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By JENNIFER SCHOLTES
COAST GUARD CHIEF SAYS NSC FLEET IS ‘PAYING HUGE DIVIDENDS’: The head of the Coast Guard is out in San Diego today, welcoming home a crew that’s been underway for four and a half months, cruising through the narco-transit zone off the coast of South and Central America. It’s a good thing the ship has returned to port, Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft said last week, since it would be hard to stay afloat for much longer with more than 32 metric tons of cocaine loading it down. While the cutter is probably perfectly buoyant, the commandant wasn’t joking about the massive cache of drugs the crew interdicted on its short mission.
The vessel that carried that load home to California happens to be part of the Coast Guard’s flagship National Security Cutter fleet — the line of 418-foot ships designed to spend long stints far from U.S. shores. And although Coast Guard officials have made quite clear that they don’t intend to ask lawmakers for money to add a ninth NSC to their acquisition plan anytime soon, the commandant says the fleet is “really paying huge dividends.”
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Missing out: Zukunft was actually just in Boston on Saturday christening the fifth of eight NSC’s the service has in the works. Getting those vessels on the water is paramount to stemming that northern drug flow, the commandant says, because the service has typically had enough intelligence to discern about 90 percent of those drug shipments and has only been able to catch about 10 percent. Over the last year, the Coast Guard closed that gap by about 35 percent. But still, Zukunft says, “when we get that information, I just don’t have enough ships. We don’t have enough assets to act upon that information.”
No. 1 priority: While the Coast Guard is chasing drugs down south, its crews are also posted in the icy seas at the northernmost point of the world, where Shell has begun drilling this summer and receding polar ice has allowed for record transit and commerce. With all that Arctic activity, the service surely needs more icebreakers than the two old ships it’s got, Zukunft said. But the commandant continues to reiterate that his agency’s next big procurement and “no. 1 priority” remains beefing up the fleet of Offshore Patrol Cutters.
IT’S MONDAY: Good morning and thanks for reading POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on trains, planes, automobiles and ports.
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“No more building transmissions. He’s going deep sea fishing.” http://bit.ly/1N2etEL
WHAT’S UP THIS WEEK: Both chambers of Congress are finally out of session for August recess, and the nation’s capital is oh-so quiet this week. Still catching their breath after the latest highway funding finale, the city’s transportation gurus are laying low right now too, as reflected by our very sparse transpo agenda for the next few days:
Today — The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Executive Council on Infrastructure holds a press call to talk about long-term infrastructure investments and how the private sector can help.
Tuesday — The Chamber of Commerce holds a news conference out in Las Vegas on the release of a report on the effect of new ozone regulations on transportation projects.
FRA DETAILS STUNNING LAG IN PTC COMPLIANCE: It’s no new revelation that droves of rail operators are certain to miss the year-end deadline for implementing positive train control technology. But the report the FRA sent up to the Hill on Friday isn’t short on shock factor — illustrating for the first time just how many trains aren’t going to be equipped by Dec. 31 and pinpointed hundreds that won’t even be nearing the final phases of implementation until 2018 or 2020.
From Pro: “ … the FRA says more than 400 trains — run by four different operators — aren’t even expected to be ready for PTC system testing until 2018, when that new deadline would hit. Another 310 trains, operated by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, aren’t likely to near that final phase until 2020. And four operators, running a total of nearly 190 trains, haven’t yet provided enough information for the FRA to weigh in with a prediction. The report repeated what FRA officials have long been telling lawmakers: Many railroads just aren’t making much progress or meeting interim agency requirements aimed at driving them toward compliance. As of this month, for example, the FRA has only received three of 38 required PTC safety plans, despite maintaining years of ‘constant and consistent contact with railroads to assist on safety plans and offer guidance.’” Pros get the whole scoop: http://politico.pro/1HADakz. The report: http://politico.pro/1Tc9lTn.
WHEN IS A HIGHWAY BILL NOT A HIGHWAY BILL?: Our favorite Fox News busy bee, Chad Pergram, writes in the latest edition of his daily column about just how many things factor into the fate of transportation funding legislation. “When is a highway bill not about a highway bill?” Chad asks rhetorically. “When it’s about Iran, de-funding Planned Parenthood and sanctuary cities. And when it’s about an obscure Washington institution called the Export-Import Bank, Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals, the tax code, the federal deficits and the August congressional recess. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is fond of saying members of Congress conduct policy in a political setting. And the calisthenics over the past few weeks on the highway bill attests to his thesis.” More from Chad’s blog, The Speaker’s Lobby: http://fxn.ws/1J58oYi/.
CHINA COULD BE EYEING YOUR AIRLINE BOOKING DATA: American Airlines is claiming the carrier has found no evidence that its systems or networks have fallen victim to the same kind of cyber-attacks that targeted OPM and Anthem. But Bloomberg reports (http://bloom.bg/1DyRQ8M) that the same China-backed hackers who previously went after the federal agency and the health insurer are said to have targeted the airline and travel company Sabre Corp., and that China is likely using American data to build “profiles of U.S. officials and contractors, establishing information that could be used to blackmail them into providing intelligence.” Pro’s David Perera reports: http://politico.pro/1TiUnWC.
MOVING ON UP: The National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association has snagged Patrick Dunne to run its communications efforts. Dunne formerly managed communications and media relations for the National Business Aviation Association and is a recovering reporter whose byline used to grace the pages of suburban Maryland newspapers.
THE AUTOBAHN (SPEED READ):
— Pocket-sized personal transporters could soon be seen on the streets of Tokyo. Reuters: http://reut.rs/1MVSXBB
— South Africa, Namibia criticize airline ban on trophies. AP: http://bit.ly/1hsM7Ye
— Malaysia’s declarations on Flight 370 and plane debris further dent its credibility. The New York Times: http://nyti.ms/1hsMfae
— Amid thaw, first authorized U.S. yacht sails to Cuba on hopes of travel surge. The Wall Street Journal: http://on.wsj.com/1IYAtyD
— LA maps out sweeping transportation overhaul. LA Times: http://lat.ms/1Tjh2SC
— Can hackers take over traffic lights? The Washington Post: http://wapo.st/1NkJEcj
— Does a Tesla-Uber partnership make sense? Bloomberg Business: http://bloom.bg/1MTjRtF
— N.J. senators to grill Amtrak executive about train delays. POLITICO New Jersey: http://politi.co/1EiQdXF
— Regulators should develop rules to protect cars from hackers. The New York Times editorial board: http://nyti.ms/1hsLJZN
THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 81 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 53 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 459 days.