Case Overview, Maritime Security Act Reauthorization

This document provides background information and summarizes the debate over the Maritime Security Act Reauthorization. The links to the left will lead you to public documents that we have found.

         Fortunately America goes to war relatively infrequently. When significant military action is required, large quantities of troops and equipment must be moved to the theater where conflict is threatened or is already taking place. This is no small logistical matter. Moving (and feeding) an army is an extremely complicated process and considerable planning and review is always underway at the Pentagon. Mistakes can be costly and embarrassing to the military brass who are held accountable for the armed services' performance.
         During World War II ships owned by the private sector were used to transport troops and equipment across both oceans as there weren't nearly enough military ships to do the job. Even the luxury liner Queen Elizabeth was utilized for ferrying troops across the Atlantic. (The chandeliers, fine linen, and other accoutrements of peacetime luxury were removed before the soldiers clambered aboard.) Since large ships of any kind are enormously expensive to build and maintain, the U.S. armed forces has continued to rely on private sector ships.
         Since ships may be needed suddenly, there is good reason to make sure that they are ready at any time to be utilized in this fashion. In 1996 Congress passed the Maritime Security Act, which provided funds for 47 ships so that they are properly equipped and maintained for military use as well as for private shipping. Each of these ships receives $2.1 million a year to cover the costs associated with their military preparedness. The Department of Transportation lauded the law's passage, noting in a press release that "The vessels, owned by U.S. shipping companies and crewed by loyal American seafarers, will carry military cargo and supplies when called by the Secretary of Defense as they have done faithfully in all previous wars and conflicts."
         Although the Maritime Security Act does not expire until 2005, the industry began to work for changes in 107th Congress. As a trade group lobbyist explained, "Industry changes have necessitated program changes. In 1996, all participants were wholly owned American companies. Now, all are at least party-owned by foreign companies as subsidiaries. And now they're threatening to leave [the program]. The U.S. companies don't mind, but the unions do." But this complicates reauthorization. The same lobbyist worried that opposition to the program would mount because some would see the subsidies as "giving U.S. tax dollars to foreign companies."
         Congress, however, seemed in no hurry to address the reauthorization of Maritime Security Act. There was minimal interest on Capitol Hill and industry representatives accomplished little more than making some legislators and staffers aware of the problem. No action seemed imminent in the 108th Congress either and the issue remains on the periphery of the policy agenda.