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Biden nominates climate expert to lead Maritime Administration

President’s pick to oversee US maritime industry comes as container ship backups continue to stress port infrastructure

President Biden’s pick to lead the U.S. Maritime Administration (MarAd) has some in the maritime industry wondering if she is the right person for the job given the crisis affecting American ports.

Ann Phillips, who currently serves as special assistant to the governor of Virginia for coastal adaptation and protection, “is a leader in the field of coastal resilience and climate impact on national security at the regional, national and international level,” according to the White House.

“In particular, she coordinates across federal, state, local and other partners to create equitable strategies to address rising waters and climate impact to federal, maritime and other critical coastal infrastructure assets in Virginia.”

Prior to her current appointment, Phillips served for more than 30 years on active duty in the Navy, retiring as a rear admiral.

The American Maritime Partnership (AMP), with a membership that includes U.S.-flagged vessel owners and operators, port workers, shipbuilders and repair yards, and national security organizations, congratulated Phillips on her nomination.

“We look forward to a swift Senate confirmation process so we can begin working with Admiral Phillips to strengthen American maritime in support of our homeland and national security,” commented AMP President Mike Roberts.

But with advising and assisting the secretary of Transportation on commercial maritime matters one of the primary responsibilities of the maritime administrator, maritime officials contacted by FreightWaves questioned if she has the experience to help manage the current supply chain crisis affecting the domestic maritime sector.

“She looks like she would have been more suited for a position at [Environmental Protection Agency] or [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration],” said one source who declined to be identified, “especially given that this [supply chain] issue is not going away for a while.”

MarAd, which is part of the Department of Transportation, points out that of the more than 300 U.S. ports, many of them have “complicated elements that integrate water, rail, road and even airborne transportation modes. MarAd is committed to efficiently managing each and every piece of this intermodal transportation network, ensuring its role as a key contributor to our nation’s economic and national security posture.”

That role as a contributor to the country’s economic health could increase as the Biden administration looks to take a more active role. After coordinating last week’s move by the Port of Los Angeles to expand to a 24/7 schedule, the administration said it was looking into other potential options in which MarAd potentially could play a role, including deploying the National Guard at the ports to address bottlenecks.

“We’re constantly going to reevaluate all of our options, but the steps we’re taking right now are going to make a difference,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on Sunday.

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One Comment

  1. A better appointment would have been someone who has served in the Ordnance Corps as that group is for coordinating the onboarding, transportation, and movement of large volumes of assets.

John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.