Washington, D.C.—With the longest government shutdown in history over, attention turned to 17 lawmakers charged with coming up with a compromise on border security and preventing another funding lapse.
The bipartisan, bicameral group faces a deadline that gives it only until February 15, when the stop-gap funding that ended the shutdown expires.
Appropriators have a long history of working out differences on spending bills.
Key members of the conference committee used its first meeting to lay down their markers, with the Republican side citing the need for some kind of physical barrier on the southern border along with technology and personnel, and the Democratic side listing improvements to ports of entry, aircraft to monitor the border and video surveillance at remote areas.
With the stakes so much higher than usual on this effort, the big question remains how much freedom this group will end up having to complete their task.
Leaders of both parties and chambers are expected to track the panel’s work closely.
And President Donald Trump made it clear where he stands on his promise from the 2016 campaign.
“If the committee of Republicans and Democrats now meeting on Border Security is not discussing or contemplating a Wall or Physical Barrier, they are Wasting their time!,” he tweeted.
When the partial shutdown ended, the National Maritime Center (NMC) updated its operating status as it reopened January 28 and began dealing with increased levels of application inventory.
• Merchant Mariner Credentials (MMC) and Medical Certifications (National Endorsements only) that were set to expire in December, January or February remain valid until May 31.
• Additional Information (AI) letters, Qualified Assessor (QA) letters, Designated Examiner (DE) letters, Proctor Approved letters, Approval to Test (ATT) letters and mariner training completion certificates that were set to expire in December, January and February remain valid until April 30.
• Mariners seeking to operate on STCW endorsements that expired on or after December 1 may request continued service STCW dispensations via email at STCWDispensations@uscg.mil.
NMC stated that all Regional Examination Centers (RECs) would be fully operational and open to the public by January 30, and the scheduling system for REC examinations, application drop off and other credentialing business would be active beginning January 31.
“The NMC is working to minimize the negative impact to the maritime industry and will publish additional information regarding furlough recovery operations as needed,” the NMC said in a statement signed by Capt. Kirsten Martin, U.S. Coast Guard commanding officer.
“For updates, please monitor the NMC website. If you have questions, contact the NMC Customer Service Center by e-mailing IASKNMC@uscg.mil or by calling 1-888-IASKNMC (427-5662).”
EPA Year In Review
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency highlighted its Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) proposal in its “Year in Review” of accomplishments.
“Over the past year, the Trump Administration has continued to deliver on its promise to provide greater regulatory certainty while protecting public health and the environment,” acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said.
Also included in the review: 13 deregulatory actions completed, bringing the agency’s total number to 33 under President Trump, who has made regulatory reform a major goal of his administration.
EPA could be in for a challenge to make sure its WOTUS effort makes it into the next annual review.
The recent shutdown shuttered the agency, forcing it to delay plans to publish its proposed WOTUS rule in the Federal Register, which would have kicked off a 60-day public comment period, and hold a public hearing in Kansas City, Kan.
An agency press aide said an update on that schedule will be provided in the near future.
AAPA State Of Freight
The American Association of Port Authorities identified nearly $4 billion in crucial port and supply chain security needs over 10 years in its fourth “The State of Freight” infrastructure report.
AAPA’s report recommends refocusing the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Port Security Grant Program (PSGP) to better meet the security infrastructure needs of publicly owned commercial seaports and related maritime operations and funding an estimated $2.62 billion in maintenance and upgrades to port security equipment and systems and another $1.27 for investments to tackle matters such as cyber security, active shooter and drone mitigation.
Currently, the federal government invests $100 million annually in the PSGP, AAPA stated.
AAPA President and CEO Kurt Nagle said the report’s deep-dive not only found that the PSGP funding needs to increase fourfold to $400 million a year but the ratio of grant funds going to ports needs to at least double to 50 percent to mitigate properly for security threats.
“Protecting our nation’s seaports against terrorism and other security threats helps ensure safe and reliable goods movement, which is critical to our economy,” Nagle said.
“However, in recent years, nearly two-thirds of Port Security Grant Program funding has been spent on training and equipping first responders, and on improving response capabilities. What’s needed now is a shift to more investments in maritime domain awareness, including prevention and protection measures.”
The American Maritime Partnership has expressed opposition to a request from Puerto Rico for a 10-year administrative waiver of the Jones Act for the coastwise movement of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the commonwealth.
“AMP believes the Puerto Rico request is contrary to the letter and spirit of (the law) on virtually every level and is uniquely unsuitable for a waiver,” AMP President Matt Woodruff stated in a December 28 letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen that was provided last week.
In addition, this waiver request is flatly contrary to the “Buy American, Hire American” policies of the Trump administration and would undermine U.S. national, homeland, and economic security.”
Woodruff also warned approval of such a waiver would establish a precedent that would severely harm the American maritime industry.