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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Transcript: Keynote Address CMA 37th Annual Expo & Conference

Tuesday, March 29, 2022


Thank you to Chris Aversano [President, CMA] and everyone at CMA for inviting me to join you today.  On behalf of the Biden-Harris Administration, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, I am very pleased to be here.

The Maritime Administration’s mission is to foster, promote, and develop the maritime industry of the United States to meet the nation’s economic and security needs.  We support our nation’s mariners, we shepherd federal investments in our ports and waterways, we own and operate sealift vessels essential to U.S. national security, and we train the next generation of the maritime workforce.
I have had the honor of serving as the Acting Maritime Administrator for more than a year now.  Without question, it has been a year of unprecedented challenges from COVID, to port and supply chain congestion, to Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment in the maritime workplace.  
The Biden-Harris Administration, the Department of Transportation, and the Maritime Administration are committed to addressing these challenges—and to making the long overdue changes essential to strengthen our U.S. merchant marine and transform our ports and freight networks.
This work is urgent precisely because our merchant marine and our supply chains are so vital to our economic and national security.
Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine reminds us how essential it is that the United States maintain a strong and capable merchant marine.  
We currently have Ready Reserve Force ships active supporting DOD movements.  Our sealift capacity is something that we simply cannot outsource.  We must have assured access and resilience and it must be ready any time the bell rings.  
Further, recent events have made clear how urgent it is that we strengthen the resiliency of our ports and intermodal goods movement chains.
We need 21st century port and supply chain infrastructure to meet 21st century needs, and under President Biden’s leadership, we are poised to build now to meet that need.  
And as we build new infrastructure to improve cargo flow through our gateway ports, we will also continue to support and promote our domestic Jones Act capabilities to ease congestion, in an environmentally responsible manner, so that we can take greater advantage of maritime transportation options.
Supporting Mariners
Let me begin today by thanking the members of the maritime industry for their selfless service to the global community over the last two years.  
You all who work in this industry know that as the world has grappled with a deadly pandemic, our essential workers have demonstrated extraordinary dedication and professionalism day in and day out even at personal risk.  We owe our ports and longshore workers—as well as all critical infrastructure workers throughout the entire transportation network, including rail labor, truckers, and warehouse workers—an incredible debt of gratitude.
We also know that what drives mariners is their passion for the sea, not just the pursuit of a vocation. 
As it has always been, the life of a mariner today is uniquely challenging and demanding, requiring extensive and ongoing training to keep pace with constant technology evolutions, prolonged periods of separation from family and friends, and great personal sacrifices. 
But the COVID pandemic has made what were already hard jobs even harder.  In many instances, mariners have had to stay at sea for even longer periods.  Crew changes became exceedingly complicated and, in too many cases, even impossible.  And of course, crews risked exposure to COVID in every new port they visited even as they themselves were restricted from shore leave after long voyages.
MARAD is deeply concerned by studies warning that the stress of being a mariner is taking a stark toll on those who go to sea.  MARAD supported and facilitated a 2021 University of Washington study that found that nearly 21% of mariners were at risk for major depressive disorder. Almost 23% were found to be at risk for generalized anxiety disorder—a number notably higher than among employees in other industries.  And studies in other countries have yielded similar concerns.
These findings are startling, especially with international studies that show increasing crewing shortages, and MARAD is now working with stakeholders to raise awareness of this issue and to promote ways in which mariners can seek assistance.  
Together with our partner agencies, we have compiled a comprehensive list of resources available to mariners at no cost, such as help lines, chaplain and counseling services available during port calls, and other resources to help overcome the stigma that is associated with mental health.  
These findings are also a call to action to prioritize the well-being of the mariners without whom nothing moves at sea.  This is a global problem, and I encourage everyone here today to join the effort to prioritize mariners’ health, including by making mental health resources more readily accessible. 
