Biden appoints U.S. maritime administrator with no ship experience in worst maritime crisis in decades
by Captain John Konrad (gCaptain) FAA is pilot led, NASA is astronaut led, US Marine Corps is Marine led but for the fourth time in a row, and during the worst maritime crisis of the century, the United States Department of Transportation has appointed a person to the United States Maritime Administration (MARAD) who is not a captain and has no experience in commercial shipping.
Yesterday afternoon, President Biden announced his intention to appoint Rear Admiral Ann Phillips of the United States Navy (retired) as the next United States maritime administrator, a post vacant since Rear Admiral resigned. Mark Buzby following the uprising on the United States Capitol in January. .
Phillips is a highly decorated naval chief with a long list of accomplishments and is highly respected by everyone gCaptain has interviewed. She has led the Navy’s Climate Change Working Group and is a much sought-after consultant on climate security issues. She holds an MBA. She was the chair of a local government sea-level rise readiness and resilience project. She was previously the captain of a Navy warship. The date looks great on paper except for one minor glitch. There is only one problem. It is not a warship position. She is a commercial boating rendezvous and she has no experience aboard commercial vessels. She does not even have experience leading naval military shipping vessels.
American maritime administrator
The post of US maritime administrator has traditionally been held by a commercial shipowner or captain, but President Obama left the post vacant for years and then chose a former congressman, David Matsuda. He was very unpopular and was kicked out in 2013. Obama followed the appointment with a relatively low-ranking Navy submarine commander, Chip Jaenichen.
The Trump administration has appointed U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Mark Buzby to the post. Buzby, although not a commercial sailor or ship owner, was a graduate of the US Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) and spent years traveling the country, meeting ship captains and stakeholders. commercial shipping. He reached out and listened to the needs of stakeholders. Buzby became very popular in the industry thanks to its promise to release a new US maritime strategy. This strategy was finished but got lost in the malaise of the government bureaucracy.
Mark Buzby accomplished a seemingly impossible task, he saved Aker’s Phillidelphia shipyard from closure by purchasing four new State Maritime Academy training ships valued at over $ 1.5 billion. The construction of the NSMV supports more than 1,000 direct jobs in the Philadelphia shipyards. Buzby also convinced the United States Transportation Command to perform a major “turbo activation” of the ready reserve fleet, which proved the abysmal state of our nation’s readiness to move materials for war. .
Buzby was popular, but he had many setbacks. Despite working with USMMA alumni to launch a major advertising campaign to increase funding for the school, this funding never materialized. He failed to expand the US maritime service. It failed to publish a new national maritime strategy (the one MARAD eventually approved was a slightly modified copy of the last failed strategy). He failed to get the US Navy to include commercial shipping and shipping in its strategy. It failed to finance the Short Sea Distribution and Short Sea Shipping networks it was defending.
Many of these failures were not his fault. The Trump administration arrived with three major shipowners in the cabinet (Chao, Ross and Tillerson), Trump held weekly meetings between Buzby and his senior adviser (Navarro), opened a maritime office in the Council of Economic Advisers and brought in marine surveyors to advise the US Export-Import Bank. At the time, the convention was chaired by Senator Mitch McConnel, who married one of the most successful maritime families in the world. But despite a promising start, Buzby’s most recent policies were pushed back to Trump’s second term, a term that never took place. Important sources in Washington also claim that her boss, Elaine Chao, lost interest in MARAD after the New York Times published an article highly critical of her family’s maritime fortunes.
Buzby’s final act as administrator was to approve a licensed ship captain as a replacement, but Biden never called his candidate for an interview. Biden has not named any shipowners in his cabinet, he has closed the White House maritime office, he has delayed his MARAD appointment by 278 days. The Biden administration is so blind it even forgot to recall critical posts Republicans appointed to the International Maritime Organization in London.
“I respect Buzby’s hell,” a White House insider told gCaptain. “He did a great job, but he’s already been lost or forgotten. Some of his work is classified, some was sent to the National Archives by Biden Aids, but what really killed his legacy was the lack of continuity at MARAD.
