GAO CALLS FOR ôSYSTEMATICö PLAN FOR MARITIME TRANSPORT INVESTMENTS
The U.S. General Accounting Office proposes a “systematic” approach to help the federal government make better investment decisions to improve the nation’s maritime transportation infrastructure.
The GAO made the proposal during a Senate hearing on freight transportation and intermodal facilities on Sept. 9. The details of the GAO’s plan was outlined in its report: “Marine Transportation: Federal Financing and an Infrastructure Investment Framework.”
“Some maritime industry stakeholders have suggested that substantial new investments in the maritime infrastructure by federal, state, and local governments and by the private sector may be required because of an aging infrastructure, changes in the shipping industry, and increased concerns about security,” said JayEtta Z. Hecker, director of physical infrastructure issues for GAO, in testimony.
“These growing and varied demands for increased investments in the maritime transportation system heighten the need for a clear understanding about the federal government’s purpose and role in providing funding for the system and for a sound investment approach to guide federal participation,” Hecker said.
The GAO framework consists of four components:
* Set national goals for the marine transportation system.
* Clearly define what the federal role should be relative to other stakeholders.
* Determine which funding methods and other approaches, such as alternatives to investment in new infrastructure, will “maximize the impact of any federal investment.”
* Re-evaluate performance goals, roles and approaches on a periodic basis.
Unlike other transportation modes, maritime is heavily reliant on funding from the U.S. Treasury’s general fund.
The GAO reported that between fiscal 1999 and 2001, 80 percent of the $3.9 billion annual funds for maritime infrastructure improvements came from the general fund. During the same period, nearly all of the $25 billion annually invested in the nation’s highways came from user fees. Similarly, about $10 billion a year, mostly from user fees, was spent on aviation system improvements.
However, during fiscal years 1999 and 2001, customs duties on imported waterborne cargo accounted for $15 billion each year. Air cargo accounted for $4 billion and highway cargo accounted for $900 million in customs duties over the same period.
The maritime industry has been adamant against paying user fees for infrastructure improvements. Some industry stakeholders, such as port authorities, believe a certain amount of customs duties collected on waterborne cargo should be set aside for these types of investments. GAO doesn’t believe this is feasible because “earmarking of customs duties for new spending would have significant budget ramifications in an already constrained federal budget environment.”