As a congressionally chartered legislative advisory committee, the Inland Waterways Users Board (IWUB) recommends to the Corps and Congress investment priorities using resources from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF). The IWUB is the critical vehicle that gives the towing and barge industry a voice in the Corps’ decision-making on water resources infrastructure projects for which it helps pay through the IWTF, ensuring accountability and collaboration between the industry and the Corps.
After suspending the activities of 42 federal advisory committees in February, including the Users Board, the Department of Defense conducted a “systematic review to ensure IWUB’s efforts remained focused on the most pressing strategic priorities of the National Defense Strategy.”
The widely reported real reason for the so-called zero-based review was to remove appointees named at the last minute by outgoing President Donald Trump, especially to key Defense Department committees.
Somehow the IWUB got caught up in this political project, even though its members included no Trump appointees. IWUB members are not directly appointed by the president. Instead, organizations are named, who choose their own representatives for approval by the Corps of Engineers. They usually include representatives from the inland companies who are among the biggest contributors to the IWTF. The important business of the IWUB was suspended while the review went on. The boards were finally reconstituted in July, but members had to be approved again.
The IWUB is currently awaiting approval for its nominees. There are six organizations that can serve two-year terms, with five new organizations to be appointed. Approval could come as early as mid-October, although no one knows for sure what will happen. If October approval is granted, there may still be time for an IWUB meeting in December.
In a year in which infrastructure is top of mind for everyone, let’s hope the Department of Defense recognizes the urgency of getting this important committee back to work.