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Will Transparency Help the Ports?

by Mark DeFabis on 2015-07-08 14:21:15

The last few years have seen a lot of disruption at the Nation’s ports as a result of labor issues. Since almost all import and export activity comes through the ocean ports, disruptions significantly impact the broader economy. Not surprisingly, anyone who follows the logistics or supply chain industry knows that the recent disruptions were not the first, nor will they be the last.  Will greater transparency of port activity help provide an early warning of potential disruptions to the Nation’s commerce?ports_performance_act

The Senate Commerce Committee passed S 1298, the Ports Performance Act, prior to the July 4th recess which is aimed at providing metrics, which are currently non-existent, on port activity and is intended to create a new level of transparency and accountability for ports by requiring the following measures:

  • The director of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) to establish a port performance statistics program and report annually to Congress on the performance and capacity of the nation’s key ports.
  • U.S. port authorities that are subject to federal regulation or that receive federal assistance to report annually to BTS.
  • The Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with the Secretaries of Labor and Commerce, to report to Congress on a port’s performance before and after the expiration of maritime labor agreements to help indicate whether labor discussions have impacted operations, the estimated economic impact of such disputes and roughly how long it will take for shipments to return to normal.

Accountability is good for any organization, but in the case of our Nation’s ports, it is paramount.  While many private sources track port activity, there is no systematic method for collecting the detailed data that gives a true measure of productivity.  The bill lays out a number of metrics that are required to be tracked and reported and that will allow any business who relies on the ports to have a reliable set a data to use for planning purposes. The bill will also hold the associated port commissions and labor groups accountable for maintaining and improving productivity, especially before and immediately after labor negotiations. 

Although there is still a long road to go before the Ports Performance Act becomes law, let’s hope that this is the first step in a long overdue need to shine a light on the performance of our ports.

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