Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Cabinet-level Committee on the Marine Transportation System

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard “Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council” magazine by Mr. John K. Bobb, J.D., and CDR Paul M. “Bo” Stocklin, Jr., M.M.A., M.P.A., U.S. Coast Guard Office of Marine Transportation Systems.

The U.S. marine transportation system (MTS) is arguably the least known and understood of our nation’s transportation modes, but it carries a large volume of our domestic and international cargo and passengers. It consists of waterways, ports, intermodal connections, vessels, vehicles, and system users, extending from the outer boundary of the U.S. exclusive economic zone, through its bays and sounds, ports, and waterways, to the first intermodal connection from the port. In the picture to the left, two ships are forced to pass close to each other in the narrow Houston Ship Channel. This maneuver, known as the “Texas Chicken,” highlights one of the challenges to the MTS.

Our MTS contributes to our economy and national security, but it faces many challenges. Its infrastructure is aging. Dredging to maintain and deepen channels is needed at many of our critical ports. Existing land in and adjacent to our ports is being sold off for housing and recreational uses, preventing its use for port and terminal expansion. Larger ships are straining our ports’ capacity. Vessel air emissions and overboard discharges harm our air and water.

In 2004, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy made several recommendations regarding strengthening the marine transportation system, including that a cabinet-level committee be formed. In response, the president directed formation of the Committee on the Marine Transportation System (CMTS), which is comprised of the heads of 18 federal departments and independent agencies, and chaired by the secretary of the Department of Transportation.

In its first year, the CMTS directed the coordinating board to develop a strategy and conduct an assessment of the MTS. In a collaborative effort led by the Coast Guard, representatives of 18 departments and agencies crafted the National Strategy for the Marine Transportation System: A Framework for Action, which identified five distinct challenges facing the MTS: inadequate system capacity, safety and security threats, environmental impacts, disruptions, and infrastructure financing. The strategy recommended 34 actions to overcome these challenges.

There have been several other CMTS achievements over the past two years, again highlighting the role interagency partnerships can play in moving the nation’s interests forward. For example, MARAD has established a single maritime data portal, which provides “one-stop shopping” for those seeking federal data on any aspect of the marine transportation system. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is conducting an in-depth assessment of the entire system to better understand infrastructure issues and solutions. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration leads the interdepartmental effort to integrate real-time weather and tidal information with the Coast Guard’s automatic identification system to distribute this information to the mariner. Other MTS efforts underway include looking at infrastructure investment policy and Arctic navigational requirements.

Interact with the CMTS
The CMTS relies on the expertise and participation of a broad range of stakeholders. For federal agency personnel seeking greater interaction with the CMTS, please contact the CMTS executive secretariat either via your agency contact, or directly via the CMTS website, For those outside federal service, please contact the federal agency you work with most frequently on MTS issues, and encourage them to be your conduit to the CMTS.

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