Commercial Maritime Industry:

Updated Information on Federal Assessments

T-RCED-00-36: Published: Nov 3, 1999. Publicly Released: Nov 3, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed federal assessments--user fees, taxes, and other charges--levied on the commercial maritime industry, focusing on: (1) the federal agencies that levied assessments in fiscal year (FY) 1998 compared with FY 1991, the number of assessments levied, and the amounts they collected; (2) who pays the assessments and in which funds they were deposited in fiscal years 1991-1998; (3) new federal assessments that have been recently proposed; and (4) the status of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, and the projected annual balances of the fund.

GAO noted that: (1) 11 different federal agencies levy 124 different assessments on the commercial maritime industry; (2) these assessments include fees such as customs duties, ship registry fees, commercial fishing fees, and inspection charges; (3) in FY 1998, these assessments totalled nearly $22 billion compared to over $18 billion in FY 1991; (4) the Customs Service collected by far the largest portion--almost $21 billion; (5) shippers pay the largest portion of the assessments, more than $20 billion of the total $22 billion; (6) vessel owners and operators paid about $1 billion, and various other parties paid the rest; (7) from FY 1991 through FY 1998, the amounts paid by shippers increased by 17 percent, while the amounts paid by owners and operators increased by 46 percent; (8) most of the money collected is not earmarked for specific purposes; (9) about $20 billion of the total revenues generated in FY 1998 was deposited directly into the General Fund of the U.S. Treasury; (10) another $995 million was used to reimburse agencies or private service providers for the services they provided; (11) the remaining $762 million was deposited into three federal trust funds to be appropriated in future years to agencies for designated services; (12) two federal assessments have been proposed; (13) the administration is proposing a Harbor Services User fee as a replacement for the existing Harbor Maintenance Tax; (14) unlike the Harbor Maintenance Tax, which is paid by the shippers, foreign trade zone users, or operators of the vessel, only vessel operators would pay the proposed fee; (15) another proposal by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would establish a fee for granting permits for fishing in federally managed fisheries; (16) at the end of FY 1998, the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund had a balance of $1.3 billion; and (17) the balance is projected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to increase to $2.5 billion in FY 2004.

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