Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Administration Strategizes To Fight New COVID Variant

Washington, D.C.—One day before President Joe Biden was scheduled to lay out his detailed strategy to fight COVID this winter, the nation learned the first U.S. case of the Omicron variant had been confirmed in California.

Only days earlier, Biden had said his winter strategy would not include “shutdowns or lockdowns.”

Instead, he said it would include “more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more.”

“This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” the president said.

Biden was expected to stick to that approach.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki echoed the president’s comment, explaining his approach would “build on the plan we have already put in place.”

Speaking to reporters about the first confirmed Omicron case, Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president, said his advice to Americans remained the same: get vaccinated, get a booster when eligible and wear a mask in indoor congregate settings.

Fauci said it will take two or three more weeks before specific information will be known about the Omicron variant, such as its transmissibility, how severe its symptoms will be and the difference in being vaccinated versus being unvaccinated.

“We’re really very early in the process,” he said.

Supply Chain Actions

In remarks on the nation’s supply chains, President Biden once again credited actions by his administration, businesses, labor and freight movers in helping to save the holiday shopping season.

“Those shelves are going to be stocked,” he said.

“The first thing we had to do was speed up the operations at our ports. Americans are buying more goods than ever, and a lot of those goods come through our ports.”

He singled out actions such as 24/7 operations at ports, elimination of fees to pick up containers at night and on weekends, one ocean carrier’s discount offers for such activity and extra flexibility for truckers to drive more hours to deliver certain critical goods.

“That’s an incredible success story,” Biden said of the easing of logjams at ports.

Asked about the potential impact of the Omicron variant on supply chains, the president said he was an optimist but conceded it was too early to make that judgment.

Academy Task Force

The Biden administration will establish a task force to help chart the future of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy after a report criticized USMMA for its “longstanding systemic issues” across its educational programs, facilities maintenance, sexual assault prevention and response, diversity, equity and governance.

“Because of the magnitude and fundamental nature of the challenges USMMA faces, the greatest risk to USMMA’s future is doing nothing to significantly address its challenges and the causes of those challenges,” stated the report by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA).

Directed by the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, the assessment came on the heels of yet another allegation of sexual assault that prompted a pause in USMMA Sea Year training while new requirements are developed for commercial vessels to protect cadets they carry.

According to the Department of Transportation and the Maritime Administration, the most urgent issues facing USMMA have been focused on since the start of the Biden administration.

 Changes already coming include a campus-wide maintenance contract, a senior federal official detailed to address the USMMA’s maintenance backlog and an officer to identify options on upgrading information technology systems.

Financial Responsibility Rule 

The Coast Guard issued a final rule expanding vessel financial responsibility to apply to all tank vessels greater than 100 gross tons as required by statute and to clarify and update reporting requirements.

Effective January 3, the rule is to ensure the Coast Guard has current information when there are significant changes in a vessel’s operation, ownership or evidence of financial responsibility, and to reflect current best practices in the Coast Guard’s management of the Certificate of Financial Responsibility program.

For additional information, contact Benjamin White at 202-795-6066.

Maritime Security Committee

The National Maritime Security Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet December 15 via teleconference to discuss matters relating to national maritime security, specifically, a Coast Guard plan to issue a task focused on enhancing information sharing related to cybersecurity risks that may cause a transportation security incident.

Open to the public, the meeting is set to begin at 1 p.m. EST.

Written comments should be submitted by December 7 to ensure they are received by members before the teleconference.

For additional information and to request special accommodations to participate in the teleconference, contact Ryan Owens at 202-302-6565 no later than 1 p.m. EST December 7.

PierPass Revision

The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) announced a temporary revision to the PierPass program has been permitted to go into effect following an expedited review of the amendment to the West Coast MTO Agreement.

According to the FMC, the revision allows “off-peak” users of marine terminal gates at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to be exempted from paying the Traffic Mitigation Fee.

The exemption is scheduled to last from December 1 through January 31.

Citing increasingly sophisticated spoofing techniques targeting the Marine Transportation System (MTS), the Coast Guard’s Maritime Cyber Readiness Branch issued recommendations to help MTS stakeholders fend off malicious email attacks.

They include implementing Domain-Based Message Authentication Reporting and Conformance (DMARC) to check emails and greylisting to reduce malicious spam and Information Technology (IT) Security Awareness training programs for employees.

Threats to the cybersecurity of units, vessels and facilities should be reported to the National Response Center at 800-424-8802 and possibly to the local Coast Guard Captain of the Port or the Coast Guard Cyber Command 24×7 watch at 202-372-2904 or CyberWatch@uscg.mil.

San Diego Security Committee

The Coast Guard is requesting applications from individuals interested in serving on the San Diego Area Maritime Security Advisory Committee (AMSC), which assists the Federal Maritime Security Coordinator (FMSC) in developing the Area Maritime Security Plan.

Applications should reach the Coast Guard Captain of the Port Sector San Diego by December 31 and should be submitted to Commander, Sector San Diego Attn: Mr. Kris Szczechowicz, San Diego AMSC Executive Secretary, 2710 N Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101.

For additional information, contact Kris Szczechowicz at 619-278-7089.