The Maritime Security Program (MSP) provides funding for 60 militarily useful U.S.-flag, U.S.-crewed ships that are made available (as well as their land-based logistic infrastructure) to the Department of Defense in times of war or national emergencies. Within this fleet are containerships, roll-on/roll-off (RO/RO) vessels, lighter aboard ships (LASH), tankers, and heavy lift vessels. The program also insures that well-trained American merchant mariners are available to serve as crew.
The MSP became law in 1996, following five years of congressional hearings and committee markups. The program has always enjoyed bipartisan support from the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House.
Signed by President Clinton, the original measure provided support for 47 vessels during a 10-year period. Maritime labor, industry officials, legislators and military officials recalled the lengthy battle to pass the first measure. They started planning after the turn of the new century on an expanded MSP, and having it in place prior to its expiration in September 2005.
President Bush signed MSP extension and expansion legislation in November 2003 as part of the Fiscal Year 2004 National Defense Authorization Act. This cleared the way for the 60-ship MSP fleet and an increase in the funds for each U.S.-flag vessel made available to the program. (The extended program would expire in September 2015, unless reauthorized.)
However, both the 1996 and 2003 measures included the provision that Congress annually must approve the financial support to the program. Thus, each year, maritime labor, industry representatives and military officials must lobby the Congress for full funding for the next fiscal year. The MSP continues to have bipartisan support. Military leaders have praised it as being “a cost-effective program that assures guaranteed access to required commercial U.S.-flag shipping and U.S. merchant mariners, when needed.”