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MARAD: Just a DOT on this Administration's RADAR?

By The Maritime Executive 01-24-2011 11:17:30

The number of key positions within MARAD’s domain that need to be filled increases to two.

As we pull the trigger on this week’s MarEx e-newsletter, it has been exactly 296 days since President Obama was inaugurated, which also means that it has been that long since the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration has had a leader in the administrator’s chair. Also newsworthy this week was the resignation of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy’s Superintendent, effective January 4, 2010. DOT provided no further details on the latter item. Now, in the realm of what’s really important, these items might pale in magnitude to yesterday’s observance of Veteran’s Day or perhaps Tuesday’s celebration of the 234th birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps. But, like a fading RADAR target with a rapidly changing bearing and ever-increasing range, it is becoming painfully apparent that the business of MARAD – and by association, the collective U.S. waterfront – is all but irrelevant within the Department of Transportation.

As if to put emphasis on MARAD’s waning influence at DOT, this week’s announcement about Kings Point – like the one before it, addressing the “ghost” fleet situation at Suisun Bay, CA – came directly from DOT, not MARAD. In fact, all important “maritime” news releases now emanate directly from the secretary’s suite of offices. And, aside from a few ARRA grants for shipyards and some funding for a series of barges, all amounting to a very small sliver of the overall infrastructure stimulus being thrown at the nation’s collective transportation system, there has been little else to report in the past 10+ months with regard to the domestic waterfront. This shouldn’t necessarily be surprising to any of us on the maritime side of the equation, but the current trend certainly isn’t encouraging, either.

The Maritime Administration is the agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation dealing with waterborne transportation. Its programs promote the use of waterborne transportation and its seamless integration with other segments of the transportation system, and the viability of the U.S. merchant marine. The preceding two sentences are quoted directly from MARAD’s WEB site. That’s a nice mission statement of sorts, but I would contend that without effective leadership at the top, none of that will be possible. The Merchant Marine Academy, operated by the U. S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration, now also needs a new leader. Typically, I suppose, it would be the responsibility of the Maritime Administrator to assemble a suitable group of candidates and recommend one for appointment. Will this decision now be made without the input of MARAD?

We ended 2008 after observing, in my opinion, one of the most productive periods for MARAD in recent history. Active in a myriad of ways, the previous Administrator secured employment for U.S. mariners on a variety of platforms, presided over an efficient and environmentally correct disposal system for more than 100 obsolete vessels of the nation’s three reserve fleets and effectively used his authority to ensure that LNG approvals provided U.S. maritime professionals with employment. Today, most maritime announcements are couched as a triumph of the current administration and a departure from the policies of the past. Maybe I am “reaching” here, but if this is progress, then count me out.

I honestly do not know why the top job at Kings Point is up for grabs again less than 14 months after it had been filled, and DOT won’t say why, either. All of that is really beside the point. What’s important right now is that this fine institution – notably a maritime academy that requires every graduate to obtain a mariner’s license – needs a leader. It seems logical to me that a new one should be selected within the purview of MARAD. And, from where I’m sitting, you can’t do that, and a hundred other critical maritime tasks, without leadership from the administrator’s office.

In January, the superintendent’s seat at Kings Point will potentially be empty. Let’s hope we don’t additionally observe the one-year anniversary of the Obama inauguration with two of the most visible leadership positions at MARAD still in limbo. Don't hold your breath, though. I have a feeling that all of this has already been lost in the sea of clutter represented by "10,000 Transportation Projects," as announced today by the Vice President and Secretary LaHood. – MarEx

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Joseph Keefe is the Editor in Chief of THE MARITIME EXECUTIVE. He can be reached with comments on this editorial at jkeefe@maritime-executive.com. Join the Maritime Executive ‘Linked In’ group by clicking http://www.linkedin.com/e/gis/47685>