On January 30, a memo went out from the incoming secretary of defense ordering that 40 federal advisory committees cease operations and that the terms of serving members were ending. The memo applies to all Department of Defense advisory committees that are not subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act.
Most of the boards deal with matters that have nothing to do with the waterways, such as advising the military colleges or Arlington Cemetery. But because the Inland Waterways Users Board (IWUB) was sponsored by the secretary of the Army, it was included on the list.
The memo directed that all members’ service terms will end February 16, and each advisory committee must then “make its case” as to why it should continue. If its case is accepted, it can reconstitute itself. Our understanding is that former members can reapply to serve.
According to several news accounts, the motive behind the memo is to purge some of the advisory committees of last-minute appointees installed by outgoing President Donald Trump, including some controversial high-profile friends and associates of the former president.
The IWUB is not one of these. Since 2013, individuals do not apply to the IWUB; instead, organizations apply, then name their own representatives if their application is accepted. IWUB members are industry leaders and subject-matter experts who volunteer their time and expertise without compensation. Many barge industry leaders have served there with sacrifice, dedication and distinction.
The IWUB is, and always has been, a non-partisan body. At no point have political loyalties or affiliations of any kind ever been a criterion of nomination. It is a very important body, though, because it is a forum through which the inland waterway industry can interact with Corps leaders on how the money that our industry contributes to the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) is budgeted and spent. That exchange has been effective and has resulted in many concrete suggestions and policies that have helped the Corps set budgets and spend IWTF funds in a more targeted and cost-effective way.
The barge industry has always taken pride in its bipartisan nature, working willingly with members of both parties to achieve the common goal of improving our waterways infrastructure system. While it’s not uncommon for there to be candid and collaborative conversations between the industry and the Corps over how and why certain monies are spent (or not spent) these conversations are non-partisan and cordial. Both sides overwhelmingly agree that this forum is necessary, useful and effective.
The IWUB fulfills the “user pay, user say” policy that the industry fought long and hard to have respected after it began paying into the IWTF through a dedicated fuel tax. Now that the board is temporarily deactivated, our industry doesn’t have that window of collaboration and accountability.
An effective and necessary body has gotten caught up in someone else’s fight that has nothing to do with its completely bipartisan and nonpolitical mission. We hope and trust that the review process will conclude quickly and that the IWUB will be allowed to reconstitute itself.