The Jones Act—which requires that U.S. built and crewed shipping vessels move goods between U.S. ports--has always been a target for Wall Street and corporatists.  No surprise there.  What does come as a surprise, however, is how quick some conservatives are to side with corporate interests in the assault on the Jones Act, ignoring its contribution to the economy and U.S. security.  All of it in the name of profits.   

This week’s op-ed entitled “Are Jones Act ships really 'made in the USA'? Well, sort of” unfairly misconstrues the essential benefits of the Jones Act.  The author would have one believe that the U.S. Shipbuilding industry maintains very little capacity to build ships on its own and that there is no benefit in the Jones Act and the maritime industry it supports.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 

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It’s true that certain naval parts are acquired from abroad, but what the author fails to mention is the heavy-industrial infrastructure and significant skill sets based in our country, and the obvious risk of further outsourcing both.  American shipyards, naval architects, welders, engineers and mariners who work to build and crew Jones Act ships can certainly attest to this.    

As for the benefits of the Jones Act, which are misrepresented by dubious claims of higher costs and stifled completion, the American Maritime Industry contributes $100 billion dollars in economic benefits and half million jobs to the U.S. economy. 

And as strong as the economic arguments are, the national security arguments are just as compelling—if not more.  The Jones Act helps ensure we will have the necessary industrial infrastructure, and skilled labor pool of welders, fitters and sailors needed to rapidly mobilize in times of war.  We must never rely on another country for this type of labor or to support U.S. force projection. 

Don’t just take my word for it.  General Paul Selva, former TRANSCOM Commander and current Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff stated last year, “ I can stand before any group as a military leader and say without the contribution that the Jones Act brings to the support of our industry there is a direct threat to national defense, and I will not be bashful about saying it and I will not be silent.”  Many others in the national security community share his views.

This week, as part of the larger discussion on addressing Puerto Rico’s finances, opponents of the Jones Act will likely attempt their worn-out efforts to weaken the Jones Act.  The law’s opponents claim that relieving Puerto Rico of Jones Act requirements will strengthen Puerto Rico’s economy and boost competition.  The reality is that Puerto Rico’s economic challenges are not driven by the Jones Act and there is already robust competition—with nearly two-thirds of the vessels calling on Puerto Rico being foreign flagged. 

All that eliminating the Jones Act for Puerto Rico will do is degrade our national security and undermine the American Maritime Industry, along with the thousands of jobs it supports.