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Transcript: American Association of Port Authorities Facilities Engineering Seminar Keynote

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

REMARKS AS DELIVERED
LUCINDA LESSLEY, ACTING MARITIME ADMINISTRATOR
AAPA FACILITIES ENGINEERING SEMINAR 
APRIL 12, 2022

 
Introduction

Thank you to [Chris Connor, President & CEO, American Association of Port Authorities] and everyone at [AAPA] for inviting me to join you today. On behalf of the Biden-Harris Administration, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, I am very pleased to join you today.

MARAD and the American Association of Port Authorities have a strong history of effective collaboration, including several cooperative agreements resulting in the development of tools and resources for our ports.  
Never has this work been more urgent. 

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 manage 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 our urgent efforts to combat sexual assault and sexual harassment in the maritime workplace.  And 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.  

The Biden-Harris Administration, the Department of Transportation, and the Maritime Administration are committed to addressing these challenges—and to strengthening our U.S. merchant marine and transforming our ports and freight networks.
 
This work is critical precisely because our merchant marine and our supply chains are vital to our economic and national security.
 
We currently have Ready Reserve Force ships active supporting DOD movements, including three underway supporting the U.S. European Command.
 
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, to, and around our 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 move more freight on the water—and meet the demand for new transportation options.

Supply Chain and FLOW 

Over the past year, Americans have become more familiar with the maritime industry because of global supply chain disruptions—one of the many consequences of the COVID pandemic. The contributing factors are complex, but the result is simple: across the world, people are paying more and waiting longer for the goods they need. 
 
Supply chain disruption is not just an American issue but rather a complex and multimodal global issue. What is an American issue, however, is our aging transportation infrastructure, including our maritime transportation infrastructure. 
 
The Biden-Harris Supply Chain Task Force has been taking both immediate and long-term actions to strengthen our supply chain, speed up the movement of goods from ships to shelves, and cut supply chain costs. These actions over the last year have brought the public and private sectors, state and local governments, and port authorities together to work to meet the challenge of supply chain disruption. 

When President Biden took office last year, he challenged federal agencies with supply chain related missions to develop strategies for “…resilient American supply chains [to] revitalize and rebuild domestic manufacturing capacity, maintain America’s competitive edge in research and development, and create well-paying jobs.”   

Over the past year, federal agencies, including DOT, developed these strategies, which were in February of 2022. They are now available online to help guide the nation in developing resilient supply chains for the 21st Century. 
 
Of course, we’re also working to strengthen U.S. manufacturing—both to create good jobs, and to help ease the burden on our supply chain, because the more we make here, the less we need to import from overseas. 
  
Despite many challenges, we’re seeing progress. Thanks to the herculean efforts of supply chain workers across the country, and the creativity of business and labor, our ports have processed record volumes of freight.   
  
To address the challenge in the near term, we’re working to help increase cargo throughput at our ports. In the height of the supply chain crisis last fall, we worked with the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to develop a fee structure on ocean carriers to reduce the number of long-dwelling containers. This incentive has helped to reduce the number of such containers on dock by more than 50 percent since last fall, and helped ensure goods arrived on time for the holiday season.

We’ve built unprecedented bridges, almost literally, across federal and non-federal agencies, including with the Port of Oakland, the Port of Savannah, and government partners, to create pop-up container yards connected to the ports to help get agricultural exports out and move imports in more quickly. In particular, the Georgia Ports Authority pop-up yards have moved over 20,000 TEUs.
 
We are also committed to improving data infrastructure throughout the supply chain, and the Biden-Harris Administration launched a new initiative to kick-start this effort. 
The Freight Logistics Optimization Works (FLOW) program is an information sharing initiative to pilot key freight information exchange between parts of the goods movement supply chain.

Data that would benefit all actors currently are not broadly shared across the supply chain. Improved data sharing could significantly improve supply chain fluidity. 
 
Success in this challenging endeavor is contingent not just on government support but also continued support from the private sector. After all, almost all chains are controlled by private-sector actors.  
It takes coordination across all public and private entities for information exchange to occur most effectively.  
 
Fortunately, we’ve seen new willingness by many actors across our supply chains to engage their customers, colleagues, and even in some cases competitors to enhance fluidity throughout the chain.  It’s critical that this cooperation continue long past all of our tenures.   
  
All of these actions are moving us closer to a simple goal: fewer delays for the American people, lower prices, economic strength, and security. That’s what this work is all about.   

PIDP/AMHP

Well before the pandemic, many recognized the need to reinvest in America’s infrastructure, including the ports, roads, and rails that provide our freight movement capability. Under President Biden, these investments will be a reality. 

Under the President’s leadership, we are 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.
 
Thanks to President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, years of mere talk about building new infrastructure have ended and a decade of actual infrastructure development has begun. 
 
And the Maritime Administration is responsible for awarding more than $2 billion in funding appropriated by the law through 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 funding 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. 
 
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. 

In February, DOT released a comprehensive report on the nation’s supply chains that recommended near and longer-term actions to further enhance fluidity through our supply chains. We identified that inland waterways are operating at a fraction of capacity and could assist in easing supply chain and congestion issues affecting other modes and impacting economic growth. 

In 2018, the U.S. moved about 9.4% of freight, in ton-miles, by water.  By comparison, in 2018 the European Union transported 34.2% of its freight by water. 

The Maritime Administration implements a program called the America’s Marine Highway Program intended specifically to expand the use of our inland and near-coastal waterways so we can create jobs, reduce delays, and strengthen critical links in our supply chain.  

Last December, through the 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 54 Projects and 29 Routes.  Those routes encompass 41 states, the District of Columbia, and all five U.S. territories.  These projects are eligible to apply for the available funding under the Marine Highway Program.
 
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.

 Closing 
 
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. 
 
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.