GAO study makes no recommendations on bagged food-aid transport
A U.S. Government Accountability Office report released this week found that since 2000 competition between U.S.-flag bulk and container carriers to transport government-financed bagged food aid has increased, but the watchdog agency said “clear trends in how industry segments are responding cannot yet be determined.”
Congress requested the GAO study as part of its 2003 reauthorization of the Maritime Security Program (MSP). This program provides the Defense Department with immediate access to a specified number of commercial U.S.-flag container and roll-on/roll-off ships during times of war and national emergency. Carriers in the program receive a payment from the government to help offset the higher costs of their U.S.-flag vessel operations.
Congress wanted the GAO to determine the potential impact of decreasing the 7,500-ton limit on MSP vessel carriage of bagged food aid. Non-MSP U.S.-flag carriers Liberty Maritime, TECO Ocean Transport and Sealift lobbied the Congress in 2003 to cap this volume to 2,500 tons per voyage for MSP carriers.
According to the GAO, MSP carriers moved about 45 percent bagged food aid between 1999 and 2003. The rest of the volume was transported by non-MSP U.S.-flag carriers.
“Our analysis suggests that under certain conditions a tonnage limit would not lead to large shifts in food aid to non-MSF (Maritime Security Fleet) carriers, and could result in lower levels of subsidy payments and increased agency burdens,” the GAO said.