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Sunday, January 31, 2010

CRS Issue Statement on Transportation Security

John Frittelli, Coordinator
Specialist in Transportation Policy

The nation's air, land, and marine transportation systems are designed for accessibility and efficiency, two characteristics that make them vulnerable to attack. The difficulty and cost of protecting the transportation sector from attack raises a core question for policymakers: how much effort and resources should be dedicated to protecting potential targets versus pursuing and fighting terrorists? While hardening the transportation sector from terrorist attack is difficult, measures can be taken to deter terrorists. The policy problem for Congress is how best to construct and finance a system of deterrence, protection, and response that effectively reduces the possibility and consequences of another terrorist attack without unduly interfering with travel, commerce, and civil liberties. 

For all modes of transportation, one can identify four principle policy objectives that would support a system of deterrence and protection: (1) ensuring the trustworthiness of the passengers and the cargo flowing through the system, (2) ensuring the trustworthiness of the transportation workers who operate and service the vehicles, assist the passengers, or handle the cargo, (3) ensuring the trustworthiness of the private companies that operate in the system, such as the carriers, shippers, agents, and brokers, and (4) establishing a perimeter of security around transportation facilities and vehicles in operation. The first three policy objectives are concerned with preventing an attack from within a transportation system, such as occurred on September 11, 2001. The concern is that attackers could once again disguise themselves as legitimate passengers (or shippers or workers) to get in position to launch an attack. The fourth policy objective is concerned with preventing an attack from outside a transportation system. For instance, terrorists could ram a bomb-laden speed boat into an oil tanker, as they did in October 2002 to the French oil tanker Limberg, or they could fire a shoulder-fired missile at an airplane taking off or landing, as they attempted in November 2002 against an Israeli charter jet in Mombasa, Kenya. Achieving all four of these objectives is difficult, at best, and in some modes, is practically impossible. Where limited options exist for preventing an attack, policymakers are left with evaluating options for minimizing the consequences from an attack. 


Date of Report: January 8, 2010
Number of Pages: 4
Order Number: IS40401
Price: $7.95

This CRS report can be ordered over the phone at (301) 253-0881 or by email at Penny Hill Press (congress@pennyhill.com). Be sure to include the document number for the fastest possible service. Please specify whether you want electronic delivery (pdf file or postal delivery).

CRS Issue Statement on Surface Transportation

William J. Mallett, Coordinator
Specialist in Transportation Policy

Highway and transit program finance, transportation demand, system congestion, the physical condition of the nation's surface transportation infrastructure, highway safety, and transportation's effects on the environment are likely to be key issues under congressional consideration in the 111th Congress. Since the expiration of the current long-term authorization of surface transportation programs at the end of FY2009, Congress has enacted several short-term extensions of highway and transit programs. Due to the complicating effects of an end-of-FY2009 rescission, however, contract authority for highway programs is now being provided at a level about one-third lower than in FY2009. This lower level of highway funding authorization is mitigated to some extent by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-5), which appropriated nearly $50 billion for transportation projects. With consideration of the long term surface transportation reauthorization bill, programs and funding are likely to remain prominent. Issues under active consideration include the possibility of more funding for transportation infrastructure from a second economic recovery bill, attempts to repeal the rescission of highway contract authority, and problems with the Highway Trust Fund.


Date of Report: January 6, 2010
Number of Pages: 3
Order Number: IS40391
Price: $7.95

This CRS report can be ordered over the phone at (301) 253-0881 or by email at Penny Hill Press (congress@pennyhill.com). Be sure to include the document number for the fastest possible service. Please specify whether you want electronic delivery (pdf file or postal delivery).

Friday, January 29, 2010

Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Expenditures

John Frittelli
Specialist in Transportation Policy

In 1986, Congress enacted the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) to recover operation and maintenance (O&M) costs at U.S. coastal and Great Lakes harbors from maritime shippers. O&M is mostly the dredging of harbor channels to their authorized depths and widths. The tax is levied on importers and domestic shippers using coastal or Great Lakes ports. Due to a Supreme Court decision in 1998, exporters no longer pay the tax because it was found unconstitutional. The tax is assessed at a rate of 0.125% of cargo value ($1.25 per $1,000 in cargo value). The tax revenues are deposited into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) from which Congress appropriates funds for harbor dredging. 