Combating sexual assault and sexual harassment
There is another call to action that I will stress today and it is the following:  We must work together to prevent bullying, sexual harassment, and sexual assault in the maritime industry.
At the Maritime Administration, we believe every maritime industry workplace should be one where essential values of mutual respect and dignity are firmly upheld and where all workers have an equal chance to excel on the basis of their competency and professionalism.  
As some of you may know, late last year, at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy we operate just south of here in Kings Point, New York, we paused the Sea Year training aboard commercial vessels that midshipmen undertake to earn the sea time they need to qualify for third-mate and third-engineer licenses.
We did this so we could strengthen both the measures we require of the vessel operators carrying cadets and also our own institutional policies, procedures, and training instructions to improve safety and support a culture of respect.
As Secretary Buttigieg has said, sexual assault and harassment have been open secrets in the maritime industry.  And to combat them, it’s not enough to say the right things…to say we have zero tolerance.  It’s not enough to say we take all allegations seriously. 
We must name the problems we seek to eliminate and then fully implement policies and procedures to prevent harassment and assault from happening.  We must also remove the barriers that have too often stood in the way of reporting when harassment and assaults have occurred.
In response to a request from Congress for a public plan to improve safety, we developed a program called “Every Mariner Builds a Respectful Culture,” or EMBARC.  This program enumerates policies intended to help prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment, to support survivors, and to support a culture of accountability—and carriers must adopt these policies before cadets can embark.  
Critically, we intend these policies not only to strengthen cadet safety, but to be the first steps in what must be an ongoing effort to strengthen safety for every mariner.  That is why we have requested these practices to be implemented in vessels’ Safety Management System: to address this as a safety measure for every mariner aboard a vessel.
Five companies have now enrolled in EMBARC and I thank you for your leadership.  I urge every U.S.-flagged carrier to enroll as quickly as possible. 
I know our audience includes international operators as well, and I urge that you consider such safety requirements for your own vessels, as the IMO has noted sexual assault and sexual harassment are international challenges and they are examining appropriate actions.
I also want to thank our Federal partners for their unwavering support of this effort.  
I know that Admiral John Mauger will also speak today. I want to commend him for his extraordinary leadership on this issue.  I also thank the Coast Guard for their essential partnership and for all that they are doing to strengthen safety in the merchant marine and to lead change at the IMO.  
I also thank General Jacqueline Van Ovost, the Commander of the U.S. Transportation Command, as well as Admiral Michael Wettlaufer, the head of the Military Sealift Command, for going above and beyond to support our midshipmen and to provide sea time while commercial carriers work to enroll in EMBARC.
At the Merchant Marine Academy itself, we have also issued several new policies and instituted new procedures to strengthen the support we provide to cadets while they are at sea.  For example, we expanded our amnesty policy for misconduct, such as drinking, by survivors, bystander interveners, and witnesses at the time of an assault or harassing incident.  
I know full well that we have miles to go, but we are now, and will continue to be, engaged in continuous review to identify areas where policies fall short and improve them.
Preventing sexual assault and harassment will not occur unless there is a deliberate commitment—including a commitment of resources—to build trust.  
Until every employee, and every midshipman, and cadet, and every trainee trusts the system and until all allegations are handled properly, abuse will continue to occur, it will continue to go unreported, and people will continue to suffer alone—and that is simply intolerable.
All of you here today have critical roles to play in advancing this effort—and I thank you for the work you have done and will do. The wellbeing of our mariners, and the recruitment and retention of our mariner workforce, require nothing less.
We also have yet another opportunity to strengthen our maritime industry—by making a once-in-a-generation investment in our ports and intermodal infrastructure to speed the throughput of goods, to strengthen supply chain resiliency, and to reduce the climate impacts of port operations.
The Biden-Harris Administration took office with a clear commitment to finally address the underinvestment that had too long plagued America’s infrastructure, including our ports as well as the roads and rails that move cargo to, through, and from ports.  
