Little over three years ago in Coral Gables, Florida, Norman Mineta addressed the North American Port and Intermodal Finance and Investment Summit. Six months earlier he took his leave from the George W. Bush cabinet where the Democrat served five years, with some distinction, as Secretary of Transportation. The subject of the speech was, in so many words, the poor state of the U.S. maritime sector and national maritime policy. The speech didn’t garner much attention. It is worth going back to take a look.
Norman Mineta’s 2007 remarks to the assembled didn’t amount to your typical boring whatever conference speech. It ventured into waters not usually discussed by someone of his stature, especially once out of office when one doesn’t have to do the obligatory National Maritime Day luncheon address. Former Cabinet members don’t usually waste their time talking about marine transportation. There are much bigger and sexier things to talk about.
The well regarded former Transportation and Commerce Secretary (the latter under President Clinton) and Chairman of the House Public Works & Transportation Committee knew what he was talking about when he observed that American maritime policy was a poor cousin to aviation and surface transportation policy. (After all he helped craft major new policy directions for the aviation, highway and mass transit sectors.) It is “comparatively meager and unfocused.” The likable former Secretary was too kind.
Secretary Mineta’s speech, with just a bit edited out to reduce text, is provided below and in the next two posts. One can find things to nitpick in the remarks but don’t let that get in the way of his message that current maritime policy is in need of major attention.
He set up his remarks by noting how then (and present) Defense Secretary Robert Gates made an “extraordinary speech” the week before. Gates cited the need for the U.S. to place less reliance on American military power in the larger world, “readjust its capabilities,” and put more resources into the non-military aspects of international engagement.
“I submit we have a similar challenge with respect to the role of maritime issues in our national transportation policy. Compared to the resources and focus that we have devoted to surface transportation and aviation, I believe we must quickly and dramatically increase our attention, our funding, and our national purpose with respect to maritime issues. To fail is to become a second rate economic power with a decrease in our quality of life here at home and a reduced ability to effect change in international affairs.
“And for those of you here today looking for private investment opportunities or to learn about trends in the port and intermodal industry, if you and I do not become part of this effort, I believe investment in this sector will be fraught with unmanageable risk and this space will have limited appeal for investors seeking to put their money in U.S. infrastructure.
“Simply put: the United States must develop a comprehensive maritime policy and implement it through a thoroughly reorganized federal structure. And to achieve this, state and local governments, port authorities, and other government entities reliant upon maritime trade must work with industry stakeholders to educate American citizens and their decision makers regarding U.S. reliance on a strong national maritime system.
“For the last half a century we have had a strong federal policy for surface transportation and aviation. In surface transportation we have an interstate highway system; billions in federal aid for mass transit and passenger rail; and policies for interstate commerce that have encouraged strong freight rail and the commercial trucking industry. The U.S. Department of Transportation is a major funding source, standard setting authority, and safety regulator.
“In aviation, the Federal DOT is essentially the operator for the national aviation system and its authority in running the air traffic control system, setting operational requirements, and safety standards is virtually absolute.
“Now, what about our national maritime policy?”
The text continues in the next post. Pbea