Despite a large surplus in the trust fund, the busiest U.S. harbors are presently under-maintained. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) estimates that full channel dimensions at the nation's busiest 59 ports are available less than 35% of the time. This situation can increase the cost of shipping as vessels carry less cargo in order to reduce their draft or wait for high tide before transiting a harbor. It could also increase the risk of a ship grounding or collision, possibly resulting in an oil spill. To rectify this situation, some are calling for increasing disbursements from the trust fund. However, Corps data indicate that a significant portion of annual HMTF disbursements are directed towards harbors which handle little or no cargo. The Oregon Inlet in North Carolina, Grays Harbor in Washington, Humboldt Harbor in California, and the Lake Washington Ship Canal in Seattle are some of the harbors or waterways that fit this description. Commercial fishermen and recreational boat (or yacht) owners account for most, if not all, of the vessel traffic in these harbors. Fishermen and recreational boaters do not pay the HMT. Some might argue that to target one group of harbor users for assessing a fee and then to distribute revenues mostly, or entirely, in some cases, for the benefit of other users, undermines the "trust fund" and "user fee" concept. The Administration requested and Congress provided FY2010 funding for a pilot program to investigate the feasibility of having non-cargo harbor users finance the dredging requirements of harbors with little or no commerce. 

In addition to the distribution of HMT revenues for the benefit of non-cargo harbor users, there are also equity issues associated with HMT revenue distribution among the nation's top commercial ports. Due to geological differences, ports vary greatly in the amount of dredging they require. About one-fifth of HMTF expenditures are spent in Louisiana. The ports of Mobile, AL, and Portland, OR also are relatively expensive to maintain. The amount of HMT revenue ports generate also varies significantly due to differences in the amount and characteristics of the cargoes they handle. Consequently, HMT revenues are redistributed from ports that are large import gateways with naturally deep channels to lower volume ports that require frequent dredging to maintain adequate channel depths and widths. The ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Seattle, and Tacoma, and to a lesser degree, Boston, New York, and Houston are large net generators of HMT revenue. International cargo predominates at most ports. Ports compete for this cargo, and the growth of containerized cargo and the prospective expansion of the Panama Canal have intensified competition among U.S. ports. 

Legislation has been introduced in the 111th Congress that has varying objectives regarding the HMT. H.R. 3447 would spend down the surplus in the HMTF. H.R. 2355 would increase the tax rate and expand use of the HMTF for landside port infrastructure improvements. H.R. 3486, H.R. 638, S. 551, and S. 1509 would repeal the tax on non-bulk cargo shipped on the Great Lakes and along the coasts in an effort to divert truck cargo from congested highways to waterways. None of these bills have been reported out of committee.


Date of Report: January 25, 2010
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: R41042
Price: $29.95

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

CRS Issue Statement on Transportation and HUD Appropriations

David Randall Peterman, Coordinator
Analyst in Transportation Policy


The Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are agencies with different missions, priorities, and constituencies. However, the structure of the appropriations committees and subcommittees results in their funding needs being considered together each year in the annual appropriations process. The Transportation, HUD, and Related Agencies (THUD) Subcommittees of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees must balance the funding demands of DOT and HUD (and several smaller agencies) as they determine how to allocate the funding they receive from the Appropriations Committees through the budget resolution process. 

The external dynamics of determining how much of the subcommittees' allocations should go to DOT and how much should go to HUD is further complicated by the internal dynamics of each agency's unique funding needs.


Date of Report: January 8, 2010
Number of Pages: 3
Order Number: IS40658
Price: $7.95

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CRS Issue Statement on Transportation, Energy, and Environment

Brent D. Yacobucci, Coordinator
Specialist in Energy and Environmental Policy


Concerns over energy supply and prices and growing concerns over the environmental effects of transportation have led to increased interest in technologies and strategies to limit energy consumption or to move toward more sustainable mobility. Further, the role of the transportation sector—a source of roughly one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions— will be at the forefront as Congress considers legislation to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. 

The potential for improved air quality, lower greenhouse gas emissions, improved energy security, and other benefits of energy conservation, biofuels, new technologies, or new transport modes are viewed by proponents as warranting greater government support and mandates. But opponents argue that such measures could distort markets and cause economic harm, and they contend that supply and demand should determine the nation's transportation choices. Further, in some cases, the energy efficiency, total cost, and overall environmental cost/benefit of some transportation strategies have been questioned.


Date of Report: January 8, 2010
Number of Pages: 3
Order Number: IS40402
Price: $7.95

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Federalism Issues in Surface Transportation Policy: Past and Present

Robert Jay Dilger
Senior Specialist in American National Government


American federalism, which shapes the roles, responsibilities, and interactions among and between the federal government, the states, and local governments, is continuously evolving, adapting to changes in American society and American political institutions. The nature of federalism relationships in surface transportation policy has also evolved over time, with the federal government's role becoming increasingly influential, especially since the Federal-Aid to Highway Act of 1956 which authorized the interstate highway system. In recent years, state and local government officials, through their public interest groups (especially the National Governors Association, National Conference of State Legislatures, National Association of Counties, National League of Cities, U.S. Conference of Mayors, and American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials) have lobbied for increased federal assistance for surface transportation grants and increased flexibility in the use of those funds. They contend that they are better able to identify surface transportation needs in their states than federal officials and are capable of administering federal grant funds with relatively minimal federal oversight. They also argue that states have a long history of learning from one another. In their view, providing states flexibility in the use of federal funds results in better surface transportation policy because it enables states to experiment with innovative solutions to surface transportation problems and then share their experiences with other states. Others argue that the federal government has a responsibility to ensure that federal funds are used in the most efficient and effective manner possible to promote the national interest in expanding national economic growth and protecting the environment. In their view, providing states increased flexibility in the use of federal funds diminishes the federal government's ability to ensure that national needs are met. Still others have argued for a fundamental restructuring of federal and state government responsibilities in surface transportation policy, with some responsibilities devolved to states and others remaining with the federal government. 

