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National Defense Transportation Association Fall Meeting

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
National Defense Transportation Association Fall Meeting
Saint Louis, Missouri
Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Thank you, Admiral Brown.

And let me acknowledge the presence of Admiral Mark Buzby MARAD Administrator, and past NDTA president.

Congratulations to the National Defense Transportation Association on your 75th anniversary.  That is 75 years of helping our nation respond to emergencies and challenges around our nation and the world, by transporting personnel and supplies where they are needed and when they are needed.  During peace and during conflict, your members have provided transportation for our military and carried needed aid and supplies to those affected by natural and man-made disasters.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is your partner in these efforts.  National security has always been a big factor in national transportation planning.  The architect of the Interstate Highway system was President Eisenhower, who rightly noted that a modern road network would boost national security as well as the economy.  So, national security is an additional reason why the U.S. Department of Transportation works hard to ensure our nation’s transportation system is safe, effective, and resilient.

The Department’s efforts are guided by three top priorities:

  • The first is: safety is always #1.
  • The second priority is rebuilding and refurbishing our country’s infrastructure. This is vital to our country’s productivity, economic vitality and quality of life for everyone.
  • And the third priority is preparing for the future – by engaging with emerging technologies to address legitimate public concerns about safety, security, and privacy, without hampering innovation.

Nationwide, the U.S. Department Transportation distributes about $65 billion annually of your tax dollars in infrastructure funding and technical assistance to state and local governments to improve infrastructure.  Many of these grants are for intermodal projects which combine railways, roads, waterways and airports.  Delivering goods from the farm or factory to the foxhole requires a multi-modal transportation system.

Let’s start with maritime – the heavy lifters.  The Maritime Security Program ensures that American-flagged vessels are available for service.  All 60 Congressionally-funded operating agreements are in place.  Planned vessel replacements through November should add 80,000 square feet of additional RO/RO capacity to the fleet.  Congress is looking at potentially increasing the amount paid per ship, and establishing a sister program, called the Tanker Security Program, that would involve 10 tankers.

In addition, the Ready Reserve Force has 46 vessels that can be activated for use when needed.  Turbo-activation drills were recently conducted to ensure rapid deployment.  The RRF provides nearly 50 percent of government-owned surge sealift capability.  But there are concerns.  For starters, the average age of these vessels is 44.5 years.  Long-term, the Navy’s surge sealift recapitalization strategy, which includes a combination of targeted service life extensions, acquiring and converting used vessels, and building new sealift vessels in U.S. shipyards, should address these challenges.

Ports are another concern.  The Port Infrastructure Development Program should deliver nearly $300 million of new grant funding to help strengthen, modernize, and improve our country’s maritime systems and gateway ports.

In addition, last month, $20 million in grants were issued to support capital improvements and employee training at 28 U.S. small shipyards as a part of the small shipyard grant program. These funds will support employee training and other improvements. That’s an investment in the more than 400,000 Americans whose jobs are supported by America’s small shipyards.

Aviation is also getting help.  Just last month, the Department announced more than $986 million in Airport Improvement Program grants. Overall, $3.18 billion in AIP funding was allocated this year for 1,558 airports in 49 states, Puerto Rico, and Micronesia.  The improvements include taxiways, runways, aprons and other critical infrastructure projects.  These improvements are improving aviation safety and reducing delays.

Other grants have benefitted Railways, which play an important role in defense transportation.  $326 million has been awarded under the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program and the Special Transportation Circumstances program.  In August, the Department also awarded $272 million for the Federal Railroad Administration’s State of Good Repair grant program.

Human capital is as important to a good transportation system as concrete and steel.  A primary benefit of the Jones Act and other measures to maintain a U.S. Merchant Marine, is to ensure that the U.S. has skilled seafarers and Merchant mariners.  The Department works closely with the six state maritime schools as well as the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point.  I am particularly pleased that we have gotten funding from Congress for National Security Multi Mission Vessels (NSMV) to replace aging training ships.  They will be the first purpose-built new training ships built since World War II for merchant marine cadet training.

On land, the Department has launched the 3-year Under 21 Military Pilot program to allow military veterans aged 18 to 20 with the U.S. military equivalent of a commercial driver's license (CDL), to operate trucks in interstate commerce. The Skills Test Waiver program has already saved time and money for 38,000 veterans by allowing them to waive the driving or “skills” test for their CDL by presenting documentation of their military experience.

Aviation will benefit from Forces to Flyers, a three-year research initiative to provide flight training to veterans without prior military pilot experience.  44 have entered the program.  The first graduated this past summer!

Innovation, as I mentioned earlier, is another top priority of the U.S. Department of Transportation.  Innovation ranges from new materials such as ultra high-performance concrete to new transportation systems such as autonomous vehicles.

One innovation gaining rapid acceptance is the Unmanned Aircraft System, or Drone.  There are more than 1.5 million registered drones in the United States, and 150,000 registered drone pilots—triple the number in 2017.  Drones are used to help first responders in emergency situations, inspect infrastructure, and deliver medical supplies and many other uses.  New services are being pioneered with the help of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s drone integration pilot program, part of a robust UAS agenda that includes rulemakings to:

  • permit drones to fly at night and over people under certain conditions;
  • identify the safety and security threats posed by drones, as well as how to mitigate them; and,
  • implement solutions to enable remote identification. 

Other innovations include civilian supersonic flight.  Aircraft are being developed that produce quieter sonic booms. 

Reusable rockets, and other innovations in launch systems, have made the U.S. Number One again in commercial space launches.  At the President’s direction, the Department has embarked on a series of rulemakings to update and streamline commercial space launch and re-entry licensing procedures.

Innovation is changing the way we live and travel.  And it will affect defense transportation, too.  On February 19, 2019, the President announced formation of the Space Force.  It might not be long before members of National Defense Transportation Association will add rockets to their transportation fleets.

We have an exciting future ahead of us, and you will play a big part in it.

Thank you for your contribution to our country.

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Updated: Wednesday, October 9, 2019
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