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Maritime Administration Annual Awards Ceremony

Friday, December 15, 2017

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
The Honorable Elaine L. Chao
Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation
Maritime Administration Annual Awards Ceremony
Washington, DC
Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Thank you, Admiral Buzby, for that very kind introduction.   And also for inviting me to attend your awards ceremony, the Administrator’s Award Ceremony.

We are so fortunately to have Admiral Buzby as the Maritime Administrator.  His extensive experience in the U.S. Navy and his deep understanding of the US flag merchant fleet, make him an outstanding leader for leading MARAD in our country. 

And many thanks to Joel Szabat for working so hard on making the transition a smooth one, and for his leadership over the past year.  And I want to acknowledge Doug Burnett who just arrived as the new Chief Counsel.

And let me also give a special shout out to Deputy Maritime Administrator Dick Balzano. I understand that after only one week on the job, he administered CPR and helped resuscitate Paul Gilmour after a heart seizure. I would say that is pretty impressive.  Thankfully, Paul’s recovery was speedy and he is back with us.  So, our very best wishes to Paul and his family.

As was mentioned earlier, MARAD was my first home in the department and has a special place in my heart.  It took me 26 years to come back after having been deputy secretary in 1989.  But coming back was a great joy.  My first official trip as Secretary of Transportation was a visit to Beaumont, Texas to welcome the addition of the M/V Liberty Passion to the Maritime Security Program Fleet.  In fact, I christened 2 new ready reserve ships this year!  The second being the M/V Liberty, on June 2, 2017 in the Port of Charleston.

My tenure at the Maritime Administration gave me tremendous appreciation for, and understanding of, the vital contribution that the US Flag Fleet and merchant mariners make to our country’s economy, as well as the key role they play in our national security.  This year, I was so proud of you and MARAD.  MARAD prepared the Ready Reserve ships for a record number of successful military missions – the most in one year since the build-up for the Gulf War in 2003.  And in addition to everything else you do, MARAD was a total stand-out this year in aiding survivors of the hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.  The MARAD ships provided critical food, clean water, power and berthing to first responders and emergency workers.  And when I was in Corpus Christi, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands with the Vice President and the Second Lady, I saw the importance of MARAD and the MARAD ships in providing basic services to our first responders and emergency workers so they could help the survivors and others who are trying to recover from such a devastating natural disaster.

You have done a great job this year.  And as we go forward, I would like to mention, as Secretary, what our other missions are as well.

Obviously, number one is safety.

Two - Rebuilding and revitalizing our crumbling infrastructure; including infrastructure of ports and other waterway projects

Three - prepare for the future by encouraging innovation and managing emerging technology in a safe and secure way.

As we continue the conversation about autonomous, or self-driving, technology, we need to remember these efforts are intermodal.  This technology is making its way into the maritime field as well.  So MARAD has a role to play as the Department addresses these innovations.  I think the era we are entering is so exciting in so many ways.

I am so grateful for everything you are doing to prepare our country for the future! 

And I want to congratulate our 187 MARAD colleagues who are receiving recognition today. You are in very good hands with the leadership of Admiral Buzby, Deputy Administrator Dick Balzano, and Doug Burnett.  I have great confidence in you and am proud of you.  I want to say thank you again and wish a Happy Holidays to you and your families.  And please tell them we appreciate them as well, because you cannot do your job without their support for what you do.  I look forward to working with you in the New Year.