Washington, D.C.—President Joe Biden has signed a “Made in America” executive order reiterating his strong support for the Jones Act, American vessels and U.S. ports.
Echoing a theme from his campaign, the president said he is also creating a Made in America director to stop agencies from waiving buy-American requirements with impunity.
“We’re setting clear directives and clear explanations,” Biden said, criticizing the previous administration for not taking the waiver matter seriously enough.
“We’re going to require that waivers be publicly posted.”
Describing the order’s timing as unprecedented, The American Waterways Operators (AWO) commended the president for reaffirming his strong support for the Jones Act so early in his administration.
“The Jones Act is the foundation for every dollar AWO member companies invest in American-built vessels and every job they provide for Americans across the country,” AWO President and CEO Jennifer Carpenter said in a statement to members.
“We look forward to working with the president and his team to strengthen the American maritime industry, which is crucial to our national, homeland and economic security.”
Matthew Paxton, president of the Shipbuilders Council of America, said Biden’s executive order will prioritize American innovation, ingenuity and craftsmanship that are pivotal to national and economic security.
“Essential national and domestic security industries like the U.S. shipyard sector and the maritime defense industrial base will grow stronger because of the actions taken today, ensuring the future of America is made in America,” Paxton said.
Dredging Contractors of America CEO Richard Balzano said the Jones Act is one of the nation’s strongest “Buy American” laws.
“When you support it, you support American maritime jobs and the entire American maritime industry, which is a critical component of our national economy and security,” Balzano said.
Buttigieg Nomination Advances
A key Senate committee voted 21 to 3 to advance the nomination of Pete Buttigieg to serve as the nation’s next transportation secretary.
During his confirmation hearing days earlier, Buttigieg told Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), a strong advocate of the Jones Act and the incoming chair of the Senate Commerce, Transportation and Science Committee, that he shares her support for the law.
“It is so important to a maritime industry that creates hundreds of thousands of jobs as well as the shipbuilding industry here,” he said.
Buttigieg also repeatedly expressed support for infrastructure investment as well as leaving all options on the table to pay for it.
“We need to look at any responsible, viable revenue mechanism that we all agree on,” he said.
His openness to a gas tax hike was the reason cited for the vote against the nomination by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.).
Scott’s office stated he will not support nominees who advocate policies that hurt American families and small businesses through higher taxes.
During her comments leading up to the committee vote several days later, Cantwell raised the issue of vaccinating essential transportation workers, a matter important to the waterways industry.
“I plan on asking President Biden, and hopefully Secretary Buttigieg, what they are going to do to help prioritize vaccines to those critical transportation workers who are moving food product,” she said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers identified inadequate funding—and a lack of partnership agreements because of that uncertain funding—as challenges to implementing navigation improvements and ecosystem restoration along the Upper Mississippi River system.
In a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Corps also listed steps taken to mitigate those challenges such as reprogramming funding so projects could be executed when funds became available.
The Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP) includes 24 navigation improvement projects such as plans to construct or extend 12 locks to facilitate commercial barge traffic along the river system that Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin rely on for export-bound agricultural projects.
”While the total estimated program cost is $7.9 billion, as of October 2020, the Corps has initiated technical studies and designs for 47 NESP projects at a cost of approximately $65 million,” the GAO reported.
“Projects on the inland waterways, like the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program, are critical to both improving the movement of goods and services along the inland system, as well as restoring our natural environment, and must be completed,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who requested the report along with Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).
“That is why I included a provision in WRDA 2020 to shift the cost-share for inland projects initiated over the next decade to 65 percent from general revenues and 35 percent from the Inland Waterway Trust Fund,” DeFazio said.
He said that change will stretch those funds farther and move projects such as the NESP forward.