GOP files bill to boost federal port oversight

GOP files bill to boost federal port oversight

A group of Republican senators is introducing legislation to boost the “transparency” of U.S. ports after a series of recent labor standoffs has threatened the flow of cargo packages. 

The sponsors of the legislation (S. 1298) said the measure would create “a new level of transparency and accountability for ports, many of which are government owned” by requiring greater tracking by the Department of Transportation through its Bureau of Transportation Statistics. 

“Every day, our nation’s businesses large and small depend on the efficient operation of U.S. ports,” Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate votes to take up infrastructure deal Senators say they have deal on 'major issues' in infrastructure talks Senators reach billion deal on emergency Capitol security bill MORE (R-S.D.) said in a statement. 

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“The recent labor dispute at West Coast ports underscored how a lack of data and transparency to quantify on-going problems at our ports can affect businesses from coast to coast,” Thune continued. “At present, statistics for air cargo and even forms of ground transportation are more developed and accessible than those for maritime transport. This legislation adds needed sunshine to maritime shipping through our ports to help head off future economically destructive impediments to commerce.” 

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderAuthorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate The Republicans' deep dive into nativism Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain MORE (R-Tenn.) agreed, saying a recent labor standoff at West Coast ports that resulted in a four-day partial shutdown showed the need for greater oversight of ports and unions that represent their dockworkers. 

“A labor dispute at one of our ports can cause significant damage to U.S. employers and to our economy –  the recent nine-month dispute at the West Coast ports made it difficult for auto manufacturers and suppliers in Tennessee to keep production lines running,” Alexander said. “This bill will help shine a light on what’s happening at our nation’s ports before a labor dispute erupts and threatens our economy.”

The labor strife that resulted in the partial shutdown of 29 ports on the west coast in February began when the original contract between ports and dock workers was slated to expire in July 2014. 

Despite prolonged negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, the two sides were only able to agree to temporary extensions until February’s breakthough that followed President Obama sending Labor Security Tom Perez to California to mediate the talks. 

The long standoff led to cargo delays and ports that normally process 340 million tons of packages per year being forced to scale back operations, including a four-day closure over the President’s Day holiday weekend that riled retail groups. 

The lawmakers who are introducing the port transparency measure said their bill would help identify potential problems at ports before they reach critical levels like the February standoff. 

“Some estimates have stated that the recent nine month labor dispute at 29 West Coast container ports cost the economy up to $2.5 billion per day and the resulting strife was widely cited as a contributing cause to the anemic 0.2 percent annual growth rate of the U.S. economy in the first quarter of 2015,” the lawmakers’ offices said. 

“According to the U.S. Department of Transportation over half of all containerized imports enter the U.S. through West Coast ports. The Department has separately stated that a ‘lack of complete data on U.S. international freight continues to hamper research and analysis of trends in international freight movement and its impact on transportation activity within the United States,’”  the lawmakers’ offices continued. 

“While the Maritime Administration (MARAD) does produce its annual Statistical Snapshot of 20 water-freight-related statistics on freight volume and port of entry, MARAD has reported that the lack of a national standard for performance measures and ‘the lack of a reporting process have stymied its attempts to measure the efficiency of major U.S. ports,’” the backers’ statement concluded. 

The legislation to boost port oversight is being sponsored by Sens. Thune, Alexander, Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerBiden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on Lawmakers introduce bill allowing higher ethanol blend in gasoline after ruling Lobbying world MORE (R-Neb.) and Cory GardnerCory GardnerEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Biden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms MORE (R-Colo.).