Numerous sources inside the ring road have told gCaptain that MARAD is fundamentally broken. Nearly a decade of neglect on the part of the Obama administration has left MARAD with a broken, tired and inefficient workforce. Buzby has made only one major internal move, replacing the highly unpopular army colonel selected by Obama and leading USMMA with a major shipping CEO. “The rest of MARAD, he naively thought he could motivate and nurture, as he had done several times during his naval career,” says a US Navy officer who works with MARAD. “But commercial shipping is not something the Navy understands. The deadwood inside MARAD has shown some signs of life under his strong leadership but, once it left, the place returned. internal feuds and quagmire. If Buz had fired more people like Hellis and replaced them with expedition experts, his legacy could have continued. “
The global maritime transport crisis
Rear Admiral Ann Phillips’ appointment comes as the shipping crisis makes global headlines and MARAD-led USMMA faces the biggest scandal in its history. Biden has taken strong action in response to these issues. This summer, he elected a port envoy to settle the maritime transport crisis. Last month, MARAD hired a senior GS15 to handle media relations. Just last week, MARAD took strong and positive action against rape allegations at USMMA.
Every action, however, was a misstep. To the untrained eye, the 139 ships waiting to leave Los Angeles may look like a port crisis that can be resolved by a US port envoy, it doesn’t. This is a SHIPPING crisis. Many ports in the US including Oakland and San Diego have extra capacity, what we don’t have is someone with recent MARAD SHIPPING experience directing SHIPS to empty ports . This week, Biden addressed the nation with a plan to prevent containergeddon from spoiling Christmas, but experts say his plan is doomed because, again, no ship captain has been called in. to give advice on how to resolve this SHIPPING crisis.
Although MARAD’s strong and decisive action to combat reported rapes initially seemed very productive, it is not enough. It has now been weeks since the allegations were made public and no arrests have been made. MARAD has also failed to engage commercial shipping organizations experienced in dealing with this issue, organizations like WISTA or Human Rights at Sea, or Safer Waves to tackle the broader issue of the rape industry. .
(They, luckily, engaged with Woman Offshore, or at least WO engaged them.)
Worse still is the fact, while bringing up the subject of rape at USMMA, they have not released a single statement on the allegations of sexual assault, hospitalizations and cover-ups on board training ships owned by MARAD. and mastered by captains of the US Merchant Service who, while employed by the State Maritime Services. academies, are officers in uniform sworn in and commissioned by MARAD.
And now, with what Forbes called Biden’s most critical appointment, he’s appointing a very capable and impressive leader to lead MARAD, but without any industry experience.
It is clear that President Biden and Secretary Buttigieg have good intentions but continually fail to consult with the right experts.
“If the international space station disintegrates as fast as our shipping and logistics network is now,” said a shipowner at the Connecticut maritime conference this week. “They would have experts of all types inside mission control, but the astronauts would review every plan. Now we have a maritime crisis and not a single ship captain is called? Nuts.”
But you can’t blame Biden, Buttigieg, and MARAD alone. MARAD has been sidelined by politicians for many decades … and it’s not just a government issue, thousands of small businesses, large corporations, the military, NGOs, and world councils are struggling to tackle it. problem, but none of them showed up for the United States. the most important maritime conference of the year, the CMA conference. Neither the largest shipowners in the world, Maersk CMA CGM, nor the US Navy. According to CMA President Chris Aversano, attendance was fifty percent below pre-covid levels.
On our way to the country’s most important conference held just outside the media capital of the world, during the worst crisis in decades, gCaptain feared we might not even get a media pass. We shouldn’t have worried, we were the only journalists who even bothered to attend.
It’s not just Biden who doesn’t understand shipping and consult with captains and ship owners, it’s media and logistics professionals around the world.
No wonder Christmas is canceled. Santa and the reindeer get a lot of attention, but no one has asked the elves who maintain the sleigh what help they need.
Editorial Note: By all accounts Rear Admiral Phillips, DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg, DOT Deputy Polly Trottenberg and MARAD Administrator Assistant Secretary Lucinda Lessely are very smart and have a solid leadership background. Most importantly, they care. The problem is not leadership at the top, it is the inability to bring experts to the top positions of SES and GS. While people have trained doctors like Sal Mercogliano, heads of leading maritime organizations like Ally Cedeno, shipping executives like Susan Heyman and John McCown, and true ship captains like Captain Robert Cook and the Captain Kevin Stith are recruited… I have no doubts that Phillips can lead them. . The question is IF and when. -John