MARAD-directed USMMA Culture Study contaminated by conflict of interest
(This new post fits in with the series we have been running on MARAD’s behind-the-scenes manipulation of Congress to attempt to force Congress to bail out the six state maritime schools by funding a $1.8 billion fleet of new training ships and MARAD’s abuse of USMMA’s sea year to aid that effort. Part 1 described the surreptitious removal of language in a Senate bill that would have authorized “ship sharing” that would protect the state schools in the event one of their training ships was out of service. Part 2 detailed the state schools’ quest to get Congress to fund the $1.8 billion fleet and explained how the ship sharing language undermined the state schools’ efforts to create a crisis-like atmosphere to justify the appropriation and thus had to be removed. This new information regarding LMI is important enough that it needed its own post. So we’ve expanded the series and this is part 3 of what we hope will be a 4 part series.)
An unexpected result of the impending change in Executive Branch leadership is that administration employees have begun to provide information on our confidential tip line. This post results from such a tip.
Recall that we knew that MARAD’s “competitive” Request for Quote (“RFQ”) to conduct a “culture” study at USMMA was not competitive and instead was “wired” from the start. Before the bid period had even closed, sources told us that a company named LMI had been pre-selected to get the contract. We posted this information long before the bid was awarded and, unsurprisingly, our sources were right.
When the contract was awarded to LMI, we searched in vain for something that would suggest that LMI had a legitimate reason to get the contract award. We found no evidence that LMI had any background in the U.S. maritime industry or USMMA. We also found that it had almost no experience dealing with the assessment of cultures for sexual assault/sexual harassment (“SA/SH”). We scoured the biographies on the LMI website of the LMI management team — directors, officers and program directors — and we were unable to find a natural link between LMI and DOT/MARAD that would explain why LMI was wired for the culture study at USMMA.
So when a tipster wrote on Friday to tell us we should check out the connection between Marlise Streitmatter (Deputy Chief of Staff for former DOT Secretary Ray LaHood) and LMI, we were naturally curious. We were stunned to learn that she not only works for LMI, she is also involved in the USMMA culture study. This certainly suggests the explanation as to how LMI, an arguably unqualified vendor for the culture study, was wired to get the contract award from DOT/MARAD. In addition, Ms. Streitmatter’s involvement in the USMMA culture study is a conflict of interest that undermines the credibility of the study. Here’s why:
Ms. Streitmatter was then-Secretary LaHood’s Deputy Chief of Staff from at least 2009 until mid-2013. She was the number four person in the DOT during her tenure there and was tasked by LaHood to handle the many issues dealing with USMMA. To put this in perspective, Ms. Steitmatter was the Secretary’s point person for USMMA issues when DOT/MARAD:
- Removed RADM Philip Greene as Superintendent of the Academy
- Closed the Global Maritime and Transportation School (“GMATS”) at the Academy
- Ordered that USMMA’s Melville Hall, Athletic Association and other non-appropriated funding instrumentalities be shutdown
- Hired Chip Jaenichen as Deputy Maritime Administrator
- Ordered the transfer of the T/V Kings Pointer to Texas Maritime, leaving USMMA without a training vessel
- Forced the resignation of MARAD’s Chief Counsel in 2011 for seeking an inspector general investigation into SA/SH at USMMA
- Hired James Helis to replace Greene as the Superintendent of the Academy
- Selected all new members of the Academy Advisory Board and made Sharon van Wyk the chair
- Evicted the USMMA Alumni Association and Foundation under false pretenses
Unfortunately, Ms. Streitmatter’s conflict of interest isn’t limited to just her involvement with MARAD and USMMA. She demonstrated antagonism towards USMMA and its stakeholders during her tenure that establishes that she is biased and cannot be relied upon to act in the best interests of the Academy. For example, her reaction upon learning that a judge had denied the Alumni Association’s effort to avoid eviction from the Academy’s grounds was: “Woo Hoo!!!!”
Before the eviction, but while things were still tense between MARAD and the Alumni Association over the removal of Greene, the closure of GMATS, etc., the Alumni Association proposed a meeting with Superintendent Helis for, among other purposes, showing Congress “that there are good working relationships between the AAF and the Academy.” Showing unity to Congress — the source of funding for the Academy — would normally be considered a positive thing for the Academy. Helis said that he planned to decline the meeting and Ms. Streitmatter’s response was telling: “Yes, please decline.”
