Washington, D.C.—Maritime programs will receive millions of dollars in new funding under a $333-billion compromise reached by House and Senate conferees to avoid another shutdown for about 25 percent of the federal government.
According to the details posted on the comprehensive bill, the Maritime Administration will receive $1.1 billion that includes $300 million for a new training vessel for state maritime academies and $293 million for a ports infrastructure program.
The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) welcomed what was believed to be the first funding for Port Infrastructure Development Program.
John Young, AAPA’s director of Freight and Surface Transportation Policy, said the new funding has been a top AAPA priority because it not only funds much-needed port infrastructure projects but provides an important national platform for ports.
The Small Shipyard Grant Coalition also singled out $20 million for the 2019 Small Shipyard Grant Program that would allow MarAd to post a grant notice by early March with applications due in mid-April.
The Department of Transportation’s Office of the Secretary will be provided $1.2 billion that includes $900 million for BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) grants.
“I am pleased that my fellow conferees and I were able to reach an agreement to secure the border and avoid another government shutdown,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Shelby urged lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to vote for the package, which must be signed into law by the weekend to avoid another funding lapse for about 25 percent of the government.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), vice chairman of the committee, also expressed support for the bill that will fund nine federal departments through the rest of fiscal year 2019.
President Donald Trump indicated he was ready to sign the measure into law if it comes to his desk without any “landmines.”
“I don’t want to see a shutdown,” Trump said when asked before the bill’s text was introduced whether he would
sign it. “A shutdown would be a terrible thing.”
Even before the actual language was filed, congressional leaders of both parties urged their members to support the package. “This agreement is the last train leaving the station away from another dreaded government shutdown,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.
“Neither side got everything it wanted in this bill, but both sides want to avoid another shutdown.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also expressed hope the legislation would become law before the Friday deadline, when funding runs out for about 25 percent of the government, including the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Coast Guard.
McConnell singled out key components such as nearly $1.4 billion for “new barriers” in high-priority areas and the capability to respond to surges in illegal immigration.
“It’s time to get this done,” he said.
Representatives of the waterways industry testified before two committees that will play important roles on putting together a major infrastructure package President Trump and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle say they want this year.
Kristin Meira, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that full use of the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) remains a top issue for the ports and navigation community.
Meira also expressed support for freight funding programs that are truly multimodal and with higher caps or no caps at all, and funding for first- and last-mile road and rail projects to connect ports to surface transportation systems more efficiently.
Appearing before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, William Friedman, chairman of the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) and president and CEO of the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority, also expressed support for full use of HMT revenues and more multimodal funding.
On the funding front, Friedman spoke of AAPA’s support for a 1 percent waybill fee, a gas tax increase and a vehicle-mile-traveled program.
Exchanges between the witnesses themselves and between witnesses and members of the two committees underscored how difficult it will be to reach a consensus on funding the kind of massive trillion-dollar, 10-year infrastructure package that Trump has pushed in the past.
One take on that challenge came from Ray LaHood, a former Illinois Republican congressman who served as U.S. transportation secretary in the Obama administration and currently serves as a co-chair of Build America’s Future, a bipartisan group that pushes infrastructure investment, and a senior adviser at DLA Piper.
LaHood predicted the House will have the ability to pass a “big, bold plan” complete with funding.
“But if President Trump is not with you on this, then it is going to be very difficult to pass in the Senate,” he told the House panel, adding a little punch when explaining the huge impact of having Trump on board.
“If that happens, boom! America is back in business,” LaHood said.
A federal agency is seeking comments to assess the effectiveness of a transportation security card program on enhancing security and reducing risks for regulated maritime facilities and vessels.
Through that program, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issues the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC).
A 2018 law bars the Coast Guard from implementing any rule requiring the use of biometric readers for TWIC until results of the assessment are submitted to Congress.
The Science and Technology Directorate is seeking the comments, and the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center (HSOAC), a federally funded research and development center operated by the RAND Corporation, will collect information from those involved in maritime security by conducting interviews at regulated maritime facilities and terminals.
Comments also can be submitted until April 8 to docket number DHS-2018-0052, at the Federal eRulemaking Portal, www.regulations.gov.
For additional information, contact Scott Randels at 202-254-6053.
Public comments are being sought on existing guidelines of the Maritime Administration and other components of the U.S. Department of Transportation that might be “good candidates” for modification, replacement or even repeal.
Under the notice published by DOT in the Federal Register, comments must be received by April 8.
DOT explained it does not use guidance documents to impose new requirements, but the agency acknowledged that even non-binding guidance may spur cost-inducing actions by regulated entities.
While not unprecedented, the request for public comment on the entire breadth of DOT guidance is believed to be the first in recent history.
For additional information, contact Jonathan Moss at 202-366-4723.