INSIGHTS: Rear Admiral Mark H. Buzby, USN (Ret)

Posted by Joseph Keefe

Rear Admiral Mark Buzby is the Maritime Administrator, U.S. Maritime Administration.

Rear Adm. Mark H. Buzby was appointed by President Donald Trump and sworn in as Maritime Administrator on August 8, 2017. Prior to his appointment, Buzby served as president of the National Defense Transportation Association, a position he has held since retiring from the U.S. Navy in 2013 with over 34 years of service. A 1979 graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Buzby earned his Bachelor of Science in Nautical Science and U.S. Coast Guard Third Mate License. He was commissioned in the US Navy in June 1979, is a graduate of the Joint Forces Staff College and holds master’s degrees from the U.S. Naval War College and Salve Regina University in Strategic Studies and International Relations respectively.

Over time, Buzby commanded many U.S. naval vessels and in 1985, he was the Atlantic Fleet Junior Officer Shiphandler of the Year. Ashore, he served on staffs of SIXTH Fleet, US Fleet Forces Command, the Navy staff, and the Joint Staff. Buzby served as the Commander of the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command from October 2009 to March 2013. Buzby’s personal awards include the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit (four awards), Bronze Star, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (five awards) and various other unit and campaign awards.

Arguably, Buzby brings to the Marad c-suite one of the deepest and most relevant experience skill sets of anyone who has filled that role in recent memory. His role at the National Defense Transportation Association closely parallels his mission focus at Marad, and his Military Sealift Command experience complements his efforts to ensure that the nation maintains a robust sealift capacity – in times of peace and war. The USMMA graduate brings a keen understanding of both naval and merchant marine operating procedures to an office that must cater to both. Buzby this month paused his frenetic schedule just long enough to weigh in with MarineNews. Listen in as ADM Buzby provides MarineNews readers a timely SITREP:

The Maritime Administration recently opened a Gateway office in Paducah, KY. Paducah is, of course, near the heartbeat of the U.S. inland marine industry. Tell us what you hope to accomplish there, why, and any progress that you’ve made to date.
We wanted to expand our reach into the nation’s inland waterway system, providing technical and financial assistance for port and intermodal infrastructure development and expansion of waterway services along those routes. MARAD has had a Gateway Office located in St. Louis for a decade, but as focus on waterways for freight movement increases, we determined a second office on the inland waterways was warranted. Locating in Paducah allows us to work more closely with the U.S.-flag inland waterway operators, reach out to shippers who have not considered the waterways as a routine modal choice for shipments, and to educate port authorities, state governments, metropolitan planning organizations and others of the value of including waterways in their regional freight plans.  

The Jones Act finds itself under withering attacks from many quarters. You’ve been a staunch supporter of domestic cabotage. Have the threats to the Jones Act heightened in the last 12 months, and if so, from where is that pressure emanating?
Much of the anti-Jones Act argument has quieted down substantially from last Fall after hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and especially Maria tore through the Gulf Coast and Puerto Rico. Cato Institute published a report that was critical of the Jones Act this past Spring, and that served as catalyst for many others to pile on in op-ed pieces. A more supportive Jones Act study commissioned by the American Marine Partnership which followed shortly thereafter refuted much of  Cato’s argument and offered a shelf to shelf comparison of costs in San Juan vs. Jacksonville showing virtually no difference between common household goods. The debate goes on. Thankfully, there continues to be strong support in Congress on both sides of the aisle where it is recognized how fundamentally important the Act is to our economic and national security. There were no Jones Act waiver requests so far for this hurricane season.            

A key problem – in our estimation – for the domestic waterfront is that it has too many voices, each clamoring for dissimilar, stovepiped requirements, as opposed to speaking as a united voice. In other words, we don’t tell our story very well. What can we do better in this regard?
It would help a lot to have a National Maritime Transportation Strategy that we could all rally around.  Congress has told us to produce one; hopefully we’ll have that out soon; it is finishing its final interagency coordination. It’s been a long time coming – too long. The U.S. currently moves only a fraction of our domestic freight on the water and waterborne transportation may soon be the only viable option for reducing congestion of land-based freight. We do need to get together on our message.

