Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Congress Approves Two-Step Continuing Resolution

Washington, D.C.—Federal programs important to the waterways industry will be funded through mid-January under an unusual two-step continuing resolution (CR) overwhelmingly approved by both houses of Congress.

Passed by bipartisan votes of 87 to 11 in the Senate and 336 to 95 in the House, H.R. 6363 went to President Joe Biden to be signed into law.

In addition to avoiding a government shutdown, the CR provides funding through January 19 for Energy and Water programs, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Transportation and Housing, including the Maritime Administration; Agriculture and Military Construction; and Veterans Affairs.

For other federal agencies, funding would be extended through February 2.

Passage of the CR was viewed as a significant win for new House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) even though more Democrats voted for it than Republicans.

Only two Democrats opposed Johnson’s proposal compared to 93 Republicans who voted no.

Just weeks earlier, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was ousted as speaker after he relied on Democrats to pass an earlier CR to avoid a government shutdown.

Johnson’s fellow Republicans said they voted against the CR because it did not include any spending cuts, one of their top goals after taking control the House.

After initially disparaging the unusual two-step CR, key Democrats soon came around to backing the measure.

“Again, no government shutdown, no cuts to vital programs, no poison pills,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.

“This is a great outcome for the American people.”

Schumer’s positive take on passage of the CR may not mean much when it comes to getting the 12 annual spending bills approved by the time the temporary funding runs out in January and February.

Action on the House floor was halted unexpectedly by Republican leadership after several of the fiscal year 2024 spending bills failed to advance.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) explained he will not be complicit in “failure theater,” expressing dismay over the way the Republican leadership handled the CR as well as the annual spending measures.

CG Policy Letters

A key official of The American Waterways Operators (AWO) said the organization is extremely disappointed with the Coast Guard’s “lack of consultation with stakeholders” prior to the release of policy letters on preventing sexual assault and sexual harassment on vessels the agency deems to be self-executing.

“We are also concerned about the precedent of de facto ‘regulation by policy,’ which bypasses the procedural safeguards and public participation requirements of the regulatory process,” said Caitlyn Stewart, AWO’s vice president-regulatory affairs.

“We are communicating these serious concerns to the agency.”

Stewart made the comments in a letter to AWO members.

Dynamic Positioning Systems

The Coast Guard’s Office of Investigations and Casualty Analysis released Safety Alert 11-22 warning against overestimating the capabilities of Dynamic Positioning Systems.

“Dynamic positioning (DP) systems meeting equipment class 2 (DP2) and equipment class 3 (DP3) have control features and redundancies that are often regarded by the crews of vessels using these systems as infallible,” the agency stated.

“A recently investigated DP incident revealed that a DP system may still have weaknesses, even when the design and testing of the system aims to remove or mitigate those weaknesses through engineering controls.”

Questions may be sent to HQS-SMB-CG-INV@uscg.mil.

Ports Border Screening

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) has joined two members of Congress in responding to demands by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that ports pay for new screening equipment that keeps them secure.

According to Rep. Laurel Lee (R-Fla.), CBP has even threatened to cease operations at certain ports if its demands are not met.

Lee introduced the CBP SPACE Act to ensure a portion of the Merchandise Processing Fees (MPF) will be used to fund CBP’s salaries, expenses and capital costs associated with inspection operations.

“The security of our ports should not be hamstrung by CBP’s failure to properly allocate funds,” Lee said.

Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-Wash.) has signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill.

AAPA said it helped develop the legislation.

“CBP is an indispensable partner in the important work of America’s seaports, and we are incredibly grateful for all the agency does to protect our nation and economy,” AAPA President and CEO Cary Davis said.

“The agency’s costs and other operational needs, however, are historically and constitutionally a responsibility of the federal government, not of ports.”

Boating Safety Committee

The Coast Guard is accepting applications to fill four vacancies on the National Boating Safety Advisory Committee, which advises the secretary of Homeland Security, via the Coast Guard commandant, on matters relating to national recreational boating safety.

Applications must reach the Coast Guard by December 15 and should be submitted via email with the subject line ‘‘Application for NBSAC’’ to Jeff Decker at NBSAC@uscg.mil.

They must include a cover letter expressing interest in the appointment, a resume detailing the applicant’s relevant experience and a brief biography.

For additional information, contact Jeff Decker at 574-607-8235 or NBSAC@uscg.mil.

Combatting Invasive Species

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lacks strategic planning to manage or expand its program to combat aquatic invasive species such as quagga and zebra mussels to all river basins and waterways, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded.

In a recently published report, the federal watchdog agency  cited the Corps program for not having defined goals, identified long-term outcomes, near-term measurable results and aligned goals across organizational levels.

First discovered in the U.S. in the late 1980s, GAO reported, quagga and zebra mussels spread rapidly and are difficult to eradicate because they have no natural predators.

They threaten ecosystems and infrastructure, the agency stated.

In its study, GAO looked into how the Corps partners with certain states to help fund inspection and decontamination stations to remove invasive species in its Watercraft Inspection and Decontamination Program.

“Corps and state officials told us that these stations help to prevent infestation, but there wasn’t enough data for us to verify such statements,” the agency reported.

GAO recommended that the Corps, in consultation with states, develop a system to collect timely, accurate and consistent data on its program and develop a strategic plan that incorporates all basins and waters the Corps is directed to protect and includes clear goals, measurable targets and accountable milestones.