28 July 2015

Legislation seeks answers to government’s use of payments:

Legislation seeks answers to government’s use of payments
The decommissioned USS Ranger makes its final journey as it arrives at South Padre Island July 12 on its way to the Port of Brownsville, where the aircraft carrier is being scrapped.

The former chief counsel to the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) says the agency is misspending money paid by ship breakers into a maritime heritage grant fund intended to support museums and education.

MARAD says it’s not. In any case, federal legislation dubbed the STORIS Act and introduced by a pair of Louisiana senators — and co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville — would require the Government Accountability Office to look into how MARAD is spending the grant money, which comes from MARAD’s sale of surplus government vessels.

Denise Krepp left her job as MARAD chief counsel in 2012 and now lobbies for the ship-breaking industry in Washington D.C. Brownsville-based International Shipbreaking LLC is among her clients.
Although ISL and other domestic scrappers have paid more than $75 million into the fund since 2005, the legally mandated recipients — maritime heritage and preservation groups — still haven’t received all the money, she said.

“We want to know where the money went to,” Krepp said.

The 1994 National Maritime Heritage Act stipulates that 25 percent of the money from ship sales go to the Interior Department each year for the grant program. Further, the money has to be used to “foster in the American public a greater awareness and appreciation of the role of the maritime endeavors in our nation’s history and culture,” according to the NMHA.

The USS Lexington in Corpus Christi and Battleship Texas in LaPorte are two examples of floating maritime museums.

MARAD said in its 2013 annual report that it had used heritage grant money to record oral histories of agency employees and to repair model ships on display at Department of Transportation headquarters in Washington, said Krepp, who doesn’t think this fits the definition of preserving maritime heritage.
MARAD spokeswoman Kim Strong said the law allows the funding to be used to “maintain the more than 7,000 pieces in the agency’s heritage asset collection.”

About half that collection is on display at the AmericanMerchantMarineMuseum at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y., she said. Other MARAD artifacts are on loan to museums around the country, including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and the MaritimeIndustryMuseum in Fort Schuyler, N.Y., Strong said.

Another 25 percent of the proceeds from MARAD vessel sales is supposed to go to maintain the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and the country’s six state maritime academies, including the TexasA&MMaritimeAcademy in Galveston. Fifty percent of the money is designated for maintenance and repair of the National Defense Reserve Fleet.

Of the roughly $19 million that Strong said MARAD has made available for maritime preservation, $1.3 million funded “a myriad” of federal maritime heritage asset-preservation projects, $2.8 million was transferred to the National Park Service last year to administer a round of National Maritime Heritage grant awards, and $2 million was transferred to the NPS this year for a subsequent round of heritage grants, she said.

Strong said the rest of the $19 million would be divided between the future preservation of maritime heritage assets and annual transfers of at least $2 million to NPS for more grants over the next four years.

Krepp said MARAD has not been making annual disbursements as required by law. A 1998 congressional hearing into MARAD’s ship-recycling program triggered an initial disbursement of grant fund in the amount of $652,616, then nothing until last April, when another $2.6 million was released — still less than the annual 25 percent stipulated by Congress, she said.
Two releases of grant money in 21 years falls far short of the law’s “annual grant” requirement, Krepp said.

“We know how much money we’ve given the federal government, we just want to know how they spend it,” she said.

Source: Brownsville Herald. 25 July 2015

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