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Transcript: Maritime Administrator Rear Admiral Ann Phillips Address to MTSNAC

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

REMARKS AS DELIVERED BY

MARITIME ADMINISTRATOR REAR ADM. (RET) ANN PHILLIPS

AT MTSNAC MEETING

DOT HEADQUARTERS

 

Thank you, Bill [Paape, Associate Administrator for the Office of Ports and Waterways]. And thank you to everyone for joining us today. 

I’m very honored to kick off this meeting of the Maritime Transportation System National Advisory Committee, known as the MTSNAC.  

MTSNAC is the only Federal Advisory Committee within the Department of Transportation focused on strengthening the maritime transportation system and ensuring it is seamlessly integrated into a multi-modal freight movement network.  

I want you to know how much I and everyone at MARAD appreciate your participation. Your diverse perspectives, representing critical maritime-sector industries, are what make MTSNAC’s recommendations and input valuable and actionable.

Today, you will be discussing MTSNAC’s work plan and the priority issues that MTSNAC will examine.  

As mentioned at the previous Administrative Meeting, tasks are assigned based on the needs of the Department, such as the implementation of the National Freight Strategic Plan, legislation, or other opportunities where stakeholder input is critical.

Within MARAD, our Office of Ports & Waterways will prepare agendas and monitor the MTSNAC.  In addition, this Office will be responsible for prioritizing the work of the MTSNAC to ensure that deliverables and timelines are being met.  

As you also know, we’ll have two Subcommittees—the Port and Starboard Subcommittees respectively—and our Designated Federal Officer will work with the Chair and Vice-Chair to monitor the Subcommittees’ work and shepherd recommendations to the full Committee for consensus prior to their presentation to the Office of the Maritime Administrator.

Before we go into more specifics regarding the work plan, I wanted to take a moment and set the backdrop for your work.

Ports & Cargo Volumes

One of MARAD’s critical missions is facilitating investments in our ports and waterways.  As you all know, record cargo volumes are moving through the nation’s ports—driven by unprecedented consumer demand as our economy continues to recover from the shocks of COVID.

Labor from so many sectors—ports, rail, trucking, and warehousing—have met this challenge, moving staggering volumes of cargo in jobs that did not allow teleworking.  And yet, this freight is moving on decades-old infrastructure not built for such volumes or for the demands of our 21st century economy.

Fortunately, in President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, this moment has been met by what will be record investments in freight infrastructure, including ports.  

And MTSNAC has the opportunity to provide advice on how we can strengthen all facets of the maritime transportation system at a moment when available funding will enable us to modernize the infrastructure on which our economy will relay for decades to come.

Let me talk about our historic investments in a little more detail.

Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

•    The $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will invest more than $17 billion in port infrastructure and waterways to address needed repairs and maintenance backlogs.

•    Ports are now eligible for funding under several of the Department’s major infrastructure grant programs—RAISE and INFRA—and, of course, under the Port Infrastructure Development Program and the America’s Marine Highways program.  

•    Looking just at the RAISE program, on August 10, Secretary Buttigieg awarded more than $2.2 billion from this program to help urban and rural communities modernize roads, bridges, transit, rail, ports, and intermodal transportation. A dozen of these projects are either port related or impact the Marine Transportation System.

PIDP

•    Regarding the PIDP program, which MARAD administers, in February, Secretary Buttigieg announced the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for the first of five rounds of funding for the program provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.  

•    This NOFO was issued just three months after the BIL was enacted, ensuring we could get money out the door and to work in our ports as quickly as possible.  

•    This first round of BIL funding totals $450 million—an investment that is almost double the amount provided last year and is the largest single investment in the program ever.  This amount will be available every year for the next four years.

•    And on top of that, the appropriations measure Congress passed for FY 22 provides an additional $234 million dollars for the PIDP program, bringing the total amount of funding available this year to more than $680 million.  This far exceeds any previous investment in the PIDP program.

•    This funding will help us improve the movement of goods to, though, and around ports—and it will help us cut emissions near ports by boosting electrification and investing in other low-carbon technologies to reduce environmental impacts on neighboring communities.

•    Awards for FY22 should be made in the early Fall and we are already gearing up for the next round of funding to be awarded next year.

America’s Marine Highway Program

•    The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is also dedicating new resources to benefit domestic shipping through the America’s Marine Highway Program, which provides funding to Marine Highways, including navigable rivers, near-coastal waterways and our Great Lakes, among others. 

