 years, it should be accomplished in 10, according to RAND. Funding should be increased by $8.5 billion to $16.2 billion, the study says.

Many security experts believe the U.S. is vulnerable to attack through our seaports. They say militants may try to smuggle in arms, chemicals or people to destroy ports, kill civilians or cripple trade.

In the overall scheme of defense spending, an extra $8.5 billion for the Coast Guard is a minuscule sum to provide adequate coastal security.

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