Sixteen months into your tenure as Maritime Administrator – what’s changed – what’s been added to your considerable plate since you were first sworn in?
We’ve experienced strong support from the Administration and Hill committees that fund and oversee us. We were ready to hit the ground running when congress passed the 2018 Omnibus legislation that included funding for the first new training ship – the national Security Multi-mission Vessel (NSMV). We already have a Request for Proposals on the street to select a Vessel Construction Manager who will actually contract with a US shipyard for the ship. Making sure we do the procurement correctly is paramount to providing the State Maritime Academies with a great ship and the American people a valuable tool. We await the FY19 budget to see how many more may be coming. Establishing local and regional maritime Centers of Excellence for training more mariners as authorized by Congress last year is ongoing and we hope to have the qualification criteria in place in early 2019. Congress has also shown a lot of interest in the Ready Reserve Force (RRF) recapitalization program and has authorized the first replacement vessels (used) to be procured.  We are working closely with the Navy and USTRANSCOM on those plans. Lots going on.

The state maritime academies are no doubt excited about the prospect of new training ships – whether that means refitted existed commercial hulls or the NSMV – the National Security Multi-Mission Vessel – the groundbreaking new design especially brought out for that purpose. A lot has happened over the past 12 months – bring us up to speed:
As I mentioned, we have a Request for Proposal (RFP) out to solicit for a Vessel Construction Manager (VCM) who will deliver a purpose built, National Security Multi-Mission Vessel (NSMV). It is going to be a great ship. The VCM will leverage existing marketplace expertise and identify companies experienced in the production of innovative U.S.-built ships and contract with a qualified shipyard that ensures commercial best practices are utilized in building the NSMV; on time and on budget. We’ve designed a fine vessel, and have every confidence that our skilled U.S. shipyard workers, reflecting the best of American maritime engineering and ingenuity will deliver.

In terms of national response readiness, the need for the NSMV – a fleet of them in fact – is even more important. Tell us about the recent hurricane season events and where these ships fit into the national response picture:
As part of its mission, MARAD can provide numerous capabilities and resources before, during, and after significant domestic and international disaster events. In addition to the shipping capacity to get FEMA recovery supplies and vehicles to hard hit areas; once moored, the NSMV can provide power, housing, food, clean water and berthing for up to 1,000 first responders. NSMV comes with a roll-on/roll-off ramp and a crane to facilitate container handling that will enable it to provide critical supplies to damaged port facilities as well. MARAD dispatched three school ships and one RRF vessel for hurricane recovery support in 2017 and provided a total of 23,526 berthing nights (per person per night) and served 53,306 meals to first responders.  

Dynamic Positioning (DP) training is becoming increasing important, increasingly mainstream and the Texas & AM Maritime Academy just introduced it to their curriculum. That’s great news. What else would you like to see ramped up in terms of getting these cadets – in Texas and at the other six schools – ready for the next big disruptive event?
Dynamic Positioning has been around for a while now, so it is good to see this becoming a part of mainstream curriculum. That said; there are other emerging areas where our future mariners need to be better equipped. Certainly, we should be looking at increased use of technology, automation, and AI in shipping operations/business in general, but even more critical right now is to prepare all our future mariners in the realm of cyber security. With the high level of integration of shipboard control and operational systems found in today’s ships – and the vulnerabilities that invites – we need to do a far better job preparing our young mariners to operate confidently and securely in that environment.  Everyone – deckies and engineers – need to have a fundamental background in cyber security.

As important mariner training is at the deck plate level, it is equally important to engage the youth of today in order to make them aware of the employment possibilities that the maritime industry can provide. Is Marad involved with this effort today?
We do support several high school- level programs across the country, in addition to the previously mentioned college-level Maritime Centers of Excellence program that we are just getting started.  It is extremely encouraging to see the increasing number of maritime schools nationwide, and I have visited several of them. Just the other day, I was in New York City to visit the Harbor School on Governor’s Island, NY and participated in their 15th anniversary celebrations. It was great to see the enthusiasm in the faces of the students who were practically involved in vessel operations, marine biology, and several other maritime areas of interest. They were thriving on the water; the future of our industry right there!    

