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Mar.7, 2016

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GOVERNMENT WATCH 90 THE JOURNAL OF COMMERCE MARCH 7.2016 By Reynolds Hutchins With U.S. harbors preparing for the arrival of mega-ships, some say the Obama spending plan is just too shallow PRESIDENT OBAMA'S 2017 budget request was a mixed bag for U.S. ports pursuing major harbor-deepening projects. For some, the $4.1 trillion proposal came with a mix of good and bad news. For others, there was no news at all. The president's proposal includes more than $42 million in federal funding to expand the Port of Savannah's harbor, less than half of the $90 million Georgia state officials say they will need to keep the proj- ect on track. The budget proposal announced in Feb- ruary allocates no funds for ongoing efforts to expand and deepen the harbor at the Port of Jacksonville, Florida. It also leaves out, but doesn't overlook, other port projects — includ- ing those at Charleston, South Carolina, and Wilmington, North Carolina — where harbor- deepening plans are in the works but still need congressional authorization. Though the U.S. Army Corps of Engi- neers says it's possible more federal funds can be allocated later this year to the presi- dent's proposed budget, there's no telling how much will be allocated or if that will be According to the legislation, no later than Jan. 15 of each year, the director of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics must submit an annual report to Congress that includes fig- ures on capacity and throughput at the nation's top ports, a list that includes the top 25 U.S. ports by total tonnage, by 20-foot-equivalent units and by dry bulk tonnage. Months after the legislation was passed, however, it remains unclear how frequently the data will be collected before each annual report or what metrics and standards should be used in that process. Moreover, in previ- ous versions of the bill, it was estimated that the annual cost to BTS would be approxi- mately $2.7 million. But President Obama's latest budget request for fiscal 2017 includes no explicit funding for the program. "It's not surprising," Paul Bea, principal of maritime consultant PHB Public Affairs, told The Journal of Commerce. In the first place, the president's budget request was well on its way to being finalized by the time the FAST Act was signed into law. Furthermore, Congress didn't authorize addi- tional funding in the FAST Act for BTS. "So BTS has been given a new program assign- ment, but the agency was not authorized for increased appropriations," Bea said. Additionally, the government has yet to work out what specific metrics it will be monitoring at the nation's ports. A coalition of more than 100 shippers has submitted suggestions for key performance indicators for activity at berths, within the marine terminal yards, truck gate operations and on-dock rail operations. Those metrics ultimately will be the product of a new working group in the form of another federal advisory committee, such as the Advisory Committee on Supply Chain Competitiveness. Their work, however, is sure to have its own hiccups, as many seats already have been reserved for union leaders and port officials associated with the AAPA that have expressed strong reservations to what they see as intrusive data collection. The BTS is expected to publish details on the new group and a solicitation of nomi- nations of persons who would be willing to be considered for selection to serve on it, but it will be months before those persons will be named to the working group and the first meeting is held. In the meantime, Bea said, "BTS may initiate the port-data project using available resources and data and then build from there." The lack of funding, resources and manpower may be one of the reasons the Advisory Committee on Supply Chain Competitiveness suggested that the federal government plan to use third-party data ser- vices for aggregated information on market trends and volumes. "These services would aggregate and analyze data from shippers and ocean car- riers on freight f lows and market trends for use by both the private and public sec- tors in short- and long-range planning and transportation supply chain performance measurement (freight fluidity)," the group said, "while respecting private sector con- fidentiality and competitiveness concerns." It's important to note, however, that the figure included in the recent Obama budget is likely to change as the proposal makes its way through Congress and a final budget is approved for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. Indeed, after the White House fell short on a number of port funding requests last year, Congress ultimately awarded more than the president requested. JOC Contact Reynolds Hutchins at and follow him on Twitter: @Hutchins_JOC. BUDGET LEAVES PORTS WANTING MORE The government has yet to work out what specific metrics it will be monitoring at the nation's ports.

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