President Barack Obama’s signature on the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 helped secure both the jobs of American mariners and the safety of the American people.
A key provision in the bill ensured the Maritime Security Program (MSP) – an SIU-supported program of vital importance to the maritime industry and national defense – would be extended through 2025.
Since 1996, the Department of Defense (DOD) has had access to 60 (originally 47 but increased to 60 in 2003) militarily useful commercial ships to carry goods and materiel to service members around the globe. In return, DOD provides an annual stipend to help off-set operating costs. The MSP provision, included in the Maritime Administration reauthorization section of the law, was aggressively backed by the SIU and the rest of maritime labor along with union-contracted companies. Currently, Seafarers- contracted companies operate the vast majority of vessels enrolled in the MSP, meaning the program’s extension results in jobs for Seafarers nationwide.
Despite initial worries that the bill would be held up by non-maritime-industry-related concerns, those issues were resolved between Congress and the White House, and the bill was signed just one day before the end of the 112th Congress. The new law extends contracts for existing operators, and also includes a gradual increase in the annual stipend, something that will ensure the program remains economically attractive for U.S.-flag operators in the future.
Created in 1996, the MSP has always enjoyed bipartisan support and consistent praise from American military leaders. President George H.W. Bush proposed the MSP in 1992, President Bill Clinton signed it into law four years later and President George W. Bush signed a 10-year extension in 2003 that increased the number of vessels to 60. It has annually been included on the Office of Management and Budget’s list of most efficient and best-run government programs.
The MSP’s popularity since its creation is due to several factors. Not only does the program protect the homeland, but it also saves the country a significant amount of money. According to the United States Transportation Command (TRANSCOM), the MSP provides a sealift capability that would cost the government approximately $13 billion to reproduce, plus an additional $52 billion to replicate the global intermodal system made available to the U.S. Department of Defense. Thanks to the MSP, the government gets all of that for a fraction of the cost – currently $186 million per year.
The program also helps maintain a pool of well-trained, loyal, U.S. citizen mariners whose reliability in supporting our armed forces has been proven time after time, including throughout Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom (and, for that matter, throughout the nation’s history).
In pushing for the MSP extension last year, a bipartisan group of 17 U.S. senators wrote to Senate Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) about the MSP’s vital importance to the country. The MSP, they said, protects the country’s homeland, economic and job security.
“Without having the MSP and its maritime security fleet to rely on, the options available to the Department of Defense and to our country to meet America’s commercial sealift capability requirements are totally unacceptable,” the senators wrote. More likely, the DOD would be forced to charter foreign-flagged vessels manned by foreign nationals – “interests who may not share America’s goals, objectives and values.... These foreign-flag shipping services [would] have to be paid for by the United States and it means our country [would] be encouraging the outsourcing of American maritime jobs as we spend taxpayer dollars on foreign-flag ships and their foreign crews.”
TRANSCOM Commander, Gen. William Fraser, echoed those sentiments while speaking to the maritime industry last summer. The military, he said, relies heavily on the hard-working people who make up the U.S. Merchant Marine, including mariners who sail aboard MSP ships.
The DOD “could not do our job without the superb relationships that we have with our commercial industry and our U.S. mariners,” he said. “You are absolutely essential to the greatest military in our history.”
Speaking at the 2012 SIUNA Convention in September, Rear Adm. Mark Buzby, commander of the U.S. Military Sealift Command, said it’s a partnership of vital importance to not only the United States, but the world.
“Our combined efforts work toward maintaining a strong U.S. maritime industry that’s critical to our continued leadership in a world that depends on the seas and the maritime trade,” he said. “None of it will happen without U.S. Mariners manning the lines.”