Marine highway designations – how does an area or waterway get this recognition, and what does that label mean? Marad has ‘an open season’ on this sort of designation until 31 December 2018.
For a US waterway to be designated as a Marine Highway Route, a public entity such as a State or port authority applies to MARAD for designation, and it must be approved by the Secretary of Transportation. They explain the public benefits expected from creating new or expanding existing maritime freight services between two US ports. Designating routes is a way for the nation to see waterways as viable freight route, a valued part of our national transportation system, and one that has capacity to accommodate freight transport needs well into the future. Really, it’s the only transportation mode with significant undeveloped capacity. We need to get on with developing that capacity in a thoughtful way. Application periods are open every six months and readers can find helpful information at

You recently awarded grants to myriad small domestic shipyards. Can we expect that this funding will continue? Just how much of a difference does it really make for our all-important shipbuilding base?
Our nation’s small shipyards are critical to maintaining the health and vibrancy of the Jones Act fleet.  MARAD’s Small Shipyard Grant Program provides assistance to help keep them competitive. It is a very popular program because of the significant benefits gained with the seed money provided through this program.  There are tons of great success stories where smart investments in this program enabled small shipyards to jump ahead in capacity and capability and open up whole new lines of business – and more jobs.  For a small shipyard, making capital improvements while operating in the margins is difficult.  The importance of waterway infrastructure to our country’s competitiveness cannot be underestimated, and the monies provided by Congress go a long ways in keeping these shipyards working.

Give us a sense of where our ready reserve and/or MSP fleets stand today. Are we ready for the next sealift event?
The 60–ship commercial MSP fleet is solid, operating well, and has the militarily useful ships we’d need in a sealift and sustainment scenario. Readiness of the government owned RRF is a constant challenge given that the average age of our vessels is 43 years, and 24 of them are steam vessels. Repairs and upgrades to older equipment and aging systems require shipyard periods lasting longer and costing more each year; but we are working with our partners – Navy and USTRANSCOM – to address the challenges of recapitalizing the sealift fleet to ensure mission readiness. I am also concerned about the availability of a sufficient number of qualified mariners with the necessary endorsements to operate large ships (unlimited horsepower and unlimited tonnage) and to sustain a prolonged sealift mobilization beyond the first four to six months. We need a larger peacetime employment base to ensure we have the manpower during times of crisis.

You made it a priority upon assuming your current role as Maritime Administrator to right the ship at the US Merchant Marine Academy. Tell us about where the nation’s only federal maritime academy sits today?
The Academy is moving very strongly in a positive direction, and had started doing so before I even got on scene. This past year was one of the most successful in the Academy’s history and was marked by many significant milestones; including the Academy receiving full reaccreditation by Middle States, reaccreditation of the Engineering program, and the Class of 2018 achieving a first-time pass rate of over 90% on their Coast Guard licensing examinations. We’re anticipating progressively better performance as the Class of 2022 entered the Academy in June with outstanding qualifications. It also had the highest percentage of women ever. We had championship teams in just about every sport. We recently released the USMMA strategic plan for 2018-2023 called Navigating Towards the Future Together; that along with the “Be KP” culture change campaign developed by the Regiment of Midshipmen to strengthen the Academy’s culture, will provide headings for developing leaders of exemplary character. Our Sea Year program is back on track and everyone is getting the sailing time they need. There is very much a positive vibe on campus these days.

What’s been your biggest success so far as head of the nation’s Maritime Administration? In what area can Marad do better? Why and how?
We can always communicate better, so I appreciate you giving me some print to talk a bit about what we are doing and where we are having issues. We’ve made some incremental progress in getting the word out to give a broader audience a bit better visibility on the state of our commercial shipping and how that impacts national security. We are upgrading our social media presence and trying to reach out farther. In terms of successes, I think that getting funding secured for the first NSMV (and hopefully more) was a big plus, as was getting an infusion of capital improvement funds up at Kings Point. There are some others – like the National Maritime Transportation Strategy – which are close, but not quite there yet. Lots of pots boiling – lots of great potential ahead.

Marine News Magazine, page 14,  Nov 2018

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