Congressional attention to federalism issues in surface transportation policy tends to increase during reauthorizations of the federal highway and mass transit program. The current highway and mass transit program, the $286 billion, Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2005: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA, P.L. 109-59), after being extended several times, is set to expire on February 28, 2010. Its reauthorization has generated considerable legislative activity during the 111th Congress. Issues addressed by Congress include SAFETEA's funding level and financing, especially proposals addressing the Highway Trust Fund's fiscal sustainability, state funding guarantees, and congressional earmarks. 

This report provides an historical perspective on contemporary federalism issues in surface transportation policy that are likely to be addressed by Congress during the 111th Congress, including possible devolution of programmatic responsibility to states and proposals to change state maintenance-of-effort requirements and state cost matching requirements


Date of Report: January 5, 2010
Number of Pages: 36
Order Number: R40431
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization: An Overview of Legislative Action in the 111th Congress

Bart Elias, Coordinator
Specialist in Aviation Policy


Funding authorization for aviation programs set forth in Vision 100—Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act (P.L. 108-176) and authorization for taxes and fees that provide revenue for the aviation trust fund expired at the end of FY2007. While Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization legislation was considered during the 110th Congress, the only related legislation enacted consisted of several short-term extensions for aviation trust fund revenue collections and aviation program authority. The Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act, Part II (P.L. 110-330) extended these authorizations until March 31, 2009, thus carrying the issue of FAA reauthorization over to the 111th Congress. On March 30, 2009, the Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-12) was enacted, further extending revenue collections and aviation program authority through the end of FY2009, and on October 1, 2009, the Fiscal Year 2010 Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act (P.L. 111-69) was enacted, further extending this authority through the end of calendar year 2009. On December 16, 2009, the Fiscal Year 2010 Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act, Part II (P.L. 111-116) was enacted further extending the existing authority until March 31, 2010. 

On February 11, 2009, Representative Oberstar introduced the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2009 (H.R. 915). The bill is similar to FAA reauthorization legislation passed by the House during the 110th Congress (see H.R. 2881, 110th Congress). H.R. 915, as amended was passed by the House on May 21, 2009. H.R. 915 would authorize almost $54 billion for FAA programs over three years spanning from FY2010 through FY2012. The financing title of the bill would raise fuel taxes for corporate jets and other general aviation aircraft, but would keep fuel taxes paid by the airlines and passengers' taxes at their current rates. The bill would also allow airports to increase passenger facility charges (PFCs), raising the maximum from $4.50 to $7 per passenger. The bill would increase authorized spending for facilities and equipment to support development of Next Generation (NextGen) air traffic modernization initiatives, and would authorize increased funding for airport infrastructure improvement grants. The bill seeks modifications in FAA management and oversight of NextGen air traffic modernization projects, and includes provisions addressing system capacity, aviation safety, environmental issues, and airline industry issues, including airline passenger rights issues. The House also passed the Airline Safety and Pilot Training Improvement Act of 2009 (H.R. 3371) on October 14, 2009. The bill contains numerous provisions related to airline safety that may be considered in the broader context of FAA reauthorization. 

On July 14, 2009, Senator Rockefeller introduced the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act (S. 1451), containing a two-year FAA reauthorization proposal. A markup session was held by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on July 21, 2009, and the bill, as amended, was ordered reported. S. 1451 would authorize $34.56 billion over a two-year span covering FY2010 and FY2011. Unlike the Aviation Investment and Modernization Act of 2007 (S. 1300, 110th Congress), S. 1451 does not contain any proposal for aviation system user fees. Rather, it focuses on accelerating the deployment of NextGen air traffic technologies and a number of safety issues, including the safety of air ambulance operations, unmanned aircraft, commuter airlines, and FAA oversight of airlines and aircraft repair stations. The bill seeks to streamline the PFC approval process, but does not seek any increase to maximum PFC levels. The bill also seeks to improve airline consumer service through enhanced disclosure requirements and contingencies for flights that are substantially delayed, and it seeks an increase in funding for Essential Air Service (EAS) subsidies and small community air service grants. This report will be updated as needed.


Date of Report: January 7, 2010
Number of Pages: 81
Order Number: R40410
Price: $29.95

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