Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Spending Bills Still Face Major Hurdles

Washington, D.C.—After months of delay, the U.S. Senate easily advanced its first minibus appropriations measure for fiscal year 2020 that includes funding for the Maritime Administration (MarAd) and other transportation programs, but even that limited progress presented the waterways industry with a mixed bag.

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) quickly expressed concern that the minibus, approved 84–9, would slash by two thirds the funding for MarAd’s Port Infrastructure Development Program.

Another disappointment for the waterways industry came when the Senate, by a 51-41 vote, fell nine votes short in moving a second package that included funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Major issues that led to that impasse remain unresolved on fiscal year 2020 appropriations, ranging from the allocations for specific functions of the federal government to money for the wall that President Donald Trump wants to build on the U.S.-Mexico border that Democrats reject.

Democrats continue to warn an agreement can be reached only if Republicans stop insisting on including funds for the president’s border wall.

Talk of needing another stopgap measure to avoid a government shutdown after November 21, when the current continuing resolution expires, has given way to discussions on how long the next one should run.

Leading Republicans warn of the damage a continuing resolution lasting for the rest of fiscal year 2020 would do to the nation’s military.

With the House out of session, further negotiations are not expected to resume until next week.

In response to the vote on the minibus covering transportation programs, AAPA vowed to fight hard for higher funding for MarAd’s port program when the House and Senate bills get to conference, where the differences between the versions are expected to be hammered out.

“It’s critical that the U.S. invest in its port infrastructure to address growing trade, which is the lifeblood of our economy” AAPA President and CEO Chris Connor said.

“MarAd’s Port Infrastructure Development Program is the first and only federal grant program dedicated to our nation’s ports, and direct investment into port-related infrastructure is a top AAPA priority.”

Under the Senate bill’s provisions, AAPA pointed out the program would receive $91.6 million, compared to $292.73 million in the current fiscal year appropriations.

Moreover, AAPA stated the Senate bill would require deep-draft coastal ports and shallow-draft inland waterways ports to share those funds, which was not required in the current fiscal year.

The House version would provide $225 million for the program in fiscal year 2020, and AAPA backs a minimum of $300 million for deep-draft coast ports.

MarAd’s Marine Highways program also would be funded under the Senate’s minibus package along with the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (Build) and the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) programs.

Voluntary Tanker Agreement

The Maritime Administration is taking steps to renew the Voluntary Tanker Agreement (VTA) program and is inviting comments on a draft proposal to replace the VTA published in 2008.

Comments must be received by December 2.

MarAd also announced plans to hold an open meeting on developing the final VTA at its headquarters, 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE, Washington, D.C. 20590, with the details of that meeting to be published at a later date in the Federal Register.

Under the VTA program, participants voluntarily agree to make tankers available to the Department of Defense under terms spelled out in the agreement.

Because the proposed agreement will contain substantive changes, MarAd said, both former and new participants must submit a new application once the final text is published.

VTA applications are available from MarAd.

For additional information, contact William McDonald at 202-366-0688.

Chao Honored

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao received the 2019 Admiral of the Ocean Sea (AOTOS) Award from the United Seamen’s Service, according to the Maritime Administration (MarAd).

Described as the most prestigious award in the maritime industry, the AOTOS award was given to Chao for her “career-long commitment to the maritime industry” at the 2019 Admiral of the Ocean Sea Award ceremony.

Previously Chao served as deputy MarAd administrator, chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission and deputy Transportation secretary.

She also served as Labor secretary during the George W. Bush administration.

According to the Department of Transportation, Chao, who did not speak English when she immigrated to the U.S. as a child, became the first Asian American woman to be appointed to serve in a president’s Cabinet in U.S. history.