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Op-Ed: Congressional Research Service is Wrong About U.S. Dredging

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File image courtesy USACE

By William P. Doyle 10-10-2019 05:20:31

The leaders of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I) and T&I’s Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation have sent a letter to the Library of Congress refuting a recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on the American dredging industry as “filled with misleading, slanted and false information.” The bipartisan group of congressional leaders also condemned another recent CRS report on the Jones Act as “one-sided” and “misleading” leaving Congress to “believe the CRS has abandoned its normal practice of straight-forward, fact-based reporting.”

On May 17, 2019 the CRS issued a report titled Shipping Under the Jones Act: Legislative and Regulatory Background. Then on June 14, 2019, the CRS issued another report titled Harbor Dredging: Issues and Historical Funding. Both reports were overwhelmingly panned as biased and misleading. The Dredging Contractors of America lodged a complaint with the House T&I Committee leadership disputing the accuracy and efforts put into the “fatally flawed CRS reports.”

The danger of careless reports by the CRS is evident in the fact that opinion writers in publications such as the Houston Chronicle cite CRS reports in formulating the basis of their opinions. In addition, CRS reports play a critical role in educating Members of Congress and their staffs. To this point, in a September (2019) opinion writer Chris Tomlinson penned a blog piece claiming U.S. dredgers stifle attempts to mitigate against coastal storms like Hurricane Harvey; that U.S. companies cannot handle port dredging jobs, and that the entire U.S. dredging fleet is old with a combined total of 11 ships between four companies. He did not provide any accurate data to back up the claims and relied solely on unnamed sources and the fatally flawed Harbor Dredging Report issued by the CRS. When Mr. Tomlinson was questioned about the accuracy of his piece, he dismissively stated “take it up with the Congressional Research Service."

House T&I Chairman Peter DeFazio and Ranking Member Sam Graves, as well as Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney and Ranking Member Bob Gibbs, sent a letter on October 8, 2019 to The Honorable Carla Hayden, Ph.D., of the Library of Congress asking her to quickly address the bias in these reports. They also requested that recent reports on dredging and U.S. shipping be “immediately removed from circulation and subject to a more searching review.”

Citizens and private sector entities are not afforded the opportunity to seek redress directly from the CRS or its parent agency the Library of Congress. Instead, private citizens must seek redress through Members of Congress.

“We are very pleased that bipartisan leaders of Congress have taken appropriate steps to correct flawed reports issued by the CRS,” said William P. Doyle, Chief Executive Officer of Dredging Contractors of America. “The hallmark of CRS reports is that they should be unbiased, fact-based reports that leave the policy-making decisions to the policymakers.”

In addressing Mr. Tomlinson’s recent opinion piece, the Dredging Contractors of America points out the following:

- The CRS report on dredging is fatally flawed. Congress has recognized this and is taking appropriate action. The U.S.-flag dredging fleet totals more than 400 dredges, and is amid a billion-dollar-plus capital construction shipbuilding program. Recently, the private sector U.S.-flagged hopper dredging fleet capacity increased by 34% with the addition of two large hopper dredges by Great Lakes Dredge and Dock and Weeks Marine, and continues to spend billions of dollars recapitalizing its operations. This year, Callan Marine based in Galveston, Texas will deliver a massive cutter suction dredge, RLB Contracting built a brand new dredge in Port Lavaca, Weeks Marine delivered a large cutter suction dredge built in Louisiana, and The Dutra Group launched a huge hydraulic scow in Corn Island, Indiana.

- The U.S. dredging industry is highly competitive with more than 50 different companies awarded federal dredging work annually, amidst a pool of 80 competitive bidders.

- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers applauded the dredging industry’s swift action post Hurricane Harvey for getting 28 Texas projects back to their authorized depths and fully functional.

Finally, U.S dredging companies have completed or are on schedule for all deepening, widening, and maintenance dredging projects, including New York, Tampa (completed one year ahead of schedule), Boston and Corpus Christi.

The Honorable William P. Doyle is the CEO and executive director of the Dredging Contractors of America. He previously served two terms as a commissioner on the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission, where he made sure that the Jones Act was protected and that foreign ocean carriers did not exert their collective market power over U.S. service providers.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.