At last — the Academy’s submission to MSCHE

Spoiler alert: whole lotta’ nothing  . . . so far.

In the continuing quest to provide Academy stakeholders with basic information about the ongoing threat to USMMA’s accreditation, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the “Monitoring Report” that the Academy submitted to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education on or about March 1, 2017.  In the post I wrote about that request, I mused,

Wouldn’t you think that the Academy would be proud of how well it responded to MSCHE’s concerns and want to share that with the public?  (I wish I had enough confidence in the Academy’s leadership so that such a musing could be considered realistic rather than fantastic.)

It would appear that my lack of confidence in Academy leadership was well-placed.  Here’s the REDACTED Monitoring Report. The administration essentially redacted anything that would disclose the actions it has taken to prevent the Academy from losing its accreditation.

The basis for withholding the information is set forth in this letter.  MARAD relies upon the so-called “Deliberative Process Privilege.” This privilege is supposed to protect internal communications within a federal agency, or between federal agencies, when the government is considering adopting a policy of some sort. For example, if the government is considering adopting a regulation, an internal memo written in the course of considering whether to adopt the regulation that discusses the pros and cons of the regulation is protected by the privilege.  In contrast, an internal memo discussing the same pros and cons of the regulation written after the adoption of the regulation is not protected (unless the memo is written for purposes of considering repealing or modifying the regulation). Also, agency communications with non-federal agencies are not protected by the privilege.

I’ve already filed an appeal of the redaction of the information since the information that is redacted was communicated to a non-federal agency and because it reflects actions taken [past tense] — not deliberations leading up to the decision to take the actions. In other words, the redacted information reflects the final agency action rather than deliberations leading up to taking that action.

I find it particularly curious that the administration redacted the References it cited (p.47 of the PDF of the REDACTED Monitoring Report and Appendix A (pp.49-50 of the PDF).  Wonder what it is trying to hide there . . . .

Stay tuned.  MARAD has 20 business days to decide the appeal. 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(A)(ii). If it doesn’t rule in the 20 days or denies the appeal in that time, I’ll be headed to the U.S. District Court for some badly-need agency oversight.

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15 Comments

  1. You have done a great job and we all owe you a debt of gratitude. I do not understand how the AAF could not rally us around a common approach to resolving the accreditation issue. Why else do we have an AAF? I hear that they are working behind the scenes on this and it has to be kept quiet. Hope that is the right approach.

    • I think the problem is that the Administration (without a new MARAD Administrator, we are still stuck with the momentum from the last presidential administration) doesn’t want anyone in on the process. That’s why it won’t provide updates. Compare how Baylor University dealt with a threat to accreditation and provided timely updates.

      It’s not as if the alumni, the parents or anyone else can takeover the Academy and compel the Administration to take appropriate steps to address accreditation. The AAF has taken some action; I don’t know the status of that effort and it would be helpful to have more info about what that advisory committe is doing. But the bottom line is something we all learned as plebes (if we didn’t know it already) — you can’t push with a rope.

  2. In spooling through the largely blank document, other than previously released material (Advisory Board Report, LMI report & etc.) and numerous copies of the same letter from former DOT Secretary Foxx to various congresspeople/senators regarding suggested amendments to current law regarding KP, there is one intriguing last gift from Jaenichen; the Maritime Education and Training Executive Review Board (METERB) which “. . .will oversee the governance and management of the United States Merchant Marine Academy. . .” This board is composed of the Deputy Maritime Administrator, Chief Counsel, Executive Director, and a litany of Associate Administrators, ending with the Office of Civil Rights. However, there are absolutely no members from outside of DOT / MARAD. This “Board” is apparently supposed to meet MSCHE’s issues regarding the Governance of the Academy.

    However, as with the Academy’s current Board of Visitors and Advisory Board, this group has no real power or authority. It specifically CANNOT commit the expenditure of funds,execute contracts, hire, fire or discipline of Academy staff. Further, the Administrator has the right to override any of the Board’s “decisions.” Compare this lack of authority with that of the Superintendent of any other Federal Military Academy or the Board of Visitors (or whatever relevant title they may have) at any state owned / operated institute of higher education which provide the institution with the same functions, responsibilities and authority as a corporation’s Board of Directors.

    Thus, the METERB is simply another “fig leaf” for MARAD.

    If this is the kind of intellectual mush that was not redacted, one can only surmise the level of intellectual and personal integrity and rigor that was contained in the redacted portions. The bottom line here is that the Maritime Administrator (presently the Executive Director, Joez Sazbat) remains the real Superintendent of the Academy — which is the core of the MSCHE issues upon which accreditation was withheld.

  3. As long as they don’t figuratively hang themselves with that same rope.
    It seems to be a self-defeating proposition, to keep stakeholders in the dark so much.
    It does not inspire confidence and I have already heard of an instance, where the daughter of one of our classmates chose another university over Kings Point, due to the uncertainty.

  4. The comment, “The AAF has taken some action; I don’t know the status of that effort and it would be helpful to have more info about what that advisory committee is doing” speaks volumes. MARAD is silent. The AAF is silent.
    In the meantime, the alumni, via the KP Log, are engaged in group therapy searching for a reason for the stalemate. The reason is obvious…there is an absence of leadership at MARAD and the AAF.

