Now that Congress has managed to pass the COVID relief bill, its attention is turning to stimulus measures that will presumably include a substantial infrastructure component.
No one knows what shape the bill will take, and whether or not the administration will strive for bipartisan agreement. Waterways Council Inc. continues to argue in favor of the Capital Investment Strategy, which was developed by the Inland Waterways Users Board (IWUB). WCI believes the strategy should serve as a playbook for the administration and Congress while they develop an infrastructure package because the Users Board provides a boots-on-the-ground perspective that many Washington bureaucrats could not possibly have. There is currently a portfolio of navigation projects valued at $7.1 billion that can be constructed if funding is provided, and it is imperative that the administration and Congress continue to rely on the IWUB as a resource for prioritizing lock modernization.Unfortunately, the administration is still working on its “zero-based review” of advisory committees, including the IWUB, which is suspended until the review is complete. The latest word is that the various advisory committees have been divided into four tiers for review, with each tier having a different deadline for review. The IWUB is reportedly in the fourth tier, whose review won’t be completed until April 30 as part of a review of 27 total committees in that tier.
The IWUB was originally formed as part of a deal between our industry and the federal government called “you pay, you say” that specified that since industry fuel tax dollars were contributing to the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, the industry should have a say on how those dollars are spent. The commercial navigation industry is the only beneficiary that contributes to the fund in this way. Its consultations have always been conducted on a nonpartisan basis.
As we noted earlier, it’s unfortunate that the entirely nonpartisan IWUB has gotten caught up in a partisan hunt by the current Secretary of Defense for members of other advisory committees appointed by the prior administration at the last minute.
The IWUB has always been a primary interface between our industry, the Corps of Engineers and Congress. For 35 years, it has been providing valuable industry input that has helped guide inland waterways infrastructure spending in ways that move projects along more efficiently and save taxpayer dollars. Its nonpartisan mission and voice would be more welcome and needed than ever as Congress decides how to move forward on infrastructure.