Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Pence To Lead Coronavirus Task Force

Washington, D.C.—President Donald Trump put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of leading his administration’s task force on the coronavirus outbreak, as criticism of the government’s response so far continues to rise along with concerns over the economic fallout.

“We are very, very ready for this,” Trump said during a televised press conference, continuing to play down the possibility the United States will see its numbers of infections grow much larger than what the president termed as the “original 15.”

“I don’t think it is inevitable.”

He also spoke of the $2.5 billion his administration has requested from Congress, adding he is willing to accept more from lawmakers who insist a better-funded response will be necessary.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has proposed $8.5 billion in emergency funding for the various agencies that will be involved.

“Congress must act swiftly to confront the threat of this global health crisis,” Schumer said.

Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) exchanged negative comments through the press; he described her as “incompetent” and she described his administration’s response to the outbreak as “chaotic.”

Pelosi said the House will advance a “strong, strategic” funding package that addresses the scale and seriousness of the public health crisis.

During the press conference, Trump was asked several questions about the economic impact, specifically about the hit the stock market has taken in recent days.

He acknowledged certain sectors such as the travel industry will be impacted.

Even though he pushes the idea of a short-lived health crisis, Trump suggested Americans should remain flexible on their travel plans for the summer.

Infrastructure Package

Despite continuing impeachment fallout and a truncated election-year schedule, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi continues to talk up the possibility of a major infrastructure package.

“Infrastructure has not been a partisan issue,” the California Democrat said at a Houston, Texas, press conference she and local lawmakers held to promote the U.S. trade agreement with Mexico and Canada and the role the Port of Houston plays in trade.

Pelosi spoke of how major improvements to the Houston harbor could serve as a model to the rest of the country on how to take advantage of what is going on with the Panama Canal.

“If you want trade, you have to just build your harbors to accommodate it,” she said.

When pressed about her confidence on getting an infrastructure package though the Republican-controlled Senate with her party’s focus on climate, Pelosi suggested both chambers of Congress could move forward with their own bills and then go to conference.

“I think it’s something that we can do,” she said.

Pelosi’s comments track with those from other key players on infrastructure in the House and Senate who have said they are moving ahead with their different legislative vehicles despite key differences, including the lack of consensus on how broad such a measure should be and how it should be funded.

AAPA Apprentice Grant

The U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) awarded American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) a $5.8 million apprentice grant to help close the skills gap in the transportation and maritime industry.

“We’re thrilled,” AAPA President and CEO Chris Connor said.

“Ultimately, by serving as the grant administrator, it positions AAPA as a leading authority in the area of apprenticeship and workforce development. It will also help expand our reach and leadership within the broader maritime community regarding professional development and training.”

Connor noted that America’s ports and the logistics industry service providers that move cargo and passengers to and from ports face tremendous changes due to factors such as supply chain digitalization, artificial intelligence, automation, cybersecurity advances and other technology “disruptors.”

“As part of our grant application, we were able to assemble a national team of 10 employers, three institutions of higher education, three industry associations and one workforce intermediary,” he said.

“We’re confident the team we’ve assembled will enable AAPA to implement a proposed plan to register more than 5,000 apprentices nationwide, utilizing the nearly $6 million in USDOL funds requested through the proposal.”

According to the agency, nearly $100 million in grants went to 28 pubic-private apprenticeship partnerships through the Apprenticeship: Closing the Skills Gap program.

Levee Safety Program

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced availability of its draft agency guidance for its Levee Safety Program and is seeking feedback from non-federal levee sponsors, tribes, federal agencies and others interested in the document.

Entitled Engineer Circular 1165-2-218, the guidance is to consolidate and formalize policies and procedures of the Levee Safety Program whose intent is to understand, monitor and manage flood risk associated with levees over time, provide a framework to sustain long-term benefits, and adapt activities and actions based on the dynamic nature of flood risk.

Published as temporary guidance, the circular is scheduled to expire two years after the date of publication, providing the Corps time to learn through implementation experience, identify clarifications or additional resources required, and to work with partners in implementing the program. After two years, it is to be either revised, rescinded, or converted to an Engineer Regulation that will not expire.

The Corps will be hosting two public webinars and five public meetings to provide an overview of the draft circular and directions on how to provide comments.

Information about the webinars and public meetings can be found at the USACE Civil Works Levee Safety Program website. Comments must be submitted by April 27.

For additional information, contact Tammy Conforti at 202-761-4649.

CTAC Nominations

The Coast Guard is seeking applications to serve on the National Chemical Transportation Safety Advisory Committee to advise the secretary of Homeland Security on the safe and secure marine transportation of hazardous materials.

Applications should be received by April 24.

For additional information, contact Lt. Jessica Anderson at 202-372-1419.

Fishing Safety Committee

The Coast Guard is requesting applications to serve on the National Commercial Fishing Safety Advisory Committee to advise the secretary of Homeland Security.

Applications should be received by April 21.

For additional information, contact Jonathan Wendland at 202-372-1245.