Another telling conflict of interest lies in the fact that as part of the culture study, LMI is contractually obligated to assess the performance of leadership at the Academy:
“C.1.4 Conduct an assessment of the role of USMMA leadership and management, both historically and currently, in addressing a climate in which sexual assault, sexual harassment, other forms of sex discrimination, retaliation, and related misconduct has persisted.”
See RFQ (emphasis added).
Ms. Streitmatter (and therefore LMI) cannot possibly provide an objective evaluation of leadership at the Academy. She was intimately involved in the hiring of Helis as Superintendent. She was involved in the much-criticized rewriting of the position description for the Superintendent that eliminated the requirement that the Superintendent have a maritime background (and therefore opened the door for Helis to get the job). After the candidates for Superintendent were narrowed down from over 100 to 3, and after they had been interviewed by three separate panels, the three finalists were subject to one final interview. Ms. Streitmatter was one of the three members of that final interview panel. The result of that final interview was that Helis got the job. Thus, Helis’ documented failure to address SA/SH at the Academy is a direct reflection upon Ms. Streitmatter’s performance in evaluating the final candidates for the Superintendent position.
Ms. Streitmatter was on the steering committee for the strategic plan that was criticized throughout the final report of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (“MSCHE”) accreditation team. She was involved in the selection of Sharon van Wyk as chair of the Academy Advisory Board. Van Wyk is the one who conducted an unprofessional, unscientific, and undocumented focus group of midshipmen that was then presented in an undocumented oral report to Secretary of Transportation Foxx that resulted in the
standing down cancellation of sea year. Can we really expect LMI to come out with a report — as it should — that says van Wyk’s informal SA/SH study was unreliable and should be ignored, when Ms. Streitmatter was so involved in van Wyk’s selection to be the chair of the Academy Advisory Board?
Incredibly, Ms. Streitmatter was part of the senior leadership at DOT that forced out MARAD’s chief counsel in an effort to avoid an Inspector General investigation into SA/SH at USMMA in 2011. Does anyone expect LMI to issue a report examining leadership’s role “in addressing a climate in which sexual assault, sexual harassment, other forms of sex discrimination, retaliation, and related misconduct has persisted” that recognizes Ms. Streitmatter’s DOT team’s failure of leadership by trying to cover up SA/SH at the Academy rather than investigate it?
By now, it should be pretty evident that one purpose of the LMI study is to cover up the failure of leadership to address SA/SH at the Academy and provide a counter to the Inspector General and MSCHE Accreditation Reports that criticize that failure. But, it also seems likely, as we have previously predicted, that the primary purpose of the LMI study is pre-ordained to justify the administration’s sea year
stand down cancellation and recommend that sea year on commercial ships be discontinued in favor of sea year on United States owned vessels only. Regardless, whatever result is finally released, it cannot be relied upon. Ms. Streitmatter’s link between DOT and LMI completely undermines the validity of any conclusion reached by LMI.
Congress and the DOT Inspector General need to investigate every aspect of the circumstances that led to the awarding of the contract to LMI and the conflict of interest that is inherent in having Ms. Streitmatter involved in this culture study.
As an aside, it is interesting that Ms. Streitmatter’s connection with LMI is difficult to uncover. LMI is not shy about announcing new employees in the news section of its website and one would expect that landing the former Number Four person in USDOT would be worthy of announcement. But there is no announcement to be found on the LMI website. The one blog post Streitmatter made on LMI’s blog has been scrubbed — it’s almost as if LMI wants to make it difficult for someone to find out that Ms. Streitmatter works for it. But, Google remembers:
Great work, but I’m sure anyone who does not want to address these facts will call you a “nut job” for confronting reality.
I’ll take that risk! It’s why we’ve been very careful to provide sources for the factual statements we make; and, if we are drawing conclusions from facts, to identify them as such so that the reader can draw his or her own conclusions. When our predictions come true — i.e., predicting that LMI was wired for the contract — it makes it difficult to characterize us as “nut jobs.” Hopefully, the light we are shining on the LMI culture study will be intense enough that upper management at LMI will decide that LMI’s reputation (which is generally very good) is too important and quash any effort to wire the result of the study. We’d love it if our prediction of the pre-ordained result is wrong for that reason.
