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Rep. Courtney’s Opening Statement for the House Subcommittees on Readiness and Seapower and Projection Forces Join Hearing on: “Posture and Readiness of the Mobility Enterprise”

May 18, 2021
Press Release

Good Morning and thank you Chairman Garamendi and Ranking Member Lamborn for conducting this joint hearing to examine the Posture and Readiness of the Mobility Enterprise.   

I also want to thank the witnesses: General Lyons, Ms. Lessley, and Mr. Tokarski for being with us today. Our meeting this afternoon is even more pertinent as Thursday May 20th marks the 88th anniversary of National Maritime Day – another opportunity to thank all Merchant Mariners serving today and reflect on the sacrifices of those we’ve lost at sea.    

As our witnesses know, under the National Defense Strategy with its focus on the Indo-Pacific and European Command, the ability to quickly move goods, equipment and people at a moment’s notice is an urgent priority of our defense operations and plans. As both committees know all too well, the ships and aircraft that comprise our sealift and air mobility capabilities are increasingly challenged by advanced, age, readiness shortfalls and obsolescence. The disturbing 2019 Turbo Activation stress test conducted by MARAD, TRANSCOM, and the Navy, clearly demonstrated the need for recapitalization of the fleet.  

In 2020, the United States Maritime Administration and Transportation Command faced added obstacles with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, despite that backdrop, in last year’s NDAA Congress, working with MARAD and TRANSCOM, passed multiple maritime provisions to significantly modernize and boost the fleet.  

A major bipartisan accomplishment was the establishment of the Tanker Security Program, modeled after the highly successful Maritime Security Program. This new program authorizes an adequate stipend to private ship-owners who make their tankers available during time of war or national emergencies.   

We also secured an additional $388 million for the National Security Multi-Mission Vessel. This was in addition to new priority grants for small coastal ports and terminals to help with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, $30 million for the Title XI loan guarantee program, a new strategic program focused on merchant marine recruitment, training, and retention, and the extension of the Jones Act and other federal laws to offshore renewable energy.  

It’s important to note that our subcommittee also included a provision from the Maritime System Emergency Relief Act in last year’s NDAA. With this inclusion, we were able to provide relief to those in the maritime industry during a national emergency, increased training opportunities for merchant mariners, authorize a new grant program for smaller ports and terminals, and established the National Shipper Advisory Committee to give our importers and exporters a formal way to interact with the Federal Maritime Commission.   

We have also initiated a three-pronged approach of extending current sealift ships, buying used vessels, and requiring the start of a domestic new build ship - with added authorities to build these new ships using existing designs and alternative contracting approaches that can save time and money.  

However, we know work remains. The COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing. We recently saw a cyber-attack on the Colonial Pipeline resulting in fuel shortages, price spikes, and four total Jones Act waiver requests as of today: two waiver requests to transport jet fuel, gasoline, and ultra low sulfur diesel between coastwise points and two additional waiver requests to transport motor fuel between coastwise points. I continue to believe that waivers such as these should be thoroughly vetted, rare, short, and only granted in exceptional emergency circumstances such as the one we found ourselves in this week.  

Finally, we have continued our rigorous oversight of our aerial refueling capabilities and the rollout of the KC-46 tanker. We remain concerned by six category 1 deficiencies on the KC-46 as of this week and expect follow-up from the agencies before us and the Air Force to ensure the platform we’re delivering to our airmen is safe, effective, and reliable. It cannot be anything less.  

As we prepare to begin work on the 2022 defense authorization bill in the coming weeks, I look forward to learning more from our witnesses on their important work in addressing these challenges. With that I’ll yield to Chairman Garamendi.