    You can be rest assured that none of the other federal academies would be engaged in a bureaucratic standoff month- after- month without a defined and documented path forward to meet requisite obligations and hold all parties accountable. Alumni associations at the other institutions play a significant role in advancing Academy objectives.

    Perhaps it is time to clean house at the AAF and put in place a proactive leadership team that is committed to engage MARAD to move deliberately to expedite a plan of action to resolve the leadership and accreditation problem at Kings Point. The prevailing situation is more than embarrassing…it is an insult to every midshipman, every alumnus and the American taxpayer.

  5. Andy

    The response is fairly remarkable. Who would have thought a federal agency would go to these lengths to cloak their actions in secrecy. I have never seen anything like it. The only logical conclusion is, you have quite the reputation for investigative reporting. When you prevail, and you will, the non redacted information will be provided. How ridiculous will MARAD look when the real information is provided. Will it really appear to be covered by the deliberative process exception? Most likely not and then who will be held accountable for obfuscating FOIA response requirements? Its good to know they have responded, but i think their answers may be like throwing gasoline on the fire and they know it. Maybe these secret responses will be the fuel that will cause a raging inferno that consumes the hidden agendas and alternative motives that appear to be at play. Keep up the good fight. You have many interested parties in your corner.

    Patrick McCarthy

    • I totally agree with Mr. McCarthy’s assessment…in the final analysis, Andy’s outstanding work will prove invaluable in exposing MARAD malfeasance and hopefully correcting the situation.

  6. I believe the redaction’s are a clear indication that MARAD and Co. are attempting to lock in their prescriptive “actions” to Middle States, and therefore cement whatever agenda’s are “afoot” in place in an effort to tie the hands of any future leadership WHEN and IF changes are made at MARAD or in Wiley Hall. Regarding those “actions, there are many distressing rumors concerning the RoM, its command structure, INDOC and and Plebe year. Silence, not idle hands, are the devil’s workshop here.

  7. Folks,
    Once again Mr. Helis and MARAD think the stakeholders are irrelevant, and MOC and DOT seem to believe what they are told by the Academy leadership and MARAD Temporary leadership, despite checking the facts.

    USMMA are telling MOC and others the following:
    According to their policies, the USMMA accreditation status report belongs to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) from the time we submitted it on March 1st, until the time the MSCHE issues its findings – expected in early June.

    MSCHE does not want MARAD/USMMA to share the March 1st report until they release it. After MSCHE issues its finding, USMMA is free to release its status report, and the MSCHE evaluation team report, along with the MSCHE finding.

    THIS IS 100% INACCURATE – I spoke to MSCHE and what the USMMA is claiming in not factual.

    In fact, click the following link and one can read directly from MSCHE their position on what institutes are to do when it comes to sharing this document:

    http://www.msche.org/documents/P4.1-PublicCommunication062614final.pdf

    So, which is it DPP or MSCHE policy? They should get their story straight! They use terms and words to MOC and other stakeholders and often it is just accepted, please don’t just accept this this time. This is the accreditation of a US Federal Service Academy on Warning- and its redacted.

    They did not blame MSCHE as to why they are hiding their responses via redacting their answers, they use different arguments for different people.

    Time to use facts and hold Mr. Helis publically accountable for his destruction of the USMMA, misstatements, and time to have MARAD answer to the people and stop the lies. Do your job Mr. Helis! or get out!

    • You are correct that the claim of ownership of the submission is false. Critically, the ONLY basis that MARAD asserted for redacting the document in response to my FOIA request was the claim that the “deliberative process” exemption applied. Under the law, they’ve waived any other objection. The “ownership” claim was never asserted.

  8. Andy

    USMMA and MARAD are telling MOC and others who ask for it the ownership reason as well. Mr Helis used it already to a stakeholder MOC office who inquired. This they use different arguments depending on who is asking.

    • Someone should direct them to the FOIA response where MARAD invokes the deliberative process exemption and do not invoke the silly ownership argument. If I were a MOC and someone in the Executive Branch gave me an “inaccurate” [I’m being charitable here] explanation, I’d be calling someone on the carpet.

  9. In a nutshell, I have read the Middle State Guidelines. In the furtherance of integrity, I will admit that there is ONE confusing line in there that MARAD may be able to use to justify not providing the requested document as “property of Middle States”, but it is ambiguous at best. Regardless, that is not the claim they made in their foil denialand I believe Mr. Simpson is correct in that they are bound by their “deliberative process ” response.
    But, more importantly, those very same Middle States documents, which MARRAD seems to be referring to, talk extensively about the need for the institution to be open with stakeholders such as students, alumni and parents and the need to have those stakeholders brought into the reaccreditation process.
    So I would ask the following–Are there any parents groups , student groups or alumni groups out there that were contacted by the Academy regarding the accreditation process and the Academy’s March 1 response to the Middle States warning. Were any of them offered a chance to assist in the accreditation and warning response process? Or, was it the very same people under whom the Academy’s accreditation was put at risk who formulated a response? Inquiring minds want to know.

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