And it is clearer now than it has ever been just how urgent investments in our supply chain truly are.
The pandemic is causing disruptions around the globe; we are seeing unprecedented demand and volumes of goods; and all of this is occurring largely on generations-old infrastructure. Despite the extraordinary effort of all facets of the goods movement chain, our ports have experienced significant congestion.
In the face of this challenge, the Biden-Harris Administration launched an Action Plan for America’s Ports and Waterways that has guided aggressive near-term actions to improve cargo movement.
The Administration has worked to bring all actors in the supply chain together to seize the opportunity to make immediate improvements and to put processes in place that will strengthen supply chains over the longer term. We saw that again just a few weeks ago with the new FLOW data-sharing pilot we launched with partners across the supply chain.
And now, thanks to President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, years of mere talk about building new infrastructure have ended and a decade of historic infrastructure development has begun. 
The Maritime Administration is responsible for awarding more than $2 billion in funding appropriated by the law to our Port Infrastructure Development Program. 
To put this figure in perspective, this is roughly the same amount of money that has been invested in ports by all DOT grant programs since the DOT began investing in ports with the 2009 Recovery Act.  And we will get it out the door in just 5 years.
On February 23, 2022, Secretary Buttigieg announced the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for the first round of funding for PIDP provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.  This first round totals $450 million—an investment that is almost double the amount provided last year and is the largest single investment in the program ever.
These investments will help build new capacity at ports around the United States, improve cargo throughput, and eliminate bottlenecks to reduce the time and cost of shipping goods.  And, in keeping with the priorities of the Biden-Harris Administration, applications will also be expected to explain whether and how proposed projects address environmental justice impacts and advance equity among other criteria. 
These projects will also augment national and regional economic vitality by supporting the creation of good-paying jobs.
And I’m also pleased to announce that the appropriations measure just passed by Congress—the first enacted under President Biden—provides an additional $234 million dollars for the PIDP program, bringing the total amount of funding available this year to more than $680 million.
Applications for PIDP funding are due before midnight on May 16—and I encourage all U.S. ports to consider applying.
We’re also making historic investments to support increased utilization of our nation’s inland and near coastal waterways to move freight. 
Last December, through our America’s Marine Highway Program, we awarded $12.6 million in grants to nine marine highway projects across the Nation.
On March 2, 2022, the Maritime Administration announced the availability of $25 million in new funding for the America’s Marine Highways program.  This funding—which is the largest single appropriation of funding in the program’s history—was also made possible by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
Here too the first appropriations measure enacted under President Biden is also expanding funding, providing another $14.8 million for the America’s Marine Highway program, bringing the total amount of funding available under this program to $40 million.
The America’s Marine Highway Program is thriving and now includes 52 Projects and 28 Routes.  Those routes encompass 41 states, the District of Columbia, and all five U.S. territories.  These projects and routes are eligible to apply for the available funding under the Marine Highway Program—and applications are due by April 29.
Put simply, President Biden is leading the largest-ever federal investment in modernizing our country’s ports—and our domestic coastwise services—and improving both our supply chains and the lives of Americans who depend on them.  This is truly an extraordinary moment.
As I close, let me pan back one moment to put the critical work in which we are engaged to meet the challenges of this moment in its essential context again.
The Maritime Administration will celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2025. Created to meet the needs of war, our mission is rooted in supporting this nation’s security—and we will never waiver in that mission. 
As such, the work we are doing—and the work we are asking everyone in this industry to do—to expand diversity, equity, and inclusion in our merchant marine is vital to ensuring that we will draw on the talents and skills of every American who shares the unique passion for the sea.
Similarly, the investments of taxpayer resources we are making in American ports under the President’s leadership are critical to ensuring that America can continue to defend itself and its allies, and to protect our values, including our commitment to democracy.
We are laser-focused on getting these efforts right.  We appreciate your support and your leadership.
Thank you for inviting me today and best wishes for a successful conference.