The Maritime Administration, long focused on the U.S.-flag oceangoing fleet, needs to focus more on the growing U.S. domestic waterways industry, according to a new General Accountability Office (GAO) report.

The GAO said Marad should have a balanced focus on both the ocean and inland sectors. This would make the maritime workforce better prepared for the future. 

“For Marad to meet its mission to foster, promote and develop the entire U.S. merchant maritime industry, it is important that Marad study any potential problems that could arise in fulfilling U.S. national commerce objectives for both the oceangoing and domestic waterways, including whether there are sufficient numbers of trained mariners for all sectors of the maritime industry,” the report, released Jan. 31, said.

This comes at a time when studies indicate a steep decline in the U.S.-flag fleet operating in international trade, while the inland and offshore industries are holding steady or growing. 

GAO’s report included a review of mariner training. Investigators spent six months interviewing maritime stakeholders from the inland and offshore industries, as well as officials of Marad, the federal and state maritime academies, maritime labor unions and private and union training schools.

Marad officials told GAO that they haven’t focused as much on the domestic commercial industry because they consider efforts to support military sealift requirements a higher priority given tight budgets.

Several towing companies said they were concerned about the lack of data and studies on the domestic industry, and several maritime academies said they need more information about workforce trends and industry needs, particularly in the offshore and near coastal areas, in order to better adapt their curricula.