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American Shipper

BTS: New federal stats on port performance to improve with time

There isn’t enough time before the first report on port performance is due for the Bureau of Transportation Statistics to develop new ways of measuring cargo fluidity and capture the data, according to Deputy Director Rolf Schmitt.

   The Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ first report on the nation’s port performance is likely to be limited in scope because of the short amount of time to get the project off the ground before it is due to Congress on Jan. 15, an agency official said last week.
   Congress created the Port Performance freight statistics program in December’s FAST Act surface transportation reauthorization bill. The law directs BTS, part of the Department of Transportation, to report to Congress each year nationally consistent statistics on the capacity and throughput of the top 25 ports in the United States based on tonnage, TEUs and dry bulk. 
   Measuring port performance became a priority for retailers and other business groups, who pushed for the legislation following the work slowdown at West Coast ports due to a contract dispute between longshoremen and waterfront employers. The lost productivity at major container ports led to huge supply chain disruptions for companies because containers were stuck for weeks at ports. Many companies incurred extra expenses associated with rerouting cargo and switching to air cargo, perishable goods that spoiled or missed seasonal sales slots and had to be marked down, and lost business from being unable to fill customer orders.
   Many terminals and ports collect KPIs (key performance indicators) for their internal purposes, but some outsiders complain that the data often doesn’t measure the right activities, is inaccurate, not transparent to other port users and is not standardized.
   BTS in February solicited nominations for a federal advisory committee to provide it recommendations on measures and methods of measurement. The nomination period closed March 24 and the agency is currently reviewing applications.
   DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx will have the final say on the working group’s membership and its chairman.
   The working group’s recommendations are due Dec. 4 and then the BTS will have about six weeks to get its report to Congress.
   The BTS won’t limit itself to suggestions just from the advisory committee, BTS Deputy Director Rolf Schmitt said Wednesday during a panel at the American Association of Port Authorities spring conference in Washington. “We will keep our doors open to suggestions from everyone…on how to create useful statistics in ways that are non-burdensome to ports or their customers,” he said.
   Since the first report is due soon “we anticipate that it will be a relatively modest start, dominated by currently available statistics. Any requests for new data will be subject to Office of Management and Budget review to assure statistical quality and to minimize respondent burden,” Schmitt said.
   “We expect the annual report will evolve over the years as we try new sources of data, new approaches, and learn what statistics are really useful to the transportation community and to the Congress,” he said.

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