White House Appoints Experienced "Ports Envoy" to Address Congestion

long beach
File image courtesy Port of Long Beach

Published Aug 30, 2021 12:25 AM by The Maritime Executive

The Biden Administration has named John Porcari - a former chairman of the Maryland Port Commission - as its new "port envoy," part of the White House's effort to address the unprecedented container congestion at America's biggest seaports.

As port envoy, Porcari will work with the "Biden-Harris Administration Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force," a working group headed up by the Transportation, Commerce and Agriculture secretaries. Since the launch of the Task Force, the Department of Transportation has been holding talks with ports and port stakeholders, and it advised the White House to tap a seasoned leader to help sort out the complex, multiparty issues that slow down cargo movement.

“Our country’s ports are the gateways for getting goods to market, which makes the appointment of John Porcari as Ports Envoy an especially important step forward in alleviating these disruptions that are impacting consumers, workers, and businesses alike," said National Economic Council Director Brian Deese. 

Disruptions in global shipping and a rapid spike in demand have caused the cost of shipping boxes from China to the West Coast to grow more than 90 percent compared to 2019 levels, according to the White House. This congestion is especially acute at the twin Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the busiest container terminal complex in the United States. Volumes at L.A./Long Beach rose 40 percent in the first half of this year compared to the same time in 2020, reflecting the difference between last spring's COVID downturn and this year's post-COVID cargo surge. 

The White House noted that Porcari's work is backed by the $17 billion in funding for port repair and construction that was passed as part of the Senate infrastructure deal earlier this year. Over time, the funding will help chip away at delays by clearing maintenance backlogs and helping ports improve their basic infrastructure. 

Porcari served as deputy secretary and COO of the Department of Transportation from 2009-2014, and DOT's ports programs were a component of his portfolio. He served twice as the State of Maryland's secretary of transportation, a role that also made him chairman of the Maryland Port Commission, the governing body for the Port of Baltimore. As commission chairman, Porcari had a hand in the planning process that made Baltimore into a ro/ro cargo powerhouse, along with the public-private partnership deal that revitalized the Seagirt container terminal. Since 2016, Porcari has served as president of advisory services for engineering firm WSP.