Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Corps: Users Board Won’t Be Eliminated Or Revamped

Washington, D.C.—The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers offered assurances the Inland Waterways Users Board is not being eliminated or revamped despite being suspended along with other advisory committees by the Department of Defense.

“We do not believe that is the case,” Corps spokesman Eugene Pawlik said in a written statement.

“The Inland Waterways Users Board is a legislated advisory committee, subject to FACA (Federal Advisory Committee Act), so it cannot be abolished without Congressional action.”

Pawlik also pointed out even the “criteria to qualify for membership is in the law, and we are unaware of any effort to revamp this advisory committee.”

He said the board has remained very engaged in performing its duties.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is complying with the guidance from DOD and will be proactive in performing the necessary actions to get the Inland Waterways Users Board back to an active status,” he said.

Asked whether such actions have been taken previously, Pawlik said “to the best of our knowledge, this has not happened previously.”

With his January 30 memo, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin directed a “zero-based” review of all DOD advisory committees, the “immediate suspension” of their operations and the conclusion of service for committee members by February 16 with letters sent by February 26 thanking members for their service.

“With regard to the zero-based review, each DOD sponsor will conduct an in-depth business case of every sponsored advisory committee, supported by fact-based evidence for continued utilization of the advisory committee,” the memo stated.

Following appropriate discussions, Austin stated, he will take action on recommendations.

A review of the Inland Waterways Users Board must be submitted no later than April 30, the memo stated.

Vaccine Priority 

Prioritization for merchant marines and port workers, a major goal for the maritime industry, is expected to be among the topics covered by a March 3 webinar on COVID-19 vaccines for the maritime transportation system workforce.

Set to begin at 2 p.m. EST, the event was scheduled by the U.S. Committee on the Marine Transportation System (CMTS) COVID-19 Working Group (C-19 WG).

Rear Adm. Richard Timme, chairman of the CMTS Coordinating Board and the Coast Guard’s assistant commandant for Prevention Policy, and Lucinda Lessley, acting administrator of the Maritime Administration, are expected to deliver remarks.

The presenter for this webinar will be Cmdr. Alice Shumate, a member of the U.S. Public Health Service and director of the Center for Maritime Safety and Health Studies.

Participants were encouraged to log in at https://usdotfedramp.webex.com/meet/nuns.jain 30 minutes in advance to download any plug-ins and test their system’s compatibility with the Webex application.

Those without access to a computer can call 404-443-2170 and use access code: 60061206#.

For additional information, contact WG19@cmts.gov.

HMTF Utilization

Top leaders of a key House committee made a bipartisan push for President Joe Biden to begin fully using the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) in his upcoming budget request to Congress.

In a letter to the president, Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-Mo.) of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Committee pointed to the roughly $10 billion “sitting idle” in the HMTF as well as the $1.6 billion deposited annually.

DeFazio and Graves also referenced new tools provided to the president in the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 to unlock the “much-needed” funds.

“By taking advantage of these increased spending limits in your FY 2022 budget request and releasing these funds, you can maximize the capability of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to meet existing federal harbor maintenance obligations and have an immediate positive benefit on our nation’s economy and critical infrastructure,” DeFazio and Graves wrote.

“Without raising any taxes, the Corps could spend significantly more funds to meet the growing maintenance dredging needs and ensure the continued competitiveness of our ports if we unlock the idle funds and begin the path toward full utilization of the HMTF, as provided for in WRDA 2020.” 

INFRA Grant Funding

The Department of Transportation has announced availability of roughly $889 million in Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant funding.

Laying out the goals of the new administration, the agency said it is seeking INFRA projects that address climate change and environmental justice.

Projects will be evaluated on whether they were planned as part of a comprehensive strategy to address climate change and whether they support strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as deploying zero-emission vehicle infrastructure or encouraging modal shift and a reduction in vehicle-miles-traveled, the agency explained, adding  racial equality also will be part of the process.

“We are committed to not just rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, but building back in a way that positions American communities for success in the future: creating good-paying jobs, boosting the economy, ensuring equity and tackling our climate crisis,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said.

“The INFRA grant program is a tremendous opportunity to help achieve these goals.”

The agency also announced the creation of the “INFRA Extra” Program, which will authorize “competitive” applicants who do not receive an INFRA award to seek a Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 1998 (TIFIA) loan up to 49 percent of their project cost.

Questions and answers related to the expanded criteria are to be posted by the agency along with notices of upcoming webinars at www.transportation.gov/INFRA  .

 The agency said its Notice of Funding Opportunity will remain open through March 19.

Biden-Xi Conversation

President Biden spoke about his first official phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping to once again promote his infrastructure plans.

“Last night, I was on the phone for two straight hours with Xi Jinping,” Biden told a bipartisan group of senators who came to the White House to discuss infrastructure.

“If we don’t get moving, they’re going to eat our lunch,” Biden said.

According to an official readout of the highly anticipated phone call between the two leaders, Biden’s concerns about China’s “coercive and unfair” economic policies were among the topics discussed.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked at a later press briefing specifically whether Biden will retain at least some of the Trump administration’s trade policy.

“There’s a review of our tariffs and, I think, trade policies in place that is ongoing from the national security team,” Psaki said, adding “we are not in a rush.”

Detention And Demurrage

The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) announced that Commissioner Rebecca Dye will issue information demand orders to ocean carriers and marine terminal operators (MTOs) to determine if legal obligations related to detention and demurrage practices are being met.

“Targets of the orders will be ocean carriers operating in an alliance and calling the Port of Los Angeles, the Port of Long Beach or the Port of New York & New Jersey,” the FMC stated.

“Marine terminal operators at those ports will also be subject to information demands.”

Carriers and MTOs will be required to provide information on their policies and practices related to container returns and container availability, the FMC added.

Failure to operate consistent with the Interpretive Rule on Detention and Demurrage that took effect on May 18, 2020, might constitute a violation of 46 USC 41102(c), which prohibits unjust and unreasonable practices and regulations related to, or connected with, receiving, handling, storing or delivering property, the FMC said.