With the Senate’s proposed Transportation Bill approved, the Maritime Security Program (MSP) is on track to secure the the necessary funding to operate at full strength through 2018.
The proposed “FY2018 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act” passed the Senate Appropriations Committee with unanimous support this summer. The House of Representatives passed its version of the Transportation Appropriations bill earlier in the year. Under both versions of the proposed bills, the MSP would be fully funded, receiving $300 million for Fiscal Year 2018. Given that both the House and Senate have passed legislation approving full funding for MSP, it is likely that this level will remain in place in whatever final spending package Congress must approve in September. Funding for fiscal year 2017 ends in October, and Congress must pass a funding package before October 1 to avert a government shutdown.
The MSP is a fundamental program to the American maritime industry. It supports the U.S. national economy and makes it possible for our military to project power around the globe. The program provides funding for 60 militarily-useful and commercially viable vessels, which are kept active in international trade, ensuring they remain operational and ready to assist with any military operation if called upon. It also ensures that those vessels remain crewed by skilled American mariners, helping to maintain and grow the domestic mariner pool. Both in peace and in war, the MSP is a cost-effective resource, consistently praised since its inception by nearly every head of the U.S. Transportation Command, the Maritime Administration (MARAD) and the Department of Defense, among many others.The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has pointed out that MSP ship crews “are a major source for the DOD surge fleet.” The DOT also described the program as “a vital element of our military’s strategic sealift and global response capability. Without the MSP fleet, the United States would have assured access to very few U.S.-flag commercial vessels to support Department of Defense operations.”
In a recent hearing, U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Virginia), one of the maritime industry’s strongest champions in Congress, said in defense of the MSP fleet: “Our nation cannot presume that a foreign-owned maritime sealift component will be available during times of conflict to deploy into contested waters. Our nation needs U.S. mariners on U.S.-flagged ships.” Wittman is the Chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee.The Senate bill allocates $577.6 million for MARAD, an increase of $55 million above the FY2017 funding level. The version passed by the House, however, reduces MARAD funding to $490.6 million, though MSP remains fully funded at $300 million. House and Senate negotiators will have to work together to develop a compromise funding level for MARAD in whatever spending package emerges before the Oct. 1 deadline. It is not anticipated that the MARAD funding level differences will impact the MSP.
As reported in the June edition of the Seafarers LOG, the Transportation Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2017 was approved in May, which funded MARAD and the MSP through September. At that time, MSP funding was increased to $300 million, or $5 million per vessel in the MSP fleet. Military and government leaders have explained that the total cost of the MSP is a tiny fraction of the tens of billions of dollars it would cost the U.S. to replicate the sealift capability, intermodal infrastructure and other support made available to the Department of Defense by private-sector program enrollees.
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