Clarification about the RFQ — and a look at how a bureaucrat thinks

The RFQ was classic bureaucratic mumbo jumbo. It was pretty difficult to figure out what the Academy was looking for. But, at homecoming, the Superintendent and Maritime Administrator shed some light on it. In the process, we also gained some insight into what, to be kind, I will call the fuzzy “logic” that is driving Academy leadership. If I wanted to be less kind but more accurate, I would call it “buck-passing” or “scapegoating.”

In June, the administration knew that it was about to get criticized in the MSCHE accreditation report for not doing enough to address SA/SH at the Academy.  It also knew that the Inspector General had completed an assessment of the administration’s efforts at addressing SA/SH at the Academy and was preparing its report (ultimately issued in August 2016). The IG was measuring the administration’s efforts in 44 different categories and the Academy presumably knew by then that its track record was less than stellar.  (There I go, being kind again.)

I’ve commented before about the “look, a squirrel” nature of the sea year stand down cancellation decision. I’ve also proven that the the Academy’s own statistics do not support a claim that commercial mariners are the sources of SA/SH during sea year. So now Superintendent Helis has come up with a refined argument which goes something like this:

  1.  All the federal academies are surveyed about SA/SH and we are the worst in an apples-to-apples comparison.  (I’ve explained why I think that is not accurate and Maritime Administrator Jaenichen has yet to take me up on my offer to correct the record if it is accurate.)
  2. We are doing everything we can to address SA/SH by midshipmen (definitely not accurate, as I’ve shown here) and so are the other academies.  But, we still have a problem and the other academies’ performance in this area is improving.  Therefore, there must be an external answer.
  3. The primary difference between the USMMA and the other federal academies is that USMMA has a sea year.
  4. Q.E.D., that must explain the difference.  I.e., sea year must be turning midshipmen into sexists and sexual predators.
  5. The administration believes this is confirmed by reports from faculty members that when midshipmen come back from sea year, they are “different.”

That’s the ultimate in fuzzy logic. First, the administration hasn’t done everything it can.  It failed to implement a full third of the initiatives that it was supposed to have completed by November 2015 according to the Inspector General. Second, if the Academy leadership had ever sailed, or would simply take the time to actually listen to the alumni (they’re still willing to help despite the fact that Helis evicted them from the campus on false pretenses four years ago), the administration could easily understand why, and how, midshipmen are different when they return from sea year. They are different. It has nothing to do with SA/SH. In fact, probably quite the opposite. When midshipmen come back from sea year, they’ve been in the “real world.” They’ve seen what counts and matters on ships. Many midshipmen come back with an attitude about the regimental system or about some of their academic courses because they believe that those things won’t matter out in the real world. On the other hand, they don’t come back as monsters or with regressive attitudes about women. They are more mature; and they’ve seen examples of highly competent women: as  licensed and unlicensed shipmates, in boarding contingents from the Coast Guard, in shipyards, and in every aspect of shore side employment. And because it’s the real world — where SA/SH is taken seriously and people are promoted on the basis of competency rather than having job descriptions rewritten to eliminate competition for the job — if anything, they come back with an awareness that the maritime industry is just like any other private industry when it comes to women.

Which gets us to the purpose of the RFQ.  Based upon what was reported at homecoming, the purpose of the RFQ is to understand the culture at the Academy and in the shipping industry to find out why midshipmen come back “changed” after sea year with respect to SA/SH. The taxpayers are apparently going to fund a study to explain a phenomenon that is based upon a flawed hypothesis — a hypothesis driven by people with a motive to find an explanation for the SA/SH problem at the Academy that is unrelated to their demonstrable and abject failure to address the problem. And that’s the real purpose of the RFQ.


  1. Seek and ye shall find – or the report will tell them what they want, that sea year is detrimental to the mids. They better be careful, this is a slippery slope, as they will be damning the entire shipping industry on this one. I agree with your assessment, they do come back changed, I saw it in my own son, he came back a mature individual, focused on the task ahead to graduate, focused on what he wanted to do after graduation, and yea maybe a “sailor” mouth and a beard, but hardly a deviant, pirate running amuck.

  2. Great analysis of the maturation process of sea year. Unless you’ve been there you will never understand. Six months at sea with exposure to different cultures and hands on life experiences gives one a different perspective on the importance of squaring corners back at KP.

  3. My experience with MARAD Studies is that the results are predetermined by MARAD. They are intended to validate MARAD’s decisions by placing a stamp of approval on them by “independent third parties”. Further, woe betide the contractor whose study doesn’t come up with the “correct” answer.

  4. My biggest question is what is a retired Army Infantry Officer doing at the helm? I’m retired Army and, without questioning his leadership and education, couldn’t they get somebody who actually served at sea to run the place? I don’t think the Air Force Academy would put a guy in the seat who only flew on commercial airliners.

  5. He’s not getting much respect from the “students” as he refers to them… On Homecoming Weekend, the consensus from the “students” I chatted with was, “Colonel Klink shutdown Sea Year.”

  6. I find that I have not gotten the total picture on what is happening at my “great” school. Perhaps giving us the background on what the problems are would help understand what is going on. As a start what is the purpose of a RFQ and SA/SH.It would benefit those of us who just recently found out that the Administration is looking to close the school by falsehoods, trickery and LYING. Please bring us up to date. ACTA NON VERBA

    • Fred, I think your suggestion that we put up a summary of the “total picture” is a good one. I’ll try to work on that. In the meantime, your question on the RFQ is not an uncommon one — because it is essentially a bunch of verbiage that says nothing. We think that was part of the plan for steering this to a chosen bidder. No one in their right mind who did not have an insider track on the contract would bid on the RFQ because there are no standards in it.

      We learned at homecoming (from what the Superintendent and Maritime Administrator told us) a lot more about the RFQ. The administration has predetermined that the problem with SA/SH at the Academy is caused by behavior that the midshipmen learn at sea. There is no data to support this. It is simply a conclusion that the administration has reached and I’ve explained the fuzzy logic here. The purpose of the RFQ is to answer this question even though the premise for the question is flawed. Ultimately, as we are now learning, the result of the climate study is pre-ordained. It is designed to justify/validate the Administration’s stand down cancellation decision and the result will be a recommendation that midshipmen NOT be assigned to commercial vessels during sea year. Instead, we are hearing that an alternative will be proposed in which most, if not all, of sea year will be spent on Military Sealift Command vessels.

Comments are closed.