Marine Transportation System

Posts Tagged ‘stakeholders’

The WRDA Mantra

In Congress, Infrastructure, Water Resources on October 16, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Perennial Question: Will there be a WRDA?  Perennial Answer: Eventually.

The WRDA question is one of the more predictable queries heard over the course of every two-year Congress.

It is legislative Zen among the water resources community in Washington where mind-and-body is focused on achieving “WER-da.”

Likewise, that focus is found in the hinterland where flood control, navigation, shore erosion and environmental restoration projects are the infrastructure of economic stability and survival.

The Water Resources Development Act and its ancestral statutes dating back to the early years of this country are the bases for the civil works program conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on behalf of the Nation, States, municipalities, ports and communities.

For the better part of the 112th Congress WRDA has been missing inaction (pun intended).  But at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing just weeks ago WRDA was anything but dead. The urgency to get a bill done was the message of the day that Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) wanted everyone to know.  Her witnesses, requiring no prompts, were on-message.

The U.S. Chamber, International Union of Operating Engineers, Cargill, the American Association of Port Authorities, and the American Society of Civil Engineers said for the record why it is important for Congress to produce water resources legislation.

As the absent Ranking Minority Member James Inhofe (R-OK) said in his printed statement, “Our witnesses are here to further demonstrate the case for passing a WRDA bill.”  And so they did.

They talked about infrastructure integrity, jobs, trade, economic growth, competitiveness, etc. There were no hard questions, only ones to elicit a single response. {We want WRDA.}

“I hear you,” said Chairman Boxer.

Everyone including those committee members present talked toward the same goal of producing a WRDA bill to address various economic, infrastructure and public safety needs. One senator, observing that the one key witness not present for a hearing on this subject, the Corps of Engineers, made the point that significant reforms in the Corps civil works process are needed in the next WRDA.  The witnesses also said reforms and process streamlining are needed.

In her opening statement Barbara Boxer said “there’s no reason why we can’t get WRDA done.”  She held up as a model the bipartisan MAP-21 surface transportation bill that the committee produced earlier in the year and now is law.

Senator Boxer spoke in fully bipartisan terms. Pointing to how the labor and business witnesses were sitting side-by-side at the table before her she said that was purposely done:  “I want to make the point that we are united.”

The chairman said the hearing was to lay the groundwork for action in the lame duck session after the election. She told her colleagues that in the next weeks she will send around a draft bill and wanted their comments and suggestions. It’s going to be a bipartisan and “strong” bill.  Senator Inhofe‘s statement referred to how the lead senators already are “working hard to negotiate a WRDA bill.”

Senator Boxer asked the witnesses if they would be ready to work to get WRDA done much as stakeholders worked to see MAP-21 made law. They said they will. The supporting statements of other trade groups were added to the hearing record. No doubt they are unanimous in their views. {[We want WRDA.}

Congress adjourned a few days later for the final campaign stretch. The House and Senate will return for what promises to be a contentious lame duck session to address some unfinished items not the least of which is the looming “fiscal cliff.”  We’ll see then if Chairman Boxer is able to form a water projects and policy bill with her party  opposites on the committee.

I’m not clever enough to thrive in Vegas but I can handle this odds analysis. It’s not a good bet that a WRDA bill will become law this year.

In a short amount of time Boxer and Inhofe will have to get committee consensus on what can be the politically, and sometimes environmentally, touchy subject of water projects back home. The civil works process itself has been a particular target of senators who know the problem but lack agreement on a solution. Assuming the Boxer-Inhofe committee comes to agreement on detailed legislation the bill will have to be good enough to pass muster in the full Senate where one senator’s objection in the last weeks of Congress can kill a bill. Then there is the House where the no-earmarks rule has chilled even the thought of a WRDA bill escaping from the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. Then there is the White House, which continues the long tradition of executive disinterest in the civil works program.

It’s a bumpy road ahead.

Chairman Boxer, who along with others of her colleagues genuinely want to move WRDA through Congress, put a good face on things at the hearing. Alas, there is little time left. After the election who knows how much interest legislators will have in the hard work of producing a projects and policy bill when some of them are packing up to leave Congress and others just want to get home for the holidays.

Then again, as Senator David Vitter (R-LA) said in noting it has been five years since WRDA 2007 was made law, the committee should start now even if their efforts have to extend into the new Congress that convenes in 2013.

Eventually.    Pbea

So Spake the Freight Stakeholders

In Congress, Federal Government, Intermodal, Surface Transportation Policy on June 4, 2012 at 11:49 am

The Freight Stakeholders Coalition–a group of 18 or more organizations–spoke  freight to power.  But in today’s Washington, where the policy makers often wear policy blinders, will the Deciders (to use Dubya-speak) listen to the goods movement call for change?