Excellent work. I am forwarding this post to the legislative liaison for my Congressman and requesting confirmation that he will seek investigation of the choice of LMI to perform this culture study as well as the involvement of Ms. Streitmatter in the development and execution of this study.
This is an outstanding analysis of the paper-trail leading to the present dilemma. Clearly, Marlise Streitmatter’s fingerprints are all over the operation and DOT attempts to ensure plausible denial have failed. The operative language is “Congress and the DOT Inspector General need to investigate every aspect of the circumstances that led to the awarding of the contract to LMI and the conflict of interest that is inherent in having Ms. Streitmatter involved in the culture study”.
Taken together, wiring the contract, rewriting the position description for the Superintendent’s position to preclude the need for maritime experience, participating in the selection of the current Superintendent from three finalists from a field of one-hundred applicants, hiring the current Deputy Maritime Administrator, finessing the resignation of MARAD’s Chief Counsel, facilitating the selection of Ms. van Vyk as the chair of the Academy Advisory Board, etc. represent a complete lack of professional integrity and a concerted effort to undermine the Academy.
The orchestration of all of the other related events, e.g., evicting the AAF from Academy premises, closing GMATS, removing Adm. Greene, etc. are all intertwined with the DOT/MARAD fundamental objective of disemboweling USMMA.
Diogenes, the ancient Greek philosopher wandered around with a lantern “looking for an honest man”. The question now is can we find an honest man to with the courage to expose this shameful travesty for what it is and remediate the situation? That is the challenge!
Great Work. At the Homecoming “Open Mike” exchange Chip Jaenichen as Deputy Maritime Administrator stated that the RFQ required experience in the maritime industry. I have not seen any such condition or LMI qualification. Now it seems apparent that the “experience” comes from an insider to support the MARAD Sea Year shut down….
Every parent and past grad should forward this to congressmen and senators in their state, we need them informed with the right facts.
https://twitter.com/lmi_org/status/565971316931837952 <— the connection is pretty cut and dry right there
Also, if memory recalls, the Academy uniform follows the regs of the US Navy. Where in Navy regulation is the Ranger Tab and Army Unit Patch authorized? Every time I look at "RADM" Helis, I cringe. The guy is a clown and the Academy is being run into the ground. It's sad. Hopefully a new administration can clean house.
As someone who works in the realm of Government Contracting, there is no such thing as pre-selection unless we are talking about engineering services. If there is a violation of the Federal Acquisition Regulation, someone could end up in prison.
Was this a full and open competitive action, or did they sole source the selection?
It was supposedly an open competition. It definitely was not sole source. The RFQ is here. But as of Sept. 11, and probably as early as Sept. 9, 2016, LMI knew that it was getting the contract. That information was leaked to someone outside of LMI on Sept. 11 and we got wind of it on Sept. 14. We posted our information on Sept. 15 here, before the bids were due. (We wanted to make sure we had the news posted before bids were due so that it would be evident that the RFQ was “wired.”)
Almost hree weeks later, the award was announced and, sure enough, LMI got it.
I took a quick look at the RFQ. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough information here to know the acquisition strategy. From the wording of the RFQ, it looks like it was not full and open. In the DOD, “Task Order” means that it will be awarded to a pre-existing contract. However, this is the DOT, not the DOD. In the DOT world, “Task Order” could have a could have a completely different meaning.
When I mentioned a “pre-existing contract” there are two versions of this that I know of.
1) A sole source to an 8A company as a base contract to tack on Task Orders at a negotiated value. (LMI is not an 8A from what I can tell)
2) A group of pre-screened contractors that all qualify who will receive the RFQ and respond competitively.
A FORMAL Investigation into Streitmatter, van Wyck, LMI, Foxx, Jaenichen, Rodriguez, Blower, & Helis, MUST be initiated to show the Midshipmen, that this kind of leadership is not acceptable, and never modeled. Could there be: Unclean Hands? Self-dealing? Inherent and Actual Conflict of Interest? Unjust Enrichment? Conspiracy to Defraud? Conspiracy to Cover Up?
A full, FORMAL Investigation is absolutely warranted, and appropriate actions must be taken, based on the investigation’s findings!
Good work..now how do we get rid of Helis?