•    In March of this year, the Department of Transportation announced the availability of nearly $25 million in grant funding for the Marine Highway Program. This funding simply wouldn’t have been possible without President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. 

•    And here too, the FY 2022 appropriations measure added additional funding, bringing the total amount of funding available for the program to $39.8 million. 

•    Applications for this program were due in June and we expect awards to be made in the early Fall.

•    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.

Inflation Reduction Act

In addition to the grant programs supported by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act just signed by President Biden includes billions of additional dollars that will be administered by the Environmental Protection Agency to help fund the installation of alternative-fueled cargo-handling equipment and systems to support port electrification.  Some of the funding is reserved for non-attainment areas.

We are very pleased to have a representative from EPA on the MTSNAC.


FLOW

And in addition to making these infrastructure investments, the Administration has been working for well over a year to help bring all actors in the supply chain together to seize the opportunity to put processes in place that will strengthen data sharing across the supply chain. 

Under our Port Envoys—previously former Deputy Secretary John Porcari and now General Stephen Lyons—DOT has launched a new initiative called Freight Logistics Optimization Works, or FLOW.

This pilot is a first-of-its-kind effort by the Biden-Harris Administration and supply chain companies to develop a digital tool that gives companies information on the condition of a node or region in the supply chain so that goods can be moved more quickly and cheaply, ultimately bringing down costs for families. 

There are now more than 30 participants that are a part of FLOW, which will grow over the coming months. Our team can help provide additional information on this effort.

Workforce Issues

Let me turn now and talk a bit about our merchant marine.  One of MARAD’s other critical missions is supporting and promoting our U.S.-flagged fleet and ensuring that we have the trained mariners who can provide sealift support to our military whenever and wherever needed.  

As you know, MARAD maintains the U.S. Ready Reserve—a fleet of cargo vessels that must be ready to activate with just 5 days’ notice to move cargo for our military.  We also support the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, and we provide support to our state maritime academies.  We also have numerous other initiatives underway to help attract and educate the next generation of our maritime workforce—both afloat and ashore.

For example, last year, we recognized the first-ever Centers of Excellence consisting of community and technical colleges and maritime training centers, and our planned future engagements with the K-12 community will help us build the next generation of a diverse and inclusive maritime workforce. 

That said, I don’t have to tell you that the COVID pandemic has made what were already hard jobs even harder.  Mariners, in particular, have had to stay at sea far longer than usual.  Crew changes became exceedingly complicated and, in too many cases, even impossible.  

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 approximately one-fifth of mariners were at risk for major depressive disorder. 

And almost 23% were found to be at risk for generalized anxiety disorder—a number notably higher than among employees in other industries.  Studies in other countries have yielded similar concerns.  

These findings are startling—and MARAD has been working to raise the alarm and to provide access to information about support systems on which mariners can draw when they need assistance.

Our Future – A Better Culture

There is another urgent issue facing our industry and our effort to create the workforce of the future: We must work together to prevent bullying, sexual harassment, and sexual assault in the maritime industry.  Quoting Secretary Buttigieg, “There is no safe harbor for sexual assault or sexual harassment in the maritime industry.”  

At the Maritime Administration, we believe that every mariner has the right to expect that every workplace will 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.  I know you all share this commitment.

As you know, late last year, we paused Sea Year training at the Merchant Marine Academy.  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.
 
In response to a request from Congress for a public plan to improve safety, MARAD 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 on their vessels.  

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 required these practices to be implemented in vessels’ Safety Management System: to address this as a safety measure for every mariner aboard a vessel.

Conclusion

As you consider and begin to address MTSNAC’s workplan, I hope you will take every opportunity to learn more about the initiatives we already have underway in all of these areas.  

The issues with which you will engage are intended to help address specific areas of concern as we work to strengthen our supply chains and to strengthen our merchant marine and our entire maritime workforce by ensuring it reflects the diversity of the country it serves and that we are helping address the unprecedented challenges that mariners and labor across our supply chains have been facing.

As I turn the floor over to our Designated Federal Officer, Chad Dorsey, let me thank you again for your service.  MARAD is working on all fronts to improve our ports, waterways, and maritime industry and we truly appreciate your willingness to serve on the MTSNAC and to help us advance this critical effort.