Inland Waterways Users Board caught in bureaucratic limbo

The Obama administration has let the Inland Waterways Users Board (IWUB) expire, and the navigation industry says the long delay to reactivate it has shut down an important communication link with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The future of the IWUB has languished in a bureaucratic hole since last April, when the terms of the 11-member board expired. The administration has repeatedly said a resolution is “forthcoming,” but as of now, no new appointments have been made.

“Without the formalized User Board, the navigation industry has completely lost the ability to have a dialogue with the Corps of Engineers,” said Debra Colbert, spokeswoman for the National Waterways Council Inc. “There have been a number of recent major closures of locks on the Ohio River [at Meldahl, Winfield, Greenup and the Robert C. Byrd]. These have wide-ranging implications, and industry does not have a way to dialogue about these kinds of issues as it once did within the Users Board forum.”

Without authorized members, the board can’t get a quorum, hold a meeting, or work on its intended purpose under the Water Resources Development Act of 1986. The law requires the IWUB to represent inland navigation users and shippers in making recommendations to the Secretary of the Army and to Congress on construction and modernization priorities and spending levels on the inland waterways system.

At issue is whether the Special Government Employee Rule, which says government appointees must support the president’s positions, should be applied to IWUB membership. Since IWUB members represent the interests of the industry and needs of the waterways system, a waiver is needed, thus causing the delay.

This rule has never been raised in the past when appointments were made, said Colbert.

The absence of a federal advisory panel on waterways issues has had important consequences. Colbert said cost overruns at the Olmsted Lock and Dam project aren’t being adequately addressed. “Without a User Board, there is little formal discussion about project implementation and schedules.”

The Users Board also played a key role in developing the Capital Development Plan for the inland waterway system, which sets out a new scheme for funding and prioritizing inland waterways projects. Congress is now reviewing the plan.

 

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