Annual Defense Bill Includes Relief for American Seaports

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Published Dec 4, 2020 6:14 PM by The Maritime Executive

According to the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), the newly-negotiated language for the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) - the "must-pass" annual defense funding bill - includes the creation of a new Maritime Transportation System Emergency Relief Program (MTSERP) to provide funding to ports after natural disasters and emergencies, including the COVID-19 pandemic. The section authorizes the creation of the program, and separate appropriations language will be required to fund it. 

“By putting forward this legislation, it’s clear that Congress understands the nation’s need for strong and resilient ports and supply chains," said AAPA president and CEO Christopher J. Connor. "We hope that Congress passes this proposal soon, and that President Trump signs it into law.”

In a further Congressional nod to the value of America’s maritime ports, the NDAA also includes language to raise the authorized funding level for the Port Infrastructure Development Program (PIDP) to $750 million annually, up from $500 million. PIDP grants help improve port and freight infrastructure.

“AAPA thanks House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) for their stalwart support,” said Mr. Connor. He added: “Our next steps are to strongly advocate that Congress pass this bill and then appropriate funds to this new emergency relief program in the next COVID-19 relief package.”

The NDAA bill also includes other AAPA priorities, including a provision requiring the Secretary of Homeland Security to conduct a review of screening processes for international cargo at Great Lakes and inland ports. The review is to include details such as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) staffing levels, space provided to CBP by ports, and an analysis of current port/CBP cost-sharing agreements. 

Another AAPA priority appears in the NDAA's Coast Guard section. The text authorizes the Secretary of Homeland Security to require the installation of specific navigation equipment, communications equipment and electronic relative-motion analyzers to enable vessel traffic tracking.