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Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.

That’s what a bipartisan coalition of 10 U.S. Senators effectively said in a letter to the chair and ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies, Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME).

Specifically, the senators were referring the Maritime Security Program (MSP), which they asserted should be fully funded in Fiscal Year 2014 appropriations legislation.

Given what’s been happening on Capitol Hill—sequestration, rising deficits, intense battles over the federal budget—finding money for any program will be difficult.  But as these Senators noted, if Congress and the administration fail to set aside adequate monies for the MSP, important national security interests will be harmed. Moreover, the federal government will wind up losing money, not gaining it.

“The MSP and the uninterrupted operation of its maritime security fleet of 60 U.S.-flag militarily useful commercial vessels ensures that America will in fact be able to support and supply our troops overseas. It guarantees that American-flag vessels and American crews will continue to be available to transport the supplies and equipment our troops need to do their jobs in behalf of our nation.”

The elected officials from across the country noted, “It is extremely important to note that the failure to approve the requested funding for the MSP will not only put American troops at risk, but will weaken America’s overall security interests and will cost the American taxpayer significantly more than the amount requested for FY 2014 for the MSP.”

Why?  Quoting a 2006 report prepared by the National Defense Transportation Association’s Military Sealift Committee, the senators said, “’The likely cost to the government to replicate just the vessel capacity provided by the MSP dry cargo vessels would be $13 billion.’ In addition, the United States Transportation Command has estimated it would cost the U.S. Government an additional $52 billion to replicate the ‘global intermodal system’ that is made available to the Department of Defense by MSP participants who are continuously developing, maintaining, maintaining and upgrading their systems.”

Compare these benefits to the cost of the program.  According to the senators, “In contrast, the commercial maritime industry, through the MSP, will provide the Department of Defense with these same vessels and global intermodal system at a cost to the taxpayer of $186 million in FY 2014.”

Equally important, having American ship owners, vessels and civilian mariners support U.S. forces overseas adds an important, though indefinable, element to our national security, because, in the senators’ words, “our country would be faced with the option of giving foreign flag shipping interests and their foreign mariners, interests who may not share America’s goals, objectives and values, the responsibility for supporting and advancing America’s security interests overseas.”

Over the years, the private maritime industry and the U.S. government have been able to forge a “highly efficient and low-cost public-private partnership” under the auspices of the MSP.

Quoting General John W. Handy, who was serving as the Commander in Chief of the United States Transportation Command when he spoke before congressional committee in 2003, the senators stressed, “’As we look at operations on multiple fronts in support of the War on Terrorism, it is clear that our limited defense resources will increasingly rely on partnerships with industry to maintain the needed capability and capacity to meet our most demanding wartime scenarios…MSP is a cost-effective program that assures guaranteed access to required U.S.-flag commercial shipping and U.S. mariners when needed…MSP is a vital element of our military’s strategic sealift and global response capability.’”

The 10 senators who signed the letter are John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Ron Wyden (D-OR), David Vitter (R-LA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).