Washington Waves

Washington Waves: September 10, 2018

Washington, D.C.—A measure that includes funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers kicked off a process that has been conspicuously absent for years when conferees met to hammer out differences separating the House and Senate on a “minibus” appropriations measure.

“We were picked to go first because leadership thought we could get the job done,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Development Subcommittee.

Alexander noted it has been about two decades since the conference process has succeeded.

Meeting spending targets for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for the fifth year in a row and making full use of Inland Waterways Trust Fund revenues to rebuild locks and dams were among the specific goals he singled out during his opening remarks.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), ranking member of the House subcommittee, called the bill “the tip of the spear.”

Still, Kaptur joined other Democrats in expressing disappointment that, unlike the Senate, the House had included controversial policy riders that will impede the process.

“We expected our portion to be ready for consideration this week,” she said, adding that schedule will be delayed by too many policy riders.

The first week in September also brought both houses of Congress back into session for the first time since July.

Leaders on both sides of the Capitol launched the big push to get appropriations bills to President Donald Trump’s desk for his signature before the new fiscal year begins on October 1.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), despite his optimistic outlook for returning to regular order on appropriations, admitted a stopgap measure will be needed for some agencies.

According to McConnell, the plan is to pass three conference reports that include nine of the 12 annual funding bills by the end of September.

He told reporters “some kind of continuing resolution” will be needed for roughly 10 percent of the budget left undone on October 1.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) had predicted the need for such a stopgap measure back in July.

Credential Working Group

The National Maritime Center has provided information on requesting membership in a working group the Coast Guard will commission to review existing and new examination questions for merchant mariner credentials.

In addition to posting that information on its website, the NMC has scheduled a review session for engineers on November 6–8 at the STAR Center in Dania Beach, Fla., to increase participation. More regional sessions may be scheduled.

For additional information, contact the NMC at 888-427-5662.

Missouri River Plan

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced the availability of the final Missouri River Recovery Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement documents.

Developed by the Corps’ Kansas City and Omaha districts in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the assessment covers major federal actions necessary to avoid a finding of jeopardy to the pallid sturgeon, interior least tern, and the Northern Great Plains piping plover caused by operation of the Missouri River Mainstem System and the Kansas River Reservoir System and operation and maintenance of the Missouri River Bank Stabilization and Navigation Project (BSNP) in accordance with the Endangered Species Act.

It also assesses the Missouri River BSNP fish and wildlife mitigation project described in the 2003 Record of Decision and authorized by the water resources development acts dating back to 1986 as it relates to endangered species.

Written comments can be submitted until October 9.

For additional information, contact Tiffany Vanosdall at 402-995-2695.

Security Grant Webinar

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) is encouraging members to register for a September 19 webinar on the future of the Port Security Grant Program (PSGP).

Scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. EDT, the interactive webinar also will include officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“The listening session is intended to encourage conversation between ports, stakeholders and FEMA on how well the PSGP has performed and if it can be improved,” the AAPA website stated.

“The PSGP has been a top AAPA priority since the program’s inception. America’s ports are facing new and evolving threats and must have a federal port security program with sustainable funding and strong partnerships in place.”

FMC Investigation

The Federal Maritime Commission released an interim report on a months-long investigation into detention and demurrage practices.

Initiated in March, Fact Finding 28 was conducted by Commissioner Rebecca Dye, who identified six areas to be developed, including transparent, standardized language; clarity, simplification and accessibility regarding billing practices and dispute resolution; explicit guidance on evidence relevant to resolving disputes; consistent notice to shippers of container availability; an optional billing model; and an FMC shipper advisory or innovation team.

“While Fact Finding 28 is an investigation, it also represents a unique opportunity for industry leaders to have their voices heard and their experiences recognized on an important policy and operational issue,” Dye said in a statement.

Dye is expected to speak about the report at the next FMC meeting at 10 a.m. September 19.

Academy Costs

A bill to make information on charges and fees to attend the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy available to the public won approval of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

Under S.3367, the Department of Transportation Reports Harmonization Act, that information will be posted on a “publicly available website.”

Other provisions of the bill sponsored by Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) deals with streamlined reporting for the National Maritime Heritage Grants program and posting information on federal environmental reviews and the University Transportation Centers program on the U.S. Department of Transportation website.

Advanced by a voice vote, the bill now heads to the Senate floor.

Icebreaker Program Risks

A U.S. Coast Guard program to invest up to $9.8 billion on three heavy polar icebreakers for missions in the Antarctic and Arctic faces risks in three key areas, according to the Government Accountability Office.

GAO reported the program has not fully assessed how well key technologies will work in the effort, has a cost estimate that may underestimate the funding needed and an optimistic delivery date of 2023 that is not based on realistic shipbuilding assessment.

GAO said the Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard’s parent agency, signed off on its recommendations to address those risks.

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