USA Banner

Official US Government Icon

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure Site Icon

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Transcript: Keynote Address State of the Industry (MARAD)

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Keynote Address at the 2022 Capital Link Jones Act & US Flag Shipping Forum (Digital Conference)

Remarks by Acting Administrator Lucinda Lessley


Good morning, everyone. On behalf of the Maritime Administration, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and the Biden-Harris Administration, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak about our Nation’s maritime industry.

I also thank Capital Link for inviting the Maritime Administration to participate in this Forum. 

The Biden-Harris Administration is working on every front to support a strong U.S. merchant marine.  

The Administration is crystal clear that the U.S.-flagged fleet—including of course our Jones Act fleet—plays an essential role in both our national and our economic security.

That is why, shortly after taking office, President Biden issued an Executive Order laying out his Made in America agenda. The order reaffirms what we have always known: the Jones Act is truly a “make it in America” policy on our waterways.

As you know, the Jones Act guarantees that cargoes moved between U.S. ports travel on vessels that are built, owned, and crewed by Americans. 

Because of the Jones Act, today, more than 40 thousand vessels of all types, all built in the United States, ply our Nation’s waterways, reliably delivering domestic passengers and goods to the places they need to be using the most fuel-efficient mode of transportation available. 

The Jones Act also ensures that we have strong domestic shipbuilding capability.  Our Jones Act fleet in turn supports more than 150 active shipyards that, according to a 2021 MARAD study, support nearly 400,000 jobs and generate $28.1 billion of annual labor income as well as more than $42 billion in GDP. 

The Jones Act also supports a domestic merchant fleet of 96 ocean-going vessels crewed by thousands of highly skilled, unionized merchant mariners qualified to operate sealift assets for national defense needs. 

The Jones Act is truly a cornerstone of our U.S. maritime industry and the Biden-Harris Administration is working hard to strengthen this industry by building on this essential foundation. And with new opportunity on the horizon, such as the emergence of offshore wind as a renewable energy source, the Jones Act remains poised to remain the cornerstone of our nation’s maritime industry into the foreseeable future. 

As you know, a key part of MARAD’s work is to support the increased use of our Nation’s waterways.

One way we provide that support is through the America’s Marine Highways Program, which provides grant funds to support projects that will expand use of the nation’s navigable waterways to relieve landside congestion, provide new and efficient transportation options, and increase the productivity of the surface transportation system so that goods move more quickly and the price of goods is reigned in. 

Very soon, the Maritime Administration will announce the availability of grant funding for the 2022 Marine Highways Program. This  will be the largest single appropriation of funding ever provided to the program—and it will be made possible by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

The America’s Marine Highway Program is thriving. The Program has grown to 52 Projects and 28 Routes.  Those routes encompass 41 states, the District of Columbia, and all five U.S. territories.  Since its inception in 2010, MARAD has provided 44 grants amounting to $51.7M to 25 Marine Highway Projects, all of which use Jones Act vessels ranging in size from tugs and barges to ocean-going vessels. 

The oldest Marine Highway service, the James River Expansion Project, removes tens of thousands of trucks annually from the I-64 corridor between Richmond and Hampton Roads.  In addition to reducing congestion, emissions, and road damage, the service provides good paying jobs for mariners.  And this project’s benefits are not limited to the waterways. The James River Expansion Project has attracted more than $400 million in private investment in and around the Port of Richmond, and has created more than 1,100 warehousing and intermodal jobs in the region. 

The investments that are provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will enable us to support these kinds of innovative services all across the Nation.

And just as we are investing in the use of our domestic waterways and our Jones Act services, we are also making unprecedented investments in ports around the United States.

MARAD is responsible for awarding more than $2 billion in funding appropriated by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure law to our Port Infrastructure Development Program. PIDP grants are awarded on a competitive basis to support projects that will improve the movement of goods to, through, and around ports.  

Yesterday, Secretary Buttigieg announced a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for the first round of funding for PIDP provided, which totals $450 million. This too is a historic level of investment through this program. 

This investment will help build new capacity at ports around the United States, improve cargo throughput, and eliminate bottlenecks to reduce the time and cost of shipping goods.  And, in keeping with the priorities of the Biden-Harris Administration, applications will also be expected to explain how proposed projects address environmental justice impacts and advance racial equity, reduce barriers to opportunity, and meet the challenges faced by rural areas.  

In addition to the many investments we are making in our infrastructure, MARAD has a critical mission of ensuring that we have the qualified mariners we need to operate our fleets. And as you know, we have a shortage of mariners with unlimited tonnage credentials.  

As such, we are working on the FY22 – FY26 Mariner Workforce Development Plan. This plan will bolster safety, and support for both credentialed and prospective U.S. mariners based on several key goals, including supporting existing mariner workforce development programs, mariner education, and training institutions, and improving mariner workforce diversity and workplace safety. This will be intended to nurture and grow a strong U.S. merchant marine, which is integral to the contiguous, non-contiguous, and international trade.  

That said, to attract and retain the next generation of mariners, we have to ensure that our merchant marine reflects the diversity and the values of the nation it serves.  

As many of you may know, at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy operated by MARAD, we paused our Sea Year training aboard commercial vessels for a period last year while we worked to improve safety and support a culture of respect.

As requested by Congress, we announced a multi-part plan to improve safety for cadets—and indeed for all mariners—on commercial vessels, and to strengthen efforts to prevent sexual assault and harassment, support survivors, and hold perpetrators accountable.

The plan consists of two components. First, the “Every Mariner Builds a Respectful Culture”—or EMBARC—program sets forth new requirements that commercial carriers carrying cadets will be required to meet. 

And second, we issued a wide range of new policies and instituted new procedures at the Academy to strengthen the support we provide cadets while they are at sea.

Moving forward, we will be implementing a continuous review of the EMBARC program and our Academy policies and procedures to incorporate best practices and respond to lessons learned. 

As Transportation Secretary Buttigieg has repeatedly said, it’s not enough to implement new policies and procedures. We need cultural change—and that is going to take a long and sustained effort by all stakeholders. 

We all have roles to play in this effort.  Only working together can we ensure that the prevention of sexual assault and sexual harassment and the provision of unwavering support to all survivors are shared industry priorities that result in meaningful change not just for cadets, but for all mariners.

At MARAD, we recognize that this is a time of unprecedented change but also great promise for the maritime industry. 

Even as the COVID pandemic has made what were already hard jobs harder, it has never been more evident how critical domestic and international shipping truly are and how regulations such as the Jones Act strengthen our supply chains.

At this critical time, the Administration will continue its work ensuring that the funds appropriated by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for ports and waterways are invested as quickly and smartly as possible.

We will also continue our work supporting mariners, training the next generation, and supporting efforts to ensure that all facets of our industry—both afloat and ashore—welcome every American!

I send best wishes for a successful forum and wish you all fair winds and following seas.

# # #