First Woman Set to Lead Biden Maritime Agency, Oversee Port Aid

  • Senate votes 75-22 to confirm Phillips as MARAD leader
  • Agency faces supply chain, sexual assault challenges

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The Senate confirmed Ann Phillips to lead the Maritime Administration as the Biden administration seeks to implement record funding to ports from the infrastructure law.

Phillips, who secured the post though a 75-22 vote Tuesday, will become the first woman confirmed to lead the roughly 800-person agency, which is part of the Transportation Department. She steps into the role as the maritime industry faces complaints about supply chain backups and allegations of sexual assault in a maritime training program.

“This nomination is important to our maritime industry, especially as we’re facing unprecedented challenges in the maritime supply chain,” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said on the Senate floor Monday.

Phillips will be responsible for implementing a $2.25 billion in discretionary grant program for ports and waterways provided by the bipartisan infrastructure law (Public Law 117-58).

Cantwell, who leads the Senate panel responsible for commerce and transportation issues, said the additional funds will shore up the supply chain and decarbonize the maritime industry. The White House said Phillips, who also served as Virginia’s special assistant to the governor for coastal adaptation and protection, has focused on the climate’s affect on marine infrastructure.

“As we continue to emerge from the pandemic, aided by the bipartisan infrastructure law, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve our maritime systems, supply chains, infrastructure and industry,” Phillips told senators at her nomination hearing.

Phillips served for almost 31 years in the U.S. Navy before retiring as a rear admiral. Cantwell called her a “trailblazer across her career,” for serving as the first female destroyer squadron commodore and the first female director of surface warfare.

Lawmakers have called on Phillips to address recent allegations of sexual assault and harassment by midshipmen at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Phillips said she would “personally” step in to address those issues at the academy and work with lawmakers on legislation.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at; Kimberly Wayne at

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