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Lawmakers issue bipartisan call for administration to support, enforce U.S. cargo preference laws

In letters to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Defense Secretary James Mattis, a total of 67 members of Congress from both parties have urged the administration to support and properly enforce U.S. cargo preference laws. The letters read as below.

Recently, representatives from the Department of Transportation and the Department of Defense have testified to the dangerous decline in our nation's U.S.-flag commercial sealift capability and a shortfall of approximately 2,000 American merchant mariners needed to crew the vessels supporting our troops deployed overseas. I am greatly alarmed that this situation has developed and am writing to urge the Administration to act expeditiously and forcefully to bolster the U.S.-flag merchant marine through enforcement of our existing "Ship American" laws for government-impelled cargo.

The United States has always relied on the U.S.-flag merchant marine and its American merchant mariners to protect and enhance our economic security and national defense. American flag vessels and their crews have always responded quickly and effectively to the call of duty, never failing to provide the commercial sealift sustainment capability and manpower needed by the Department of Defense to support America's objectives around the world. The U.S. Transportation Command was deliberate in their assessment that the "merchant marine is inextricably linked to the Department of Defense's ability to project power." Without this capability under our own flag, and without a sufficient number of American mariners, we will be forced to turn over America's security interests and the well being of our overseas troops to foreign-flag, foreign-crewed vessels owned and operated by those who may not choose to support us.

The Maritime Administration has indicated in testimony that our nation's ability to fully activate, deploy and sustain our military forces is between "medium to high risk." It is, therefore, critically important that the Administration takes immediate action in directing its efforts to support policies and programs that serve to enhance the U.S.-flag merchant marine, including existing cargo preference requirements. These requirements stipulate that a percentage of U.S. government-impelled cargoes be transported on privately-owned U.S.-flag commercial vessels. Government-impelled cargoes are not limited to those shipped directly by a Department or Agency but include government-financed projects and government contracts issued to private companies.

Full enforcement of these requirements can be an important factor in maintaining the U.S.-flag merchant fleet necessary to meet our national goals. All too often, Federal agencies have failed to comply with applicable U.S.-flag shipping requirements, denying American vessels the taxpayer-financed cargoes they're intended and eliminating important mariner jobs in the process. Failure to comply with cargo preference also means that American taxpayer dollars are being used to finance the costs of foreign shipping services. I ask that you encourage the President to affirm the Administration's support for Ship American and to direct all Executive Branch departments and agencies to fully comply with the spirit and the letter of existing U.S.-flag cargo preference shipping requirements. It should also be affirmed that if questions arise as to the applicability of cargo preference shipping requirements to a Federal program, the U.S. Maritime Administration is the final arbiter.

Thank you for your attention to reversing the serious decline in our U.S.-flag fleet and mariner workforce to ensure they can meet the needs of the Department of Defense. Concerted and immediate action is required, and I stand ready with you to achieve these objectives.


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