Washington Waves – March 12, 2018

Washington, D.C.—Several members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee pressed U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on how inland waterways and ports might be impacted by President Trump’s $1.5-trillion infrastructure initiative, even as Chao tried to keep the focus on her own agency’s part of the president’s effort.

“I’m so glad to say that is Army Corps of Engineers,” Chao said at one point, explaining that waterways and ports projects fall outside her jurisdiction.

Responding to another inquiry from a waterways supporter, she recalled that her department years ago had a deputy administrator that dealt with inland waterways.

“I don’t know where that position went,” Chao said.

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Eventually recognizing her efforts were going nowhere, she told the lawmakers they will get their chance to write their own waterways provisions into the bill the administration clearly hoped they would write.

“We sent principles rather than legislative language in a show, I think, of deference and also partnership with the Hill. We want to work on these things,” Chao said to one persistent lawmaker.

The House panel and its counterpart, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, kicked off the congressional work on the president’s infrastructure effort with hearings.

Early signs indicate its legislative path will not be short or smooth.
Chao and Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) stressed the importance of making any infrastructure legislation bipartisan because of the Senate rules that generally require 60 votes to pass significant legislation.

During an earlier appearance before the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, Shuster questioned the viability of several parts of Trump’s initiative and even suggested it might take a lame-duck session after the November elections to secure passage.
He and Chao agreed funding will remain a critical issue.

Representatives of the waterways industry have expressed disappointment over the approach the infrastructure effort has taken as well as the administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget.

Key Resignations

More resignations important to waterways and infrastructure issues were announced.

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced his intent to resign effective April 1, citing ongoing health challenges.

Cochran was one of the key chairmen Michael Toohey, chairman and CEO of Waterways Council Inc., mentioned as he spoke to reporters recently about the impact certain members of Congress have had on inland navigation and other waterways issues.

“The reason we are successful today is that we have very strong advocates who occupy the key chairs in Congress.” Toohey said.

“If those chairs ever change, you can see a very big change in policy.”
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) who previously announced this session of Congress will be his last, was another key lawmaker cited by Toohey.

At the White House, Gary Cohn, the president’s chief economic adviser, also said he is leaving his post.

Cohn was expected to be a major player on infrastructure.

Corps Issues

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and specifically ways in which the agency’s communications and interactions with the public can be improved and its projects streamlined, was the subject of a hearing held by the House Government Reform and Oversight Subcommittee on the Interior, Energy and Environment.

“In talking to my colleagues in Congress, it seems like every member has a Corps issue,” subcommittee Chairman Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) said.
James Dalton, director of civil works, represented the Corps at the hearing.
Dalton said the Corps was committed to making changes to make it more efficient and being part of the solution and not part of the problem.

During his panel’s hearing on infrastructure, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) once again reminded others of his plan to move at least the civil works division of the Corps out of the Department of Defense and, perhaps, over to the Department of Transportation.

Shuster said he plans to include that language in the water resources development bill expected in the coming weeks.

State Of The Coast Guard

U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft, who is scheduled to retire June 1, delivered his final State of the Coast Guard Address at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

In his March 1 speech, the admiral singled out the Coast Guard’s responses to three back-to-back storms during the catastrophic hurricane season.
Zukunft also spoke of the support from the Trump administration and Congress that has allowed the Coast Guard to move up from what he called its fly-weight class budget, its efforts to protect the homeland against drug smugglers and the Sexual Assault Prevention and Recovery Strategic Plan.