Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Trump Signs $7 Billion Minibus To Aid Corps Projects

Washington, D.C.—President Donald Trump signed a minibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2019, citing its roughly $7 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to address “crumbling ports and waterways, and to keep and improve flood and storm barriers so that America remains safe.”

Signing H.R. 5895 into law during a visit to Nevada, Trump spoke of the hit suffered by the North and South Carolina from Hurricane Florence and the courage of the first responders.

A fact sheet released by the White House listed the package’s $3.2 billion for navigation projects and studies to maintain coastal ports and inland waterways and $2 billion for flood and storm damage reduction projection and activities.

One of three minibus spending packages designed to keep about 90 percent of the federal government funded after September 30, H.R. 5895 also covers appropriations for other federal programs, including those for veterans and energy.

It was the first to make it to Trump’s desk.

Waterways Commerce Cutter

U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Karl Schultz assured key lawmakers he heard their “loud-and-clear” signal to be quick about building a new Waterways Commerce Cutter to replace what he described as a hodgepodge of 35 vessels that have an average age of more than 50 years and includes small river tenders, 75-foot pushing barges and 160-foot construction tenders.

“We want to get after this,” Schultz told members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.

As part of an update on the Coast Guard’s Modernization and Recapitalization program, Schultz reminded the panel that the 2018 omnibus appropriations bill injected another $25 million for the Waterways Commerce Cutter project, bringing its total budget to $26.1 million.

“We are excited about that,” he said of the program. While conceding his acquisition work force is stretched with other projects, Schultz expressed confidence the new ship can be delivered “as soon as possible.”

Still, Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), the subcommittee’s ranking member, expressed concern about the teamwork that will be needed for the design and construction of the ships as well as the advice and counsel of those already on the river such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Schultz said the Coast Guard’s approach will draw the best available knowledge from experts.

“I think we’ve got to be reasonable in our requirements,” he added. “We have to build a ship that is purposeful to operate on the inland waterways and do the type of work it does.”

In his first appearance before the panel as commandant of the Coast Guard, Adm.  Schultz stressed the $4.6-trillion annual impact the nation’s marine transportation system has on its Gross Domestic Product, explaining how  critical it is to sustain the overall safety of that system.

WRDA Still Delayed

“Soon,” a key leadership aide said when asked about the potential timing of Senate floor action on America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018,  the formal name for this year’s version of a water resources development act.

“But it’s not (scheduled) yet,” he added.

More than two weeks ago, the House approved S. 3021 on a voice vote, but, once again, a delay continues in the Senate, preventing the popular measure from being sent to the White House for the president’s signature.

It authorizes work on the nation’s inland waterways, ports, locks and dams and other infrastructure.

No Government Shutdown

After days of sending mixed signals over a possible government shutdown, President Donald Trump signaled he would sign a minibus appropriations bill that includes a continuous resolution to keep federal agencies open until December 7, weeks past the crucial midterm elections.

“We’re going to keep the government open,” Trump told reporters when asked if he would sign that legislation.

That justified the confidence expressed earlier by top Republicans who wanted to stay away from even a partial government shutdown heading into the November elections.

“This funds our military. This funds (efforts on) opioids. This does a lot of things that we all want to accomplish together, and we have had very good conversations with the president,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said just hours before the House, by a vote of 361 to 61, gave final congressional approval to the minibus funding bill, sending it on to the White House.

Trump had been critical over the lack of funding for a border wall between U.S. and Mexico.

Funding for federal agencies not covered by one of the minibus appropriations packages expires at midnight Sunday.

Merchant Mariner Credential

Mariners can get help submitting their Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) application package from guidance posted on the National Maritime Center’s website.

“These guidance documents are intended to aid mariner applicants in properly completing the CG-719B Application for MMC and the Evidence of Sea Service forms,” the NMC stated, referring to the Application Package Submission Guidelines Guidance.

“To ensure mariners receive credentials within the NMC-stated processing goal of 30 days, proper submission of this documentation is essential.”

Two guides are currently available to assist mariners in submitting application packages: How to Fill Out the CG-719B Form and Sea Service Instructions.

For additional information, contact the NMC Customer Service Center 1-888-427-5662.

Funding For UTC Programs

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced a $15-million competition for two new University Transportation Research Centers (UTC).  “Our universities are at the forefront of solution-oriented research addressing America’s changing demographics and increased freight volumes,” said Keith Nelson, senior advisor for research and technology. “These funds will support UTC programs that provide students with real opportunities to take part in cutting-edge transportation research.”

According to the agency’s announcement, public and private institutions of higher education are eligible to compete for awards of $7.5 million for each center with one to focus on “congestion relief” and the other on “improving the durability and extending the life of transportation infrastructure.”

December 3 is the closing date for the grant solicitation. For additional information on the Notice of Funding Opportunity, contact Nancy Wilochka at 202-366-5128.