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GAO: Few nationwide efforts coordinate maritime transportation improvements

Auditors say Army Corps, DOT should work together more
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Responsibility for the maritime transportation system is scattered among different levels of government, the private sector and port authorities, and the Government Accountability Office says that makes nationwide efforts to improve it a challenge.

The system includes waterways, ports, and the roads and railways that connect to ports. The Army Corps of Engineers is the lead federal agency for waterway maintenance, and the Transportation Department is the main federal support for land infrastructure that connects to the maritime system.

But the Corps and DOT have historically not coordinated much, the GAO says in a report released Nov. 13. The two did sign a memorandum of understanding in March to prioritize maritime projects together, but auditors say it's too early to know if the joint effort will succeed.

The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, signed into law in July, also offers the Corps and DOT a chance to coordinate. The law mandates that DOT develop a national freight strategic plan, and auditors say the department should factor the Corps' planned investments into its plan.

The Corps maintains maritime structures like channels, locks and dams, and also dredges waterways. Old, deteriorating structures can lead to costly delays for shippers.

The report highlights one other federal effort to improve the system--in July, the White House established a task force on ports to strategize on port infrastructure investments. But auditors say it's too soon to know how those efforts will play out.

One of that task force's goals is to plan for the expansion of the Panama Canal, which is set to finish in 2014 and will bring larger vessels to U.S. ports and waterways.

For more:
- download the report, GAO-13-80 (.pdf)

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