On December 29, President Biden signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2023 - legislation funding the federal government for the remainder of the current fiscal year, including programs crucial to the U.S.-flag fleet and U.S. Merchant Marine. This fiscal year runs through September 30, 2023.
The appropriations act provides full funding for the Maritime Security Program (MSP) fleet of 60 U.S.-flagged ships - $318 million for fiscal year 2023.
The appropriations act also provides full funding for the Tanker Security Program and the Cable Security Fleet, both of which are modeled after the MSP and require annual congressional approval of funding.
The Tanker Security Program is funded at $60 million for fiscal year 2023, supporting a fleet of 10 U.S.-flagged tank vessels that transport fuel for Department of Defense operations.
The Cable Security Fleet is funded at $10 million for this fiscal year. The fleet consists of two U.S.-flagged ships, which install, repair and maintain Defense Department communications cable systems.
The appropriations act provides funding for U.S. food-aid programs through the current fiscal year. Food for Peace Title II - the primary source of food-aid cargoes for U.S.-flagged vessels - is now funded at $1.75 billion, an increase over the previous fiscal year. Additionally, $50 million was appropriated for supplemental Food for Peace Title II grants for Ukraine.
Under U.S. cargo preference requirements, at least 50 percent of U.S. government impelled food-aid shipments must be carried by U.S.-flagged vessels. While providing vital food aid to nations in need around the world, these cargoes help keep U.S.-flagged commercial vessels in service and U.S. merchant mariners, who are needed to man surge and reserve military sealift vessels in times of war and crisis, employed and current on their skills and certifications.
The appropriations act provides the National Security Multi-Mission Vessel Program with $75 million to support the ongoing construction and administration of a fleet of new maritime academy training ships. The new ships are designed to provide professional training for future mariners, as well as to support humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions. TOTE Services has the contract to oversee the design and construction of the vessels and they are currently being built at Philly Shipyard.
The act also provides $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. Although an additional $30 million was authorized for new loan guarantees in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023, only the $3 million for administrative expenses was appropriated for this fiscal year.
Ready Reserve Force
The appropriations act provides $133 million for the purchase of two ships for the Ready Reserve Force managed by the Maritime Administration. Additionally, the law funds the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF), which includes funding for the Ready Reserve Force, at approximately $589 million for fiscal year 2023, an increase over the annual appropriations in recent years. The appropriation for fiscal year 2022 was approximately $435 million. The funding appropriated for the NDRF is "available for reimbursements to the Ready Reserve Force, Maritime Administration account of the United States Department of Transportation, for programs, projects, activities, and expenses related to the National Defense Reserve Fleet."