Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Defense Bill Veto Override Awaits Senate Vote

Washington, D.C.—The U.S. House easily voted to override President Donald Trump’s stunning veto of a major defense bill that backers promote as a boost to the nation’s maritime industry.

Following the bipartisan House vote of 322 to 87, the Senate seemed ready to not only hand Trump the first veto defeat of his presidency but rescue a record of passing a National Defense Authorization Act every year for six decades.

“For the brave men and women of the United States armed forces, failure is not an option,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, adding failure for the Senate is also not an option.

With the adjournment clock ticking on the current Congress, a final vote on the veto override may have to wait on action to increase coronavirus relief payments to individual Americans to $2,000.

Key provisions important to the maritime industry would create a new Maritime Transportation System Emergency Relief Program (MTSERP) to provide funding to ports following emergencies such as the current pandemic; authorize a hike in funding for the Port Infrastructure Development Program from $500 to $750 million annually; create a set-aside for small ports in the Maritime Administration’s Port Intermodal Improvement Program; and authorize an advanced new class of icebreakers to protect the nation’s security and economic interests in the Arctic region.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee also highlighted provisions supporting the recruitment, training and retention of merchant mariners and establishing a National Shipper Advisory Committee to help ensure U.S. competitiveness in the international ocean freight delivery system.

Trump’s objections to the bill focused on language on renaming military facilities that now honor Confederate leaders and lack of language on liability protections for social media companies, an issue not related to defense.

Water Infrastructure Financing

A years-old U.S. Army Corps of Engineers program that could fund dam, levee or multi-purpose projects to improve the inland waterways navigation system received its first funding ever in the huge omnibus appropriations package signed into law by President Trump.

Authorized by a 2014 law, the Corps Water Infrastructure Financing Program (CWIFP) is expected to accelerate non-federal investments in water resources projects by providing long-term, low-cost loans to creditworthy borrowers.

Corps Commander and Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon described the program as a critical tool that will provide significant savings to non-federal entities when implementing water resources projects.

“This program will enable local investment in projects that enhance community resilience to flooding, promote economic prosperity and improve environmental quality,” Spellmon said.

In addition to those related to inland waterways, projects contributing to the reduction of flood damage, restoration of aquatic ecosystems or improvements to navigation of a coastal harbor also would be eligible.

Initial appropriations for the program included $12 million for credit subsidy and $2.2 million for its administration, and the Corps said the program will allow up to $950 million in loans.

No Relief For Ports

While declaring success for many programs it championed in end-of-year legislation, the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) chalked up only a partial victory on the headline-grabbing effort to provide relief to those in the maritime industry hit hard by the pandemic.

Wording authorizing the Maritime Transportation System Emergency Relief Program (MTSERP) was included in a major defense bill, but AAPA said it received no funding in the year-end spending legislation.

“While we’re ecstatic about the hard-fought WRDA reforms being included in the year-end FY 2021 appropriations package, we’re disappointed that relief for ports and those in the maritime industry, hard hit by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, wasn’t included,” AAPA President and CEO Christopher Connor said.

“That said, establishment of the MTSERP as part of the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act was a major victory, and with it we’ll continue to work with policymakers and our maritime partners to bring much needed relief to the industry.”

Connor also welcomed the successes beyond the WRDA and MTSERP newsmakers, such as the funding for AAPA’s priorities.

Those included “robust” funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a wide range of activities and the first-ever drawdown allowed from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund balance to address maintenance backlogs.

Port Resilience Guide

Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) encouraged its members to help in the development of a Port Resilience Guide for inland and coastal systems of the Marine and Inland Waterway Transportation System (MIWTS).

“The purpose of the guide is to provide stakeholders and planners with a template and tools for assessing strategies that can be used for improving the resilience of the nation’s ports and waterways,” WCI reported in its Capitol Currents newsletter.

Developed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and others, WCI said, the work is being conducted by Vanderbilt University’s VECTOR Research Team led by Dr. Janey Camp and Dr. Craig Philip.

For additional information, WCI said, contact Camp at janey.camp@vanderbilt.edu or Philip at craig.e.philip@vanderbilt.edu.

Credential Updates

As part of its ongoing evaluation of the impact of COVID-19, the Coast Guard posted an update (Change 5 to MSIB 08-20) providing guidance on mariner credentials, medical certificates and course approvals.

Changes identified as significant include:

• Merchant mariner credentials and medical certificates that expire between March 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021, are extended until October 31, 2021, or one year from their expiration date, whichever is earlier.

• Because of recent closures of Regional Examination Centers, approval to test letters and course approval certificates that expire between March 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021, are extended to October 31, 2021.

Rear Adm. R.V. Timme, assistant commandant for prevention policy, encouraged mariners, ship owners and operators and providers of approved training to read the update, fulfill the requirements and submit applications as early as possible in order to avoid a lapse in their credential or training program.

For additional information, contact the National Maritime Center by using its chat line at www.uscg.mil/nmc, emailing IASKNMC@uscg.mil or calling 1-888-472-5662.