NDAA for FY 2022 authorizes key maritime programs, but timing of funding from Congress remains uncertain

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On December 27, President Biden signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2022, legislation that authorizes funding for the U.S. Armed Forces and nuclear weapons programs overseen by the Department of Energy.

The legislation for fiscal year 2022 contains authorization for several key U.S.-flag maritime programs, which directly sustain and support jobs for U.S. merchant mariners, including members of American Maritime Officers, and broadly benefit the U.S. Merchant Marine and its crucial roles in strategic sealift and national defense shipping operations.

It is important to note the federal government is currently operating under a continuing resolution that maintains previous funding levels for government programs through February 18, 2022. It is not certain at this point if or when Congress will approve appropriations bills in 2022 to fund federal programs at the levels authorized in the NDAA for fiscal year 2022, or instead pass another continuing resolution to carry forward funding levels from fiscal year 2021.

The NDAA authorizes full funding of $318 million for the Maritime Security Program (MSP) fleet in fiscal year 2022. The MSP's 60 militarily-useful U.S.-flagged ships are crewed by U.S. merchant mariners and operate in international commercial trades. The ships and their corresponding privately-owned intermodal cargo systems and networks are available to the Department of Defense for military sealift operations and in national security emergencies. The cost of the MSP amounts to a small fraction of the estimated $65 billion it would cost the government to replicate this sealift capacity and the intermodal infrastructure provided to the DOD by private-sector MSP participants, and some elements of the transportation and logistics networks made available through the MSP could not be duplicated by the government at any cost.

The law authorizes $60 million for the U.S. Tanker Security Fleet, which will consist of active, commercially viable, militarily useful, privately owned product tank vessels to meet national defense and other security requirements and to aid in maintaining a U.S. presence in international commercial shipping. Like the Maritime Security Program, the funding for the Tanker Security Fleet will need to be appropriated each year.

Separately, the National Defense Authorization Act that was signed into law for a previous fiscal year authorized the establishment of the first-ever cable ship security program modeled after the MSP. Funding for the U.S. Cable Security Fleet in its first year was appropriated by Congress earlier in 2021. The fleet consists of two qualified U.S.-flagged ships, which will receive an annual stipend. Like the MSP, annual approval of the funding is required. The ships participating in this program install, repair and maintain Defense Department communications cable systems. The first of two AMO-contracted SubCom cable ships has been reflagged for participation in the program and the second vessel is scheduled to be reflagged in January.

The NDAA for fiscal year 2022 authorizes $315.6 million for the National Security Multi-Mission Vessel Program, covering construction, planning, administration and design of maritime academy training ships, which will also be used in defense sealift and humanitarian crisis missions domestically and abroad.

The act also authorizes a total of $30 million for loan guarantees and $3 million for administrative expenses related to the Maritime Administration's Title XI shipbuilding loan guarantee program, which eases access to commercial credit for the construction of merchant vessels in U.S. shipyards.

Additionally, the NDAA authorizes the Maritime Administration to purchase duplicate medals authorized under the Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2020 (Public Law 116-125) and provide these medals to eligible individuals who engaged in qualified service as U.S. merchant mariners of World War II and who submit an application.

As stated in the NDAA, qualifying service includes being an active service member of the U.S. Merchant Marine between December 7, 1941 and December 31, 1946, who:

(1) was a member of the United States Merchant Marine, including the Army Transport Service and the Navy Transport Service, serving as a crew member of a vessel that was -

(A) operated by the War Shipping Administration, the Office of Defense Transportation, or an agent of such departments;

(B) operated in waters other than inland waters, the Great Lakes, and other lakes, bays, or harbors of the United States;

(C) under contract or charter to, or property of, the Government of the United States; and

(D) serving in the Armed Forces; and

(2) while so serving, was licensed or otherwise documented for service as a crew member of such a vessel by an officer or employee of the United States authorized to license or document the person for such service.

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