U.S. national security leaders and various maritime stakeholders were in Maryland this week to attend the annual U.S. Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition, where the importance of the Jones Act proved to be a hot topic in the first exposition since the issue was thrust into the national conversation in the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria hitting the U.S.
Sea-Air-Space brings together the U.S. defense industrial base, private-sector U.S. companies and key military decision makers.
The “Jones Act” panel discussion held on Wednesday, April 11, presented an opportunity for participants to discuss the importance of the Jones Act in ensuring sealift capacity, supporting a strong defense industrial base, and for maintaining homeland and economic security. Participants in that panel included Mr. Anthony Fisher, Deputy Associate Administrator for Commercial Sealift of the Maritime Administration, Mr. Michael Herbert, Chief of the CBP Jones Act Division of Enforcement, Rear Admiral John P. Nadeau, Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy for United States Coast Guard, and Mr. Matt Woodruff.
Mr. Fisher commented that the Jones Act was actually the essential piece to ensuring that vital supplies – like food, water and medicine – were quickly delivered to the Puerto Rico hours after the storm hit.
“The Jones Act did not hamper the response. The Jones Act made the response possible,” said Mr. Fisher.
“We use the Jones Act as a virtual wall. Without the Jones Act in place, our inland waterways would be inundated with foreign flagged vessels,” Mr. Herbert said when addressing the critical homeland security aspects of the Jones Act.
When asked about the consequences of a hypothetical Jones Act repeal, RADM Nadeau stated, “The Coast Guard is responsible for the safety and stability of the marine transportation system, and [if you repeal the Jones Act] you just made our jobs a whole lot harder.”
Mr. Woodruff added, “Our mariners are U.S. Citizens and are credentialed by the U.S. Coast Guard. They undergo extensive background checks. Our mariners are the neighborhood watch of the waterways of America.”
During an earlier panel discussion on Monday morning, Rear Admiral Mark H. Buzby, Administrator of the U.S. Maritime Administration, stated, “Take away the Jones Act, you have taken away the majority of jobs for our U.S. mariners in peacetime, that we need in wartime. Getting rid of the Jones Act does not think through all of the ramifications it has on our war fighting ability – and to sustain the Navy and to sustain the Marine Corps. That is why our flag says in peace and war.”
An important pillar of the Jones Act – the ability for the United States to build innovative vessels that help American men and women in the military achieve their missions in times of war and peace – was discussed during the “Innovation in Shipbuilding” panel on Tuesday, April 10.
Moderated by Mr. Matthew Paxton, President of the Shipbuilders Council of America, the panel brought together leading military voices who discussed growing military shipbuilding and repair, sustaining a qualified U.S. merchant marine and maintaining a strong industrial base.
Panelists included Mrs. Allison Stiller, Principal Civilian Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy Research, Development and Acquisition, Rear Admiral John P. Neagley, USN, Program Executive Officer, Littoral Combat Ships, Rear Admiral Michael J. Haycock, USCG, Assistant Commandant for Acquisitions, Chief Acquisition Officer, Rear Admiral William J. Galinis, USN, Program Executive Officer, Ships, and Vice Admiral Thomas Moore, USN, Commander, Naval Sea Systems Command.
Additionally this week, General Darren W. McDew, Commander of the TRANSCOM, testified before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee and similarly reinforced the importance of the Jones Act for national security.
Responding to a question prompted by Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) on his support for the Jones Act and cargo preference, Gen. McDew stated, “I do, Senator, but for a number of different reasons. My primary focus is on national security and the capacity that I need to take this nation to war. It is our asymmetric advantage to deliver a decisive force in the maritime domain. The rheostats I have to effect that balance right now is helped by the Jones Act and cargo preference, because being able to get more mariners to work allows us to have the capacity we need to go to war.”