The California Chamber of Commerce and a broad coalition of U.S. businesses and industries are urging ranking members of Congress to support information gathering that will help improve efficiency at U.S. ports.
The members will be participating in a conference committee to work out differences between multiyear surface transportation bills passed by the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.
The coalition supports the “Port Performance Act” as included in the U.S. Senate version of H.R. 22 (Rep. Davis, Rodney, R-IL), the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy Act (DRIVE Act). The act will help to gain empirical visibility into the operating efficiency of U.S. ports, and to identify key congestion issues that affect the flow of the nation’s commerce.
In a letter to the committee, the coalition explains that thousands of U.S. businesses employing millions of American workers depend on global supply chains for the efficient movement of food, manufactured products, and components to production. Unfortunately, congestion at U.S. ports has become commonplace, creating slowdowns, bottlenecks, and chokepoints that hurt the efficient flow of cargo with far-reaching impacts on the U.S. economy. For instance, a July 2015 report from the Federal Reserve estimated slowdowns at West Coast ports were an important contributor to the 0.2% decline in U.S. gross domestic product during the first quarter of 2015.
Despite the clear, demonstrated importance of U.S. ports to the nation’s economic activity, there are no consistent or objective efforts to measure port performance within the U.S. Department of Transportation, even though the department regularly measures congestion affecting other nodes on the U.S. transportation system. The Port Performance Act provisions in H.R. 22 remedy this situation by calling for the development of agreed upon metrics, and annual reporting of port statistics.
Collecting basic, uniform port performance data is an essential step in ensuring that the nation is ready to meet and solve future challenges facing the ports. While the coalition recognizes that every port is different, the exercise of defining a set of common performance metrics will go a long way toward helping policymakers, port administrators, and U.S. exporters and importers understand the dynamics that create congestion, thereby enabling them to work together to find solutions that will benefit the U.S. economy. Developing agreed-upon performance measures would not jeopardize safety; indeed, studying congestion is likely to provide solutions that will create safer working environments.
According to an article in The Hill, lawmakers on the conference committee said on November 18 they would produce a report on a bicameral agreement by the first week of December to allow the House and Senate to vote on the compromise package before the December 4 deadline.
On November 20, President Obama signed into law a bill that extends federal transportation funding through December 4. The bill, passed last week by both the House and Senate, buys time for Congress to agree to a long-term deal, The Hill reports.