Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Work to seek passage of STORIS Act continues

Our effort with the STORIS Act is not a sprint. Rather, it’s a cross-country marathon, literally from Alaska to Washington, DC. Sometimes in cross-country, you hit rough terrain and fall. Sometimes you get pushed down. The thing to do is get up, brush yourself off and keep going. 

As an update, we have been working to get the Senate version of the STORIS Act, S 1511, included with the Maritime Administration Appropriations Bill (S 2829) for 2017. The House version, HR 2876, we were trying to get included with the National Defense Authorization Act for 2017.

The STORIS Act, as standalone legislation, has been stalled by the legislative quagmire and politics for which Washington, DC is known. Our hope was that, by incorporating the STORIS Act language in the MARAD Bill and the NDAA, we could get this moving. 

As I said the other day, I am sure like most roaches, these bureaucrats and their cronies are afraid of what will be revealed by the sunlight cast on their actions through the scrutiny that we are seeking. They want to scurry away from this exposure and have their misdeeds remain in the dark so they can continue to play fast and loose with the law in disposing of government ships. The DOT IG report on MARAD’s Management Controls released in December 2015 has already identified problems with MARAD's oversight of government vessel disposal, including specific reference to the STORIS sale by GSA. 

There is no doubt that various factions within the Federal Government – particularly legislative staffers, bureaucrats and politicians aligned with and friendly to MARAD officials (especially those who work at MARAD itself) – are against this legislation moving forward. As these efforts to find answers for STORIS move forward, some bureaucrats who are supposed to work for us as citizens in the interests of the greater good are instead protecting their own. As a result, the references to STORIS and her unethical and illegal dismantling in Mexico have been repeatedly stripped from the proposed language. There are government officials and U.S.-flag ship owners who are against restrictions on sending American ships to foreign scrapyards where environmental regulations are less stringent that here in the States. When these ships get outside the loop as STORIS did (and ACUSHNET, as well as several other NOAA ships), the sale proceeds do not go into the vessel fund that is distributed to maritime heritage sites through the Maritime Heritage Act.

This de facto obstruction undercutting the efforts to get the STORIS Act language in play for official consideration and action has led to efforts to move forward the elements of the STORIS Act in different forms. The particulars of the legislation have been repackaged in a sense and introduced as amendments in bits and pieces.

This past week, Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi sponsored an amendment to the MARAD bill that puts forth language requiring that MARAD officials provide an annual report detailing the agency’s ship recycling program. While STORIS herself is not part of the record, this is an important element of the STORIS Act and it was approved on Wednesday. The Wicker amendment is here: https://goo.gl/bKEzya 

Meanwhile, Congressman Don Norcross of New Jersey introduced an amendment to the NDAA that was also approved:

“…The committee supports the dismantlement of U.S. government vessels in U.S. facilities as well as obsolete government vessels that are contracted for recycling through the Maritime Administration.  The proceeds gained by the Maritime Administration sales are non-appropriated funds and the committee believes that these funds will continue to grow and that they should be distributed to the maritime schools and heritage organizations more frequently.

Therefore, the committee directs the Maritime Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary of the Navy, to prepare a report to the Committee on Armed Services of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate by October 1, 2016 that lists all government-owned vessels that are currently available for dismantlement; a list of vessels that are expected to be declared obsolete and dismantled in the next five years; and the government's plan for dismantling these vessels in the United States. This report shall also include the Maritime Administration's plan for the timely distribution of the proceeds it currently has in its ship disposal accounts, as well as a projection of future distributions…” 

Again, poor STORIS and her outrageous disposition and illegal scrapping in Mexico is stricken from the official record, but this language is part of which the STORIS Act is intended. We will take what we can get as we continue to move forward. I am still working to ensure that STORIS gets her day and the ship, her legacy and the men and women who made history with her are not forgotten.

With that said and the difficulties we have faced, STORIS Vets and supporters who have reached out to the various legislators, Bravo Zulu to you, as your efforts have made a difference. There may be others who responded directly to legislators after being prompted by my message the other day, but I have only had communication with one STORIS Vet who recently spoke up on behalf of the ship. However, that one person carries significant weight. CAPT Jim Cushman, CO of STORIS from 1982-84, wrote a great letter that went to various legislators including his senator, Maria Cantwell of Washington, as well as Senator Wicker of Mississippi. 

These are bipartisan efforts to get this legislation through, to hold MARAD and the other government agencies accountable. These letters submitted to key legislators directly involved with this proposed language have helped influence the process in a positive way. These letters of support from STORIS Vets ensured that other members couldn’t step up to oppose the legislation.

So we thank Senator Wicker and Congressman Norcross for carrying the legislation forward on behalf of STORIS. We also appreciate Senators Vitter and Cassidy of Louisiana, the official sponsors of S1511, for promoting the support for S1511 in the discussion of S2829. Then there are several House members who are behind S2876. We appreciate their support, as well, as this continues to grind forward. Congressman Garret Graves of Louisiana introduced HR 2876, co-sponsored by Congressman Duncan Hunter (California), Congressman Filemon Vela (Texas), Congressman Charles
Boustany (Louisiana), Congressman Robert Brady (Pennsylvania), Congressman Al Green (Texas), Congressman Don Young (Alaska) and Congressmen David Rouzer and Walter B Jones (North Carolina). 

And again, many thanks to STORIS Vets for their letters of support. We need to keep pushing and keep the pressure up. We are much farther along than we were last year. I hope that more STORIS Vets and supporters will join us in this effort.

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