Back in 2005, when SAFETEA-LU came out of the House-Senate conference cooker, the Stakeholders were dumbfounded to realize that the negotiators cut from the bill a key freight provision on which there had seemed to be agreement.   It was a 2 percent set-aside funding requirement for freight related projects.

It didn’t take long for the Stakeholders to regroup, this time in sync with the 50+ State DOT leaders (AASHTO), and produce a 10-point paper making a collective case for goods movement policy.    Still feeling the SAFETEA-LU sting years later the Stakeholders sent a letter to House and Senate conferees–the people tasked with coming up with a surface transportation bill to send to the President.  The letter contains the 10-point paper and concludes:

Now more than ever, the needs of our goods movement network must be addressed as system use continues to grow in lockstep with America’s recovering economy. The inclusion of a national freight plan with supporting policies, strategy and funding will help ensure America’s international competitiveness, create jobs and bolster the U.S. economic recovery.

But will the conferees–who largely take their cue from a small number of party and committee leaders–get it done?  As we learned from the sad SAFETEA-LU experience just because there are fairly substantial freight provisions in the MAP-21 Senate bill (S. 1813) doesn’t mean the final product will take goods movement seriously.   Besides, the House-passed version (H.R. 4348) was a Plan B vehicle to get to conference with the Senate.  It doesn’t have freight provisions.  For that matter, the version that was reported from the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, but which failed to get to a House vote, H.R. 7, contains little in the way of substantive freight provisions.

Will the conferees get it done?  Larry Ehl rightly has cause to ask a more basic question: Are Transportation Bill Negotiations on the Rocks?  Ben Goldman also see bad news clues.  Pessimists, which may include most who work around Washington these days, would observe that this particular Congress seems to want to get not much done.  Some legislators–tea partiers especially–would proudly label that an achievement.

I still think it can get a bill done, however, despite a significant push by the private sector for strong freight provisions, one wonders what the House conferees will agree to.  Moving on…

Days after sending their letter to the conferees the Stakeholders gave cheers for a senator’s letter to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.

In her letter of May 31, Maria Cantwell (D-WA) told Secretary LaHood to “tear down bureaucratic barriers and inefficiencies” in the modally stove-piped department by creating a freight-focused operation in the Office of the Secretary.  The senator pointed to ways that her home state has realized benefits of “freight coordination, prioritization, and collaboration” between the public and private sectors.

Over the years Congress has been importuned to create a freight office, establish an assistant secretary post for goods movement, etc.  But silly arguments about expanding government and creating new bureaucracy usually keeps those ideas from being given a serious hearing.  The implementing agency of national transportation policy remains structured as if the modes rarely if ever meet.

But as we know, in the real world they are meeting with ever increasing frequency as the market seeks ever more efficient ways to getting the job done.  On dock rail.  Intermodal yards.  Trains to airports.  Boxes shuttled from trucks to ships to barges to trucks to rail to….

The senator’s letter speaks to the need for a  “high-level and coordinated multimodal freight initiative.” *  She reminded the Secretary he doesn’t have to wait for Congress to create a formal structure.

… I strongly encourage you to establish a high-level and coordinated multimodal freight initiative at the U.S. Department of Transportation using your existing administrative authority.  If established, this initiative office should report directly to you, include a special assistant designated with specific responsibility for freight movement, and endeavor to improve federal freight policy, planning, and investment across all modes.

Or as one might say in Obama-speak: Yes, he can.

Secretary LaHood is leaving the Obama Administration later this year.  Let this be his gift to his successor.  He can set up a freight office down the hall from his own.  He can start the process of directing the DOT stovepipes, which in truth do talk to each other about some freight objectives and the occasional project, to be even more intentional about it.  He can ask his modal administrators and freight staff for their input on how best to get it done.  But most of all he can make a serious effort–as serious as his pretty effective distracted driving campaign–to bring his department and government policy to where the mostly private sector freight innovators have been for a good long while.   Pbea

* Kudos to the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors for its diligent efforts in advancing the freight message on Capitol Hill.

The Grass is Greener – Pt.1

In Federal Government on August 19, 2009 at 11:23 pm

Envy is a perfectly serviceable starting point for developing national transportation policy.  Our new high-speed rail program is an apt example.  It’s a Euro-inspired, greenish gleam in a candidate’s eye made billion-dollar real by our new president and the stimulus package.  While we wait for our first bullet-ride to Disney World or Albany let’s consider what the national transportation policies of other countries are accomplishing. We will start with our friends to the north who want Canada to be the continent’s gateway.   To Memphis.

Canada Gateways

The Canada’s Gateways program is impressive.  Watching a visiting transportation official give a presentation on it is like listening to a nice kid tell of his elegant plan to steal your lunch.  As he speaks it sinks in that you will go hungry that day; you slowly grasp your trumpet case to make sure he doesn’t walk away with it also.  The adult response is to admire the strategic thinking and implementation…while watching one’s lunch walk away.

The Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative is especially impressive. Short Pacific crossings by Asian cargo to new and expanded ports.  Then double stacked boxes onto improved CN and CP freight lines that run down to the American Midwest and Mississippi corridor.  Public and private money.  Public and private roles.  One national strategy.

And here’s something to make you reach for the pink stuff:  the still young Port of Prince Rupert just posted a 124% increase in containers (1st half 2009 over 1st half 2008) in one of the worst global economies ever.   That it only handled under 100,000 TEUs in these 6 months is of little consolation to US Pacific ports who face an efficient rail corridor to the north and a new canal corridor to open in Panama.

Freight stakeholders in the U.S. are pressing decision makers in Washington and gateway states to adopt favorable gateways and corridors policies to address national goods movement needs on all coasts.  Lucky for them inspiration is just a mouse click away in the federal role discussion on the “Canada’s Gateways” website.

“Coherent action requires a systems-based approach, and real partnerships with provincial governments and the private sector. Success will depend upon how well the key players — public and private — coalesce around a coherent vision. A key factor in the successful development of the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative was the extent to which a stakeholder- driven consensus had taken shape over a number of years.  ….  Actions should complement current market-oriented transportation policies, with governments creating a positive climate for private investment in gateway infrastructure, while safeguarding the public interest.”

Pbea


PORTS: Real-Time Data in Action

In Federal Government on August 9, 2009 at 5:35 pm

Want to see a government program at work?  Want some evidence you’re getting your money’s worth from your government?  Does catastrophe avoidance count?

NOAA’s Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System–or PORTS–is one of the success stories that 99.9 percent of citizens don’t hear about.   It’s a small piece of the National Ocean Service navigation services program (coastal surveying, charts, etc.).   The 18 or so PORTS installations in place so far provide commercial and government mariners, in addition to state coastal agencies and academicians, real-time tide and current data.  This is vital information, of course, but the shift from the traditional printed tide tables to accurate information from in-place sensors enables a great leap in navigation safety and  resource knowledge.  Where PORTS sensors are installed the mariner can have greater confidence in the channel ahead.  PORTS also enables crews to make air draft calculations to determine if conditions are favorable  to clear the underside of a bridge.  Whether it’s the USS New York approaching Huey P. Long Bridge or a containership facing the Bayonne Bridge on its way to Port Elizabeth  that’s a big dollar calculation.

NOS pulled together a successful pilot project in Tampa.  Among other things the technology was a means to predict oil spill behavior–a big deal in deciding spill response action.  But PORTS was getting scant or no attention in the President’s annual budget until a port/industry group knocked on the door of  the Deputy Secretary of Commerce.  They told him there was a gem buried deep in the department, starving for money and capable of saving hundreds of millions in marine accidents.

Subsequent budgets have included the bare $3mn needed to keep the system operating at HQ.  With some effort and contributions by port stakeholders, new locations slowly were connected to the system.  It wasn’t until Katrina and Rita had their way with the Gulf Coast that some Senators understood the predictive value of PORTS for a vulnerable coastline.  First realization, then a burst of funding for 4 new Gulf installations.

PORTS is a national program that remains underfunded.   Sure, there are a dozen or so port locations added since the early pilots.  But sensor installations are not uniformly the responsibility of NOAA and annual O&M funding can resemble a game of chicken when there is no firm local arrangement for funds.

This is a proven technology and system.  But without a clear Federal commitment to complete and maintain installations around the country it remains that gem lacking adequate support from the Commerce Department and Congress.

MTSNAC Today…and Tomorrow?

In Federal Government on July 22, 2009 at 1:02 pm

The Marine Transportation System National Advisory Council was established in May 2000 to serve and advise the Secretary of Transportation.  Its public and private sector stakeholder members have, for the most part, served three year terms.  (This writer served a term on the council and remains involved.)

The MTSNAC was there in 2001 to provide guidance to the Secretary on the very practical considerations pertaining to cargo flow when the Feds stood up security measures and new law after the Towers fell.  It prepared instructive presentations on global logistics with the intent to explain a little understood system to Washington policy makers.   It produced recommendations for the Secretary as to how new government policies and private sector actions can result in greater efficiency to goods movement.

This year the future of MTSNAC is under consideration.  Will it be extended beyond 2009?  Will it be reconstituted with changes?  Will it be terminated?  Those are options that have been suggested by various parties at USDOT.  The thinking in the Secretary’s Office on this may become known this week when MTSNAC meets here in Washington.  Perhaps its last meeting.

This much is evident.  Goods movement and the global supply chain are playing increasingly significant roles in the U.S. economy and have exposed where our national transportation system, including the MTS, warrants improvement and high level attention.  As such the leadership of USDOT would continue to benefit by having an advisory panel whose members include the non-Federal agencies and industries that are stewards, service providers and users of the marine transportation system.   Pbea

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