Washington Waves
Washington Waves

DeFazio: ASCE Report Card Shows Need For Infrastructure Focus

Washington, D.C.—A leading House chairman used a group’s influential scorecard on inland waterways, ports and other modes of transportation to again call on Congress to pass a transformational infrastructure measure. 

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, termed the overall C- grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) as unacceptable.

ASCE gave inland waterways a D+, levees a D and ports a B-.

“Recent boosts in federal investment and an increase in user fees have begun to reverse decades of declining lock and dam conditions, with unscheduled lock closures reaching a 20-year low in 2017,” ASCE stated in its overview of the nation’s inland waterways.

“While this is encouraging, the system still reports a $6.8 billion backlog in construction projects and ongoing lock closures—totaling 5,000 hours between 2015 and 2019—harming the industries that rely on the waterways to get their goods to market.”

In grading the nation’s levees, ASCE cited estimates that $21 billion is needed to improve and maintain the moderate- to high-risk levees, which represent only about 15 percent of the known levees in the U.S.

As more extreme weather events result in increased flooding, ASCE said it is now more important than ever to have a complete inventory of levees and to equip communities with resources to mitigate flood risk.

ASCE cited the increased federal funding through grant programs for ports but added a funding gap for waterside infrastructure for landside such as dredging will total $15.5 billion over the next 10 years.

“Smaller and inland ports are especially challenged to maintain their infrastructure and have difficulty competing for federal grants,” ASCE stated.

In his remarks, DeFazio expressed confidence that President Joe Biden remains “dead serious” about rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure.

Earmarks Coming Back

Congressional earmarks, derided by critics as “pork” and essentially banned several years ago, appear to be making a comeback.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, announced members can request Community Project Funding in her panel’s fiscal year 2022 spending bills.

“Community Project Funding will allow members to put their deep, first-hand understanding of the needs of their communities to work to help the people we represent,” DeLauro said.

She also announced the committee will enforce important reforms that prioritize accountability and transparency.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the new chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, confirmed “good faith” negotiations to bring back congressionally directed spending in a transparent and responsible way.

“I believe there is bipartisan support to restore the power of the purse to Congress, and I am continuing to work toward that goal,” Leahy said.

Waterways Commerce Cutters

The Congressional Research Service issued an updated report on the Coast Guard’s Waterways Commerce Cutter (WCC) program.

Key takeaways:

Congress approved the Coast Guard’s fiscal year 2021 request for $25 million in procurement funding for the WCC program, which has received $58.6 million in procurement funding.

The Coast Guard wants to award the first construction contract for the new WCCs in fiscal year 2022, have the first new WCC in service by 2025 and procure up to 35 replacements for its 35 aging river buoy tenders, inland construction tenders and inland buoy tenders that are 30 to 76 years old.

“The issue for Congress is whether to approve, reject, or modify the Coast Guard’s proposed acquisition strategy and funding requests for the WCC program,” the report said.

CG Fleet Mix Analysis

The bipartisan leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee urged the Coast Guard to address concerns about its fleet capabilities, current threats and missions in a Fleet Mix Analysis report mandated by Congress.

In a letter to Coast Guard Commandant Karl Schultz, the members noted that previous Fleet Mix Analyses and updates concluded years ago the Coast Guard’s cutters were not sufficient to meet mission needs.

They also included questions related to interoperability with the U.S. Navy and other commitments to support the Department of Defense; capabilities in the Arctic, given the increased presence of Russian and Chinese vessels; and the status of the offshore patrol cutter (OPC) program progress.

Under a law that took effect in January, the report is due in the coming weeks.

Members on the letter include Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member Sam Graves (R-Mo.), Reps. Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.) and Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), the chairman and ranking member of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee.

Supply Chain Disruptions

Two key senators expressed support for efforts by the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) to address supply chain disruptions occurring at major U.S. ports.

In a letter to FMC Chairman Michael Khouri, Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.) stated the disruptions are having ripple effects across the supply chain.

“We were encouraged to see the Federal Maritime Commission’s recent announcement that the agency is issuing information demand orders to ocean carriers and marine terminal operators to determine if legal obligations related to detention and demurrage practices are being met. We support this swift action, which is being led by Commissioner Rebecca F. Dye.”

Wicker serves as ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and Boozman is ranking member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee.

“As you are aware, our nation’s ports are experiencing significant increases in cargo volume,” they stated.

“This volume is increasingly one-sided, with imports far outweighing exports. This imbalance is causing bottlenecks at key points in the supply chain and is affecting numerous sectors that rely on a competitive market, such as agricultural exporters and retailers.”

Ballast Water Management

The Coast Guard’s Office of Operating and Environmental Standards has published a revised 2021 Shipboard Technology Evaluation Program (STEP) Application Package for both prototype Ballast Water Management Systems (BWMS) and BWMS undergoing U.S. Type Approval testing under the oversight of an independent laboratory.

According to a blog for mariners, there is no charge for applying to or being enrolled in STEP.

The application and instructions are available on the Office of Operating and Environmental Standards webpage.

For additional information, contact environmental_standards@uscg.mil.

Port State Information Exchange

The Outer Continental Shelf National Center of Expertise (OCSNCOE) has released its latest issue of “Drill Down” to discuss the Coast Guard’s Port State Information Exchange (PSIX) system and assist owner/operators with the management of their fleet.

According to a blog for mariners, this edition overviews the PSIX system and explains how data can be managed and discrepancies in the system can be rectified.