Washington Waves: February 26, 2018

Washington, D.C.—Officials of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said they will not know for weeks, possibly even months, which specific projects will be covered by supplemental funding in a stopgap spending bill passed by Congress to keep the federal government open.

“There is a substantial amount of work that was rolled out,” Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, the Corps commanding general, said, referring to the roughly $17.39 billion included in the funding bill recently signed into law by President Donald Trump.

“I want to assure everyone that we are taking this seriously. Obviously we have a massive workload now.”

Without the constraints other Army organizations face on staffing, Semonite said at a recent press briefing, the Corps will have no problems hiring more staff to do the work.

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“We’ll hire up where we need to, to be able to handle that capacity.”

Maj. Gen. Donald Jackson, deputy commanding general for Civil and Emergency Operations, said details will be worked out by the administration with a process to align congressional language to the resources provided by the law.

“It’s premature right now to talk project specifics,” Jackson said.

A work plan, he said, will be released, and Semonite suggested a subsequent press briefing could be held on those details.

The Senate Appropriations Committee stated that the new law largely targets projects to reduce the risk of future flood and storm damage.

According to a breakdown, nearly all of the $15.055 billion in construction funding will be spent to reduce flood and storm damage, with $55 million going to repair existing damage, $135 million for high-priority studies to reduce risk from future flood and hurricanes with $75 million of that spent in states and insular areas impacted by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and the remaining funds spent in states and insular areas hit by more than one flood-related major disaster declaration between 2014 and 2017, $770 million for the Mississippi River and its tributaries to repair damage and reduce future flood and storm damage, $608 million to dredge federal navigation projects and repair damages, $810 million for flood control and coastal emergencies and $20 million to administer the spending.

Lawmakers also included provisions requiring the Corps to provide a monthly report on damage estimates to Congress and the transfer of prior year funds from Flood Control and Coastal Emergencies and Operation and Maintenance to be used for the construction of eligible Corps projects.

Infrastructure Plan Opposition

Opposition from the waterways industry continued to build against President Donald Trump’s long-awaited infrastructure effort.

The American Waterways Operators singled out the proposed principles that it said would eliminate the role of the federal government to construct, operate and maintain the nation’s island waterways infrastructure.

“The proposal would authorize public-private partnerships for inland waterways projects and allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and third-party entities to impose user fees and lockage tolls on inland waterway users,”  the AWO Letter stated.

“AWO opposes new user fees or lockage charges and looks forward to working with the administration, Congress and our partners at Waterways Council Inc. to support an infrastructure plan that promotes efficient, cost-effective waterborne commerce and needed modernization of the lock and dam system.”

Infrastructure Hearing

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., already has scheduled his panel’s first hearing on the Trump administration’s infrastructure effort since it was rolled out February 12.

Committee spokesman Mike Danylak said Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works R.D. James will testify on March 1.

“The hearing will be an opportunity for senators to ask questions about the president’s infrastructure plan,” Danylak said.

While expected to play a primary role in turning what so far is a list of principles into legislation, the EPW committee will be far from the only one.

“From the Senate standpoint, we’re looking at, at least, five core committees or jurisdictions,” a senior administration official said.

“The two primary committees, I would say, out of those five would be the Committee on Environment and Public Works and the Commerce committee.”

That number could be beat on the other side of the Capitol.

A second senior administration official who briefed reporters on the effort said the House of Representatives probably will have at least six committees that will handle parts of infrastructure initiative, including the Transportation and Infrastructure, Education and Workforce, Veterans Affairs, Natural Resources, Energy and Commerce, and the Agriculture committees.

No one ventured a guess on a timeline that will be needed for that number of committees to act.

Commitment Questioned

A quote on infrastructure from President Trump himself prompted a question on just how committed he was to the entire effort.

“And now, let’s see how badly you want it,” Trump said to local officials and others.

“Because if you want it badly, you’re going to get it. And, if you don’t want it, that’s okay with me too.”

A White House official responded to an inquiry on that comment.

“The whole point of the framework is to give local leaders more control and the president was simply pointing out that if they don’t want to take advantage of this great opportunity, that’s up to them,” the official said.

TSAC Meeting Set

The U.S. Coast Guard announced the subcommittees of the Towing Safety Advisory Committee with meet on March 20 followed the next day by a meeting of the full committee in Charleston, S.C.

Items on the agenda include Subchapter M implementation (Task 16-01), inland firefighting (Task 16-02), towing liquefied natural gas barges (Task 16-03), regulatory reform (Task 17-01) and load line exemption review for river barges on Lakes Erie and Ontario (Task 17-02).

Open to the public, the meetings on both days will begin at 8 a.m. at the Charleston Marriott, 170 Lockwood Blvd.

For additional information, contact Cmdr. Jose Perez at 202-372-1410.

TSAC Members Sought

The U.S. Coast Guard is seeking applications for membership on the Towing Safety Advisory Committee, which advises the Department of Homeland Security on matters relating to the shallow-draft inland and coastal waterway navigation and towing safety.

 Applications should arrive by April 10, 2018.

For additional information, contact Kenneth Doyle at 202-372-1363.


The Coast Guard announced the Merchant Marine Personnel Advisory Committee and its working groups are scheduled to meet at 8 a.m. March 20–21 with the full committee meeting at 8 a.m. March 22 to discuss training and fitness of merchant marine personnel.

Open to the public, the meetings will be held at the Eighth Coast Guard District, Room B106, Hale Boggs Federal Building, 500 Poydras St., New Orleans, La. 70130.

For additional information, contact Davis Breyer at 202-372-1445.

Shipyard Survey

The Maritime Administration is seeking public comments on its plan to renew a survey of U.S. shipyard owners to determine if an adequate mobilization base exists for national defense and for use in a national emergency.

Due by April 23, 2018, the comments will be summarized and submitted to the Office of Management and Budget, which approves the effort.

They can focus on whether the collection of the information is necessary, the burden of the survey on shipyard owners and ways to minimize that burden and options to improve the information collection.

For additional information, contact Elizabeth Gearhart at 202-366-1867.

EPA Administrator

Scott Pruitt, a leader in President Trump’s big lift on regulatory reform as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was a subject of what has become an increasingly common question about whether a top administration official still enjoys Trump’s confidence.

“I have no reason to believe otherwise,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, providing what has become a stock response.

“As we’ve said many times before, if somebody no longer has the confidence of the president, you guys will know.”

Pruitt has attracted criticism and negative press coverage over his travel expenses, an issue that has dogged other members of the administration.

Along with the Corps, he is leading the charge against the Obama-era Waters of the United States rule and has told lawmakers he plans on a major development on that effort this spring.

FMC Appointments

Rachel Dickon has been designated as the Federal Maritime Commission’s secretary and Brian Troiano has been named the director of the FMC’s Bureau of Enforcement, Acting Chairman Michael Khouri announced.

Dickon began her career with the FMC in 1998 and has served in several positions.

She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas and a law degree from the George Washington University School of Law.

Troiano has served in the Bureau of Enforcement since joining the FMC in 2008. 

Previously he was in private law practice and represented motor carriers before the Interstate Commerce Commission.

Troiano earned a bachelor’s degree from Ohio University and a law degree from the University Of Tennessee College Of Law.