Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Appropriations Impasse Looms

Washington, D.C.—Congressional appropriators appear headed toward a potential impasse on getting spending bills through both chambers and signed into law by President Joe Biden.

In its first session on fiscal year 2024 spending, the Democratic-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee stuck to the bipartisan debt-limit deal in approving allocations for its 12 individual bills.

“I am going to ensure we adhere to the deal that President Biden and Speaker McCarthy negotiated and Congress passed just a few weeks ago,” Senate Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said.

Allocations were approved 15 to 13 with Republicans objecting to levels of spending for defense and homeland security.

Members from both parties expressed confidence they will have another opportunity to address the allocations for 2024.

Over in the House, the Republican-led committee continued moving bills with limits on new spending.

“The allocations before us reflect the change members on my side of the aisle want to see by returning spending to responsible levels,” House Chairman Kay Granger (R-Texas) said.

Allocations were approved by a 33 to 27 vote with Democrats accusing Republicans of appeasing its own “reckless faction” or backing off the deal their leader negotiated.

Corps Appropriations

A divided House Appropriations Committee advanced fiscal year 2024 spending bill that provides $9.57 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, $910 million above the enacted level for the current year.

By a vote of 34 to 24, the committee sent the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies bill to the full House, which is set to reconvene July 11.

Key provisions listed by the panel include $2.771 billion for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, $456 million for construction projects on the inland waterways system, fully funding ongoing work for fiscal year 2024, and up to $1.54 billion for flood and storm damage reduction activities.

Divisions grew out of Republicans’ decision to limit new spending to the fiscal year 2022 topline level while Democrats insisted the figures should track the bipartisan debt limit deal negotiated by President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) described the funding included in the bill for the inland waterways system as “strong,” singling out the $455.97 million for construction projects with $159.6 million from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.

“WCI is grateful to the House Appropriations Committee and the Energy & Water Development Subcommittee for increasing funding from $0 in the President’s budget request for  construction of inland waterways priority projects to $456 million,” said WCI President and CEO Tracy Zea.

“This will continue critical modernization on the nation’s inland waterways, a vital part of our transportation supply chain.”

WCI cited the following projects:

• Chickamauga Lock (Tennessee River), $236.8 million;

• Lower Monongahela (Monongahela River), $41 million;

• McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (Three Rivers, Ark.), $103.1 million; and

• Navigation & Ecosystem Sustainability Program, navigation portion, Ill., $75 million.

WCI stated it secured an investigations request through the Community Project Funding process for $800,000 to fund a Bayou Sorrel Lock Replacement Study (Louisiana), submitted by Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.).

Users Board To Meet

The Inland Waterways Users Board is scheduled to meet July 20 in Paducah, Ky., to receive updates on projects, the status of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund and other matters.

Open to the public, the meeting is set to begin at 9 a.m. CDT at the Paducah-McCracken County Convention and Expo Center, 415 Park St., Paducah, Ky., 42001. Participation will be on a first-to-arrive basis.

A portion of the meeting will be available online at https://usace1.webex.com/meet/ndc.nav, Public Call-in: USA Toll-Free 844-800-2712, USA Caller Paid/International Toll: 1-669-234-1177 Access Code: 199 117 3596, Security Code 1234.

Written statements must be received five days prior to the meeting to be made available to members.
For additional information, contact Mark Pointon at 703-428-6438 or Mark.Pointon@usace.army.mil.

Port Grants

Port projects are eligible for discretionary grants included in a streamlined application process opened by the Biden administration on more than $5.5 billion to strengthen supply chains, spur economic development and improve safety and daily life.

According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), applications are being solicited for three major grant programs under a single opportunity titled Multimodal Project Discretionary Grant program.

Deadline for applications is11:59 p.m. EDT August 21.

Additional information and the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) can be found at www.transportation.gov/grants/mpdg-program.

Port projects were mentioned specifically under the National Infrastructure Project Assistance (Mega) program, which is funded at $1.8 billion.

“The Mega program supports large, complex projects that are difficult to fund by other means and are likely to generate national or regional economic, mobility or safety benefits,” the agency added.

Funding totaling $3.1 billion for the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) program and $675 million for the Rural Surface Transportation Grant (Rural) program also were included in the NOFO.

Resolution For MMC Delays

The National Maritime Center (NMC) announced technical difficulties leading to delays in issuing Merchant Mariner Credentials (MMCs) have been resolved.

“We are pleased to announce that production and issuance times have returned to normal,” the NMC said a statement signed by Capt. Bradley Clare, the commanding officer.

“Mariners who are approved to print can expect their credential to be produced and issued within 2-3 business days.” As always, the NMC added, mariners can expect to receive a status update email at each stage of the application, including upon issuance of their credentials.

They can check the status of their applications and get up-to-date information by using Live Chat or calling 1-888-IASKNMC (427-5662).

Mariners also can request expedited mailing of MMCs or medical certificates, which includes the ability to track the package. Full instructions detailing the expedited mailing process are provided on the NMC website.

New WOTUS Rule

Despite assurances such action would not be necessary, the Biden administration announced it is developing a new Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule consistent with a recent  Supreme Court opinion.

September 1 is the date for the final rule, according to a press release posted on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website.

In March, EPA Administrator Michael Regan assured the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee the Biden administration’s WOTUS rule was designed to absorb whatever ruling comes from the Supreme Court without triggering a new rule.

In its May 25 decision, the court limited the scope of the WOTUS definition used by the Biden administration.

Regan said the decision “erodes longstanding clean water protection.”

Offshore Patrol Cutters

The Coast Guard continues to take a risky approach to building Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC) before their design and technology are ready, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). With plans to spend $12 billion to acquire 25 OPCs, GAO said, the Coast Guard still lacks a plan to ensure the ship’s technology needed for a crane to suspend, lower and retrieve its boats is fully developed.

Titled “Coast Guard Acquisitions: Offshore Patrol Cutter Programs Needs to Mature Technology and Design,” the report said construction had begun on the lead ship with an unstable design, an approach that continues with the Coast Guard progressing through the technology development, design and construction phases concurrently.

The Department of Homeland Security concurred with three of the five recommendations, stated the GAO, which added it has raised two matters with Congress.

Freedom Of Navigation

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and counterparts from Japan and the Philippines concurred that a free and open maritime order, characterized by freedom of navigation, is essential in the Indo-Pacific, according to a White House readout of their June 16 meeting in Tokyo.

“The three NSAs reaffirmed the importance of efforts to promote Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) by utilizing Japan’s new “Official Security Assistance (OSA)” cooperation framework, the QUAD’s Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) and other capacity building measures,” the readout stated.