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Opinion: The MARAD Dust Bowl of 2013

Published Nov 20, 2012 3:50 PM by Tony Munoz

The Grapes of Wrath


By Tony Munoz, Editor-in-chief, The Maritime Executive Magazine & the MarEx Newsletter 

The 2013 Maritime Administration budget is a saga of the transformation of an entire nation and the hard realities of the “Haves and Have-Nots.” The once-proud Maritime Administration now dwells in cellar-status within the sixth largest agency of the federal government while its insufficient budget of $344 million becomes a footnote in the Obama Administration’s recovery plan for revitalizing America and its transportation infrastructure in the 21st Century.

As the Administration picked at the crumbs provided to the maritime industry by decreasing MARAD’s budget by another $5 million next year, it simultaneously increased DOT’s budget by $1.4 billion to $98.5 billion ($74.5 billion in mandatory and $24 billion in discretionary spending), giving additional infrastructure subsidies to the trucking, rail and air sectors. But it’s the Administration’s transportation revitalization plan, which intends to boost DOT’s budget by more than 34 percent ($492 billion) over the next six years (2013-2018) and lavish it on “runways, roadways and railways,” that deliberately and utterly trivializes the maritime industry by excluding it from the national recovery plan.

In fact, since the Obama Administration took office it has deliberately pilfered MARAD’s budget by over $107 million. Furthermore, it has insulted the maritime sector by appointing a maritime neophyte and political crony as Administrator. America’s commercial maritime heritage has been dismissed as a relic, and the once promising “marine highway,” which could alleviate highway congestion and air pollution in urban areas, has instead been replaced by shortsighted policies that envision larger trucks transporting more tonnage over expanded roadway systems.

While the Arab Spring is having profound effects on the destabilization of the Middle East, which could ultimately affect oil and gas supplies to the U.S., there are also increasing tensions with China and Russia, who number among their allies North Korea, Iran and Syria. Meanwhile, the Chinese military complex is rapidly growing and, in December 2011, President Hu Jintao made it abundantly clear that China is preparing for war due to local maritime disputes and U.S. influence in the South China Sea, which holds all of its offshore oil and gas resources.

If interests in Asia and the Middle East are to remain priorities of U.S. international polices, and rebuilding the industrial base and putting millions of Americans back to work are important domestic priorities for the Obama Administration, then it needs to rethink its current DOT six-year plan, which excludes the maritime sector. More importantly, the Administration needs to appoint a real maritime executive to oversee MARAD, enforce Cargo Preference laws, rebuild the shipbuilding base through tax incentives and grants, and begin training the next generation of U.S. commercial mariners to keep military supply lines open around the world.  Anything short of that means my vote is for a new administration. – MarEx

Tony Munoz can be contacted at [email protected]