Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Washington Waves: August 20, 2018

Washington, D.C.—A new major defense law mandates a report on key challenges to ensure the U.S. marine transportation system and merchant marine are sufficient to support the nation’s economic and defense needs.

Signed into law by President Donald Trump, the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act gives the comptroller general of the United States 12 months to complete that report and submit it to Congress.

It also sets a new 18-month deadline for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to complete national maritime strategies on sustaining a U.S.-flag fleet.

Those strategies were mandated in 2014 with a deadline for completion in 2015.

The reprieve in the new law came just days after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) publicly released a report stating the DOT needs to expeditiously finalize its work.

GAO also called on DOT to establish a time frame for issuing the strategies.

“DOT has not established a timeline for finalizing the strategy even though it was to be completed by 2015,” GAO reported.

“Without establishing a timeline to complete this required strategy, DOT continues to delay providing decision-makers the information they need to determine how best to address the challenges facing the U.S.-flag fleet.”

GAO reported that DOT stated a combined strategy to address U.S.-flag vessels’ competitiveness and ensure long-term viability of U.S.-flag vessels and U.S. citizen mariners was developed under the previous administration and is now being reviewed by the current administration.

In its report, GAO stated stakeholders identified two primary challenges in sustaining the internationally trading U.S.-flag fleet for national defense needs as maintaining the financial viability of U.S.-flag vessels, even with the annual Maritime Security Program stipend, and a potential shortage of U.S.-citizen mariners available to crew the government-owned reserve fleet during a crisis.

GAO said DOT concurred with its recommendations.

Mariner Shortage

Maritime Administrator Mark Buzby, in remarks prepared for the North American Maritime Ministry Association conference on seafarers’ welfare in Baltimore, spoke of changes that have impacted those who choose a life afloat as well as national security.

“Going to sea has grown more stressful and lonely than it used to be,” Buzby said.

He blamed smaller crew sizes, longer ship assignment contracts, less in-port time, personal electronic devices that drive people into their cabins and a more culturally and ethnically diverse crew.

”I’m sure that drives a lot of people out of the maritime industry, if they even can leave the industry,” Buzby said.

Echoing his own earlier testimony before Congress, he described the “pretty significant personnel shortage situation” that now represents a national security impact.

Buzby said the number needed to meet the nation’s sealift requirements remains 1,800 deep-sea unlimited tonnage mariners short.

He said he barely can fully man 46 ships in the Ready Reserve Force that are maintained in five-day readiness status in ports around the country that are depended upon to move its armed forces where they are needed.

Project Partnership Agreement

In a follow up to its initial alert, the National Waterways Conference (NWC) is informing its members of a call-in opportunity to provide feedback on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Project Partnership Agreement (PPA) process for a comprehensive review being conducted by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA).

NWC stated that all of its members will be able to offer comment by telephone on the PPA process during a September 6 meeting of NAPA’s Legislative Policy Committee.

That meeting is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. EST with the phone number 877-248-0550 and code 33183.

In addition to reviewing the process of preparing, negotiating and approving the PPAs, NAPA is expected to consider recommendations to improve that process.

Navigation Funding

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) urged congressional appropriators to provide adequate funding to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ navigation program in their fiscal year 2019 energy and water development spending bill.

In a letter to key House and Senate members of the two committees, AAPA also called on them to continue to reject creation of a separate account for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, warning such a move would have an adverse impact on dredging efforts during periods of continuing resolutions.

“AAPA urges funding for these programs, which will accelerate restoration of full channel dimensions, advance navigation channel deepenings and provide more tax fairness to Harbor Maintenance Tax donors,” stated the letter signed by AAPA President and CEO Kurt Nagle.

AAPA’s recommendations: $612.902 million for operations and maintenance account in the House bill, $525.067 million for construction account in the House bill, $18.823 million for investigations account in the Senate bill and $50 million for donor and energy transfer port funding in both the House and Senate bills.

It is up to conferees to hammer out differences between the two versions of the bill.

Users Board Meeting Rescheduled

The Inland Waterways Users Board, initially expected to meet August 30 in Paducah, Ky., will now meet August 28.

According to the correction posted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the meeting will now begin at 1 p.m. at the Luther F. Carson Four Rivers Center, 100 Kentucky Ave. in Paducah with public registration beginning at 12:15 p.m.

For additional information, contact Mark Pointon at 703–428–6438.