Check out Maritime TV’s latest “Ask the Administrator”

Maritime TV runs a regular “Ask the Administrator” feature and now that RADM Mark H. Buzby has taken command as Maritime Administrator, it has posted its first “Ask the Administrator” with him. The video can be accessed here. It’s a wide-ranging interview covering a host of important topics, from restoration of sea year at Kings Point, to establishing a National Maritime Center of Excellence at the Academy, to new training ships for state schools, to the future of the Jones Act.

Of particular interest to me is RADM Buzby’s comments (staring at 15:35) on governance at the Academy. He was asked about Tom McCaffery’s (’76) recent Op-Ed in Proceedings of the U.S. Naval Institute regarding the need for a new model for governance of the Academy. It seems to me that RADM Buzby acknowledges that there is room for improvement and is open to hearing new ideas as to how the Academy could be governed.

Tom recently commented here at KPS about the governance issue.  As I indicated in reply to Tom,

I think now is the time to get a good governance solution in place — while we have a Maritime Administrator and Secretary of Transportation who wholeheartedly support KP and, I believe, have the foresight to want to put KP on a secure mooring that will last long after they are out of office.

Establishing a good structure for the governance of the Academy would solve many of the problems that have recurred at Kings Point over the last 40 or so years. RADM Buzby mentions in the interview that KP presently has three different oversight boards. I suspect that the three boards were created at various times to try to plug one gap or another in the governance structure; while well-intentioned, they strike me as Band-Aids. I’d love to see momentum build to arrive at a comprehensive solution for governance/oversight.

Feel free to put your (constructive) ideas as to how the ideal oversight board would function in the comments.  Who would be on it? How would the members be chosen? What powers would the board have? Etc.  I hope to put up a full post in the not-too-distant-future about the governance structure that I believe would work best for the Academy and will incorporate ideas from the comments in that post.


  1. The advisory board needs to be eliminated now that we have a board of visitors with teeth . It is abundantly clear that the members of the advisory board do not understand our fundamental mission and they unfortunately bring big academia ideas as to how Kings Point should be run and what should e taught . So step one, let’s get rid of that group that has been non productive and in recent history destructive in their recommendations and comments . The BOV on the other hand has the theoretical ability to really help KP as issues present themselves seeing that our members of Congress control the purse strings . I believe that if the Alumni Board and it’s executive committee are working closely with Wiley Hall to identify needs and problems , that engagement between these groups and the BOV is sufficient to address nearly all issues .

  2. I had considered recommending the transfer of USMMA to either Military Sealift Command (MSC) or U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) for many reasons. One of these was specifically the fact that such a transfer could be included in a package of responsibilities that could be better accomplished by MSC / TRANSCOM such as managing the Ready Reserve Force (RRF) and the Maritime Security Program (MSP), which probably should be done anyway. However, if KP is transferred to any Department of Defense entity KP will continue to have the same basic problem it has now — lack of direct alumni/stakeholder involvement in governance and leadership. In addition, if KP were to become a DoD entity, it would be directly competing for finances with the military academies with the disadvantage of not having a service filled with alumni to look out for its best interest. For these reasons I believe that KP needs to remain independent of DoD and reform should be along the lines of the administrative structure, governance and leadership of the Senior Military Colleges and State Maritime Schools. Does this mean that KP may require students to pay tuition in the future? Perhaps. But if this is the price of stability and freedom from Marad, then this is a price that should be paid.

    Further, in this event, this would enable (require?) the alumni to play a much, much larger part in financing KP’s operations, facilities and its future through endowments, none of which is possible under the current structure. A comparison between the alumni/parent fund raising operation at the Senior Military College I am most familiar with — Virginia Military Institute — and KP shows a difference in alumni funding and involvement that is orders of magnitude greater than that at KP, despite the schools being essentially the same size in terms of enrollment and alumni. The reasons for the differences boil down, in my opinion, to the fact that VMI NEEDS alumni money to help fund key day-to-day operations while KP only “needs” alumni funding to support sports teams and so forth. This had led to the KP alumni almost having to beg KP to accept donations. So, in the end it really comes down to money. The four military academies have high concentrations of alumni throughout their respective services who make sure that the money gets to their respective service academy, KP does not and never has had the same situation. The only way to create such a situation, in my opinion, is to establish KP as separate entity, governed by an alumni-majority board. Precedent for such independent boards for government owned institutions exist, for example the Kennedy Center or the former Maritime Subsidy Board.

