by Jeffrey A. Smith Vice President—Public Affairs The American Waterways Operators, Inc.

Experts in the media and in the government who bother with the matter at all, like to characterize the domestic waterways industry as the "pork barrel industry." It must be great fun for journalists and other critics to glibly caricature a greedy parochial politician with his face stuck in the public trough, lapping up "pork barrel" water project goodies for the voters back home. It must also be great fun for critics to take shots at any given lock and dam project as a monumental and unnecessary boondoggle, promoted by Congressmen who snicker, wink, and elbow each other at election time over the waterways "pork" they have appropriated for their constitutents..

On the editorial pages of a wellknown New York newspaper recently, the pundits portrayed the Congressional debate over last year's omnibus water resources bill as a "pig dinner." The editorial stated that "the squealing was unbearable," as members of Congress danced through the aisles shouting, "You get yours, and I get mine, we've all joined hands to feed the swine . . . ".

To put it politely, it is an understatement to say that such indulgent cartoon characterizations are frustrating to us in the waterways industry, as well as to many in our government who understand the industry and support it.-And our frustration is compounded because the facts, the cold hard statistical data on the importance of the waterways to the nation that truly profiles our industry, are in direct refutation to the "pork barrel" image.

And hardly anyone knows it.

Far from being "pork barrel," our industry, before the introduction of damaging government policies a few years ago, was an even more effective, productive and vital national resource than it is today. It provided an even greater wealth of benefits to the consumer and to the nation— not the least of which was the steady employment of thousands of Americans and the resultant millions of additional tax dollars for the U.S.

Treasury—and it was one of the fundamental reasons for the economic stability of the 87 percent of major U.S. cities with which we do business. No other industry has provided more . . . for less. We would all benefit—from the highest industry executive to the shipyard worker, from the elected representative to the American consumer—if this truth were known. The "pork barrel" image is a lie.

Here are the facts.

Consider that the inland and coastal barge and towing industry operates on 26,000 miles of navigable waterways, a network of rivers, canals and waterways long enough to circle the earth. In addition we carry 13 percent of the nation's freight for just 2 percent of the national transportation cost, and we do it with the best safety record of any transportation industry. In a typical year, there will be 125,000 barge movements to and from over 200 U.S. inland and coastal ports.

Consider also that the barge and towing industry saves the American consumer money on the cost of their food, gasoline, electricity and building materials, because barges require less energy per ton to transport goods than any other means.

On the Lower Mississippi, one towboat can push 40 barges that have the carrying capacity of 600 rail cars or more than 2,200 trucks. Where's the pork barrel?

Consider that our industry forces the railroads, by their own admission, to charge about $1 billion less per year in freight rates because of the healthy competition we provide.

Such competition has a direct effect on what every American consumer pays for some of the most basic commodities needed to sustain life.

Consider the millions of tons of raw materials like grain and other agricultural products, petroleum, limestone, lumber and coal that travel on the inland and coastal waterways of the nation. The price of everyday commodities like cereal and electricity are directly affected by the cost of transporting them— and it is the barge industry's efficiency that holds down the price for the American people.

P6rk barrel?

Our waterways are also a matchless source of recreation for fishing, pleasure boating, and sightseeing— and millions of acres along the waterways are designated wildlife refuges.

It is also little understood that we play a vital role in national defense, currently supplying the remot, e Distant Early Warning radar site'in Alaska and defense installations throughout our land.


Barges haul about one-half of all United States export grain, and the low cost and high efficiency of water transportation keeps oil and coal producers, farmers and other shippers competitive in the world market— expanding our overseas trade and improving the U.S. balance of payments. Finally, it is significant to note that over 100,000 direct jobs for our citizens derive from the waterways industry. Indirect employment is in the millions.

If it is pork, then it's "Grade A" bacon—cured for the benefit of every American.

Yet, despite these contributions to the nation, and much more, we in the inland and coastal barge and towing industry continue to find ourselves in the curious and frustrating position of having to suffer the negative political reputation of being the "pork barrel" industry.

No one benefits from this name calling except the pundits and other critics who delight in its use. Every American has a direct, compelling and personal stake in the success or failure of this vital national industry.

So the next time you hea an expert rattling around in an empty "pork barrel," give him, or her, the word. The next time you read a newspaper account, or hear a radio or television reporter blabbing about the "pork barrel" waterways industry, get involved. Write them a letter. Call them up. Educate them with the facts. Complain.

By all means let your Congressmen and Senators know how you feel. They too have an important stake in this. When a politician who likes to dramatically throw the term "pork barrel" around begins to hear the murmuring voices of constituent complaint, the rumbling harmony of grievance, and the full symphonic roar of voter discontent, he'll listen.

He has to.

Give him the facts.

Other stories from May 1985 issue


Maritime Reporter

First published in 1881 Maritime Reporter is the world's largest audited circulation publication serving the global maritime industry.