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Good morning. It’s a pleasure to be with the Navy League again this morning and to provide you with an update on our progress at the Maritime Administration in promoting U.S. maritime for America’s national and economic security.

I’ve got to say right up front that much of that progress is due to the efforts of maritime stakeholders like the Navy League, and the focus kept on maritime issues and specifically, on our merchant marine. As I discuss the progress made, I think you’ll hear a number of issues where our priorities align.

As this month marks my second anniversary at the Maritime Administration—and anniversaries are always a good time for reflection—I’m pleased I can share that we’ve made progress in addressing three top challenges I identified as I began my tenure.

I was actually rummaging through one of the piles on my desk last week and came across the questionnaire that I had to fill out as part of my senate confirmation process where I had to list my top priorities.

First, it was essential to get the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy back on track. Key to that was leadership – and new superintendent RADM Jack Buono, and Dean John Ballard – are doing a tremendous job up there. 

For me, it just underscores once again something that we all know: leadership makes a difference in how an organization functions.

We have significantly improved academy programs and procedures related to sexual harassment and sexual assault, and are making progress to instill a culture that does not tolerate such behavior. These are issues that require constant attention, and I’m confident that Admiral Buono is leading the academy forward on this issue.

Second, we are addressing the Ready Reserve Force and ensuring that it is prepared to answer the call. That has been a struggle, with readiness of the 44-year old fleet a day-to-day challenge given our budgetary constraints.

I’m pleased that congress has increasingly gotten it on their scope, and having TRANSCOM Commander General Steve Lyons testify that RRF recap is his #1 priority is a huge deal.

Long-term, we believe the Navy’s surge sealift recapitalization strategy, which includes a combination of targeted service life extensions, acquiring and converting used vessels, and building new sealift vessels in U.S. shipyards, will get us where we need to be.

Third, I pledged myself to a vigorous defense of the Jones Act. There has been a lot of discussion about the Jones Act of late – much of it misinformed and some of it purposely misleading.

We’ve turned back several serious challenges to this indispensable policy—but only a vigilant watch will protect this linchpin of American maritime policy from attack.

I am proud of the progress we’re making on these issues—but a great deal of work remains.

Across the board—from growing the U.S.-flag fleet and strengthening our ports to improving and modernizing maritime education and addressing the mariner shortage—to help ensure that America’s maritime community is ready to meet all challenges in an increasingly contentious and competitive world.

That means not only addressing the needs for the RRF, but also supporting U.S. flag commercial carriers so U.S.-flag ships are there for us to provide sustained sealift.

The MSP stipend is a lifeline for those carriers who struggle to compete against foreign competitors who benefit from government subsidies and preferential tax policies.

It also means addressing the mariner shortage to ensure we have qualified Americans to crew sealift vessels. Right now, we remain about 1,800 mariners short of what we need to crew government and commercial sealift ships to meet national security needs. Closing that gap demands that we grow the U.S.-flag fleet to ensure that qualified American mariners have places to ply their trade.

But is also requires attracting more people to maritime. That’s one reason getting Kings Point on track was so critical. We have to send the message to those pursuing maritime careers that we value them by making their safety on campus the highest priority.

We also have to send a message to those attending our state academies that we are invested in their safety when they train and in the future of this industry. So, we’re providing a large, visible symbol of that investment in the new National Security Multi-mission Vessel—the NSMV—which will serve as the new training ships at our state academies.

The NSMV has been a long time coming. And I must thank Secretary Chao and her leadership in pushing this acquisition. We’ve been working on replacing the aging state academy ships for more than a decade. Congress has now fully funded two ships; we’ve named a construction manager, tote; we’re closing in on naming a shipyard; and we’re hopeful that when the appropriations process finishes for the coming year, we’ll have funding for a third new vessel.

If all goes well, this fall we’ll be investing nearly a billion dollars in three new, Jones Act-compliant ships that can serve our state academies well into the future to help prepare our next generation of deck officers and engineers. And we’ll keep pressing to replace all of these aging training ships.

It’s exciting and welcome news for those of us who care deeply about the future of American maritime.

And we haven’t neglected our critical shoreside needs. You’re seeing this commitment with a Port Infrastructure Development Program that should deliver nearly $300 million of new grant funding to help strengthen, modernize, and improve our country’s maritime systems and gateway ports.

Last month, we also moved out the door nearly $20 million in grants to support capital improvements at 28 U.SD. small shipyards as a part of the small shipyard grant program. These funds will support employee training and other improvements that foster increased efficiency and economic growth. That’s an investment in the more than 400,000 Americans whose jobs are supported by our small shipyards.

We also recently announced nine new Marine Highway Projects that will join previously designated projects in being eligible to apply for $7 million of marine highway grants this year. Short sea shipping is an additional way that we can give boost Jones Act shipping and support mariner jobs. There are some really innovative ideas emerging in the marine highways sector.

Overall, I believe that we can look back on these past two years as a time when we at least started reawakening America’s understanding of the vital importance of maritime issues and started making some real progress on long-neglected challenges.

The Navy League has been a big part of that progress and a real partner. So I thank you, not just for the invitation and for the breakfast, but for being steadfast advocates for an American maritime community that is up to the task of supporting our economy and defending our Nation.

Thank you.

Updated: Wednesday, August 21, 2019