Congress Moves Forward on Changes to FMC

Last Wednesday, December 3rd, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly, 413-3, to approve the Howard Coble Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act. The bill extends the authorization of appropriations for the US Coast Guard, and for the Federal Maritime Commission, which oversees ocean-borne international transportation through Fiscal Year 2015. It is the result of months of bipartisan negotiation between the House and Senate Committee leaders.

In addition to extending the authorization of the FMC, the bill sets new limits on terms for FMC commissioners, limiting each commissioner to two full five-year terms, plus one year after their term expires. If a commissioner has been appointed to fill a vacancy, that appointee may complete the term of appointment and then serve two additional five-year terms then up to one additional year after that. This is a change to current law, which currently allows commissioners to serve until their replacement wins Senate confirmation.

The bill also provides direction to the Coast Guard to justify its funding and personnel levels, reduce cost and accelerate delivery of new capital assets, and identify unused property that can be sold or consolidated. The Maritime Administration is required by the bill to develop a National Maritime Strategy to improve the international competitiveness of the US-flag fleet and regulatory regime, improve shipbuilding capacity, and strengthen enforcement of Jones Act requirements that carriage of goods and/or passengers between US ports be restricted to US-built and flagged vessels.

The bill is named for retiring Congressman Howard Coble of North Carolina, who served in the Coast Guard for 5 years and as a Coast Guard Reservist for 18 years after that. The bill will come before the Senate this week, where it is expected to pass.