    • Tom, with respect to your last point (about the need for an independent board), I think another precedent may be Amtrak (although with its track record, maybe we don’t want to use that example!). Amtrak is a Congressionally-chartered corporation that falls under the purview of the Dept. of Transportation. Its board is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. It is funded in two primary ways: Part of its budget is funded as part of the DOT budget; but, it also gets a direct appropriation from Congress for a significant part of its budget. An advantage of this direct appropriation is that Amtrak is not forced to compete within the DOT as part of DOT’s budgetary priorities. A disadvantage is that this direct appropriation brings it before Congress for criticism and as a target for cost-cutting when Congress is trying to trim budgets. I don’t think this disadvantage would be as serious for KP as it is for Amtrak, but it is something that would have to be carefully thought out.
      Another issue that needs to be addressed if we go to independent governance (which I agree is the way to go) is how we deal with the Academy personnel system. Federal employees enjoy a lot of rights under Title 5 of the US Code and there are significant limits on what a department head can do in terms of hiring, firing, disciplining, replacing, and paying employees. Do the employees stay under that system if we have independent governance? Is there a way that they can remain under the current system but still let the independent governing body have a significant amount of control in terms of making decisions to hire or fire a superintendent and in terms of setting employment policies for the Academy personnel? How does tenure work in the federal system and how would that transfer under an independent governance structure? I haven’t thought of how these issues might play out and am throwing them out there in the hopes that other commenters might contribute some ideas on those issues.

  3. Good point on Amtrak and other government owned corporations. The key thing here is that precedents exist for doing what needs to be done.

    The issue of government vs private hiring / firing is handled at all of the various state institutions of higher education, including the Senior Military Colleges (e.g. VMI) and State Maritime Academies. The bottom line is that most employees continue to have state employee status and rights while some management level personnel (e.g. Superintendent, Academic Dean, Commandant & etc.) serve at the pleasure of the institution’s governing board and have employment contracts.

  4. Tom, you and Andy make solid observations, here and in your paper, on governance. I imagine there are some tricky parts of having contract civilians managing federal employees. But if Buzby is truly open to straightening out the roles and responsibilities involved it is probably best to take advantage of that opening and then solving these other complexities as they arise. Were any of the VA changes instructive here?

  5. Thinking about the future of KP, here is a simple idea.

    (The numbers used throughout the concept are an approximation, i.e. best guesses.)

    Like the SMA’s, start accepting NROTC Scholarships. Currently approximately 20% of graduating KP Mids take an active duty option. How much budget from DOD comes to USMMA now to repay the costs for DOT training ~20% of graduates who choose the Active Duty option? Any? Why not accept NROTC Scholarships for those incoming Mids who want to apply and declare that option early on? Those students would have an option of not committing before the start of Year 3, at which time they would lose their NROTC Scholarships. They could however stay on at USMMA with only a Commercial CG License Option. If any non-NROTC Mid wants to apply for a NROTC Scholarship for years 2-4, then they should have that option.

    NROTC Mids would not be required to sit for CG Exams, unless they so choose to. NROTC Mids would continue the same Major Tracks as current Mids, and have the same Sea-Year Track, with one change. They would be cross-trained on both Navy Vessels and Commercial Vessels. My proposal goes something like this: SY1 (4 Months) – on a Navy Ship. Last year, CDR Justin Harts proved that the Navy could absorb these Mids during the attempt by Helis et al to kill Sea Year. Especially from Sept-May when Annapolis Mids are not competing for Summer slots. During SY2 (8 Month) – this would be split half on a Commercial Vessel and half back on a Navy Ship. Instead of an short land-based intern period with a Commercial Company, they could opt to experience another type of Naval Element like Intel, Aviation, Supply, etc. Spending 2/3rds of their time on Navy Ships would theoretically quicker placement of other mids on Commercial Ships. Theoretically is the key word, Helis et al may yet find another way to screw the pooch on that one again.

    The Navy may have to review SWO Training options for USMMA Grads, with the ability to test out of some of the requirements, and get them to the fleet sooner after Graduation rather than spend the full time at SWO School (or whatever we call it now). NROTC Mids would have the usual option of pursuing Aviation instead of SWO. Non-NROTC Mids would have the option to apply for Active Duty service in any of the Branches of Service as they do now.

    What would NROTC Scholarships bring to the Academy?

    1) Funding. If 50 incoming Mids are on scholarship each year, and the value of each scholarship is ~$45,000, then that is $2,250,000 per class the first year. If there is attrition, which there will be, then let’s go with 45 the second year, and 40 for each of years 3 and 4, after Commitment. That’s roughly 175 Mids enrolled in the 4th year of the Program, and ~$7,875,000 in extra revenue. Let’s be conservative, and round that down to $5,000,000/year. Again: How much budget from DOD comes to USMMA now to repay the costs for DOT training ~20% of graduates who choose the Active Duty option? Any? What can USMMA do with an extra $5m/year? How about supplementing a Graduate Level Degree Program at the Academy?

    2) Professional Active Duty Military Experience into Senior Leadership. Assign a Active Duty 0-6 as Commander of the NROTC Detachment, to serve along side the Commandant of the Regiment, with dotted-line reporting to the Super while maintaining traditional Chain of Command in the Navy ROTC Structure to ensure proper training of the Mids. This level of independence would ensure Political Appointees such as Jaenichen (sp) would have less negative impact on the NROTC Mids, at least in theory. The Navy Captain would rotate out every 2-3 years.

    It’s a simple proposal, one which would have a lot of push-back from 1) traditionalists like the Alumni Foundation who see no need for change except to innovate to increase their donations; and 2) political operatives like Jaenichen and Helis who want to use social engineering to implement their political beliefs.

    My numbers may be way off. Heck the DOD may be providing funding now far greater than what we know of. If so, then it’s all moot.

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