Finally: The DOT’s Non-Answers to Congress’ 14 questions

The Department of Transportation has finally deigned to “answer” the 14 questions submitted by the Chairman of Academy’s Congressional Board of Visitors and 12 other Members of Congress on September 2, 2016. In exercising their appropriate oversight role, the Members requested a response within five business days (Sept.  12, 2016). In a show of the arrogance that many have come to expect from MARAD/DOT, the DOT did not get around to “answering” the questions until October 25, 2016.

I put “answer” in quotes because by my calculation, questions 1, 2, 4, 7, 8, and 13 were not answered (and I’m giving major benefit of the doubt on the response to question 6).  Here are the cover letter from the DOT and the 14 “answers”.

So let’s talk about the non-answer to question 6:

“Why has MARAD permitted State Maritime Academy students to sail on commercial vessels from which MARAD removed USMMA Midshipmen for safety and climate concerns?”


“MARAD does not have the authority to direct State Maritime Academies (SMAs) to place or remove students from vessels other than those ships that the Maritime Administration owns.”

MARAD owns the training ships the state maritime schools use. Do you really mean to tell me that MARAD cannot tell the schools, “Look, we’ve deemed commercial ships to be unsafe for cadets. If you don’t protect your students by keeping them off the commercial ships, we are going to recall the training vessels that we’ve loaned to your schools.”?

There are lots of ways that MARAD could exercise the authority if it wanted to. In FY2016, it provided the six state schools with $3 million in direct support and $23.2 million for repairs, maintenance and fuel for the six state school training ships. MARAD could easily tell the schools that the money will be withheld if the schools don’t protect their students from the evil that MARAD has identified.

The key is that MARAD doesn’t want the state school cadets off of the ships. I’m working on a very long post right now that explains why. But here’s a hint:  SUNY Maritime College’s training vessel, the T/V Empire State VI, will be decommissioned in 2019.  Even if MARAD could get the $1.8 billion (before cost overruns) it is seeking to bail out the state schools by building their training ships for them, the first one could not be completed before the T/V Empire State VI is decommissioned.

So here’s the question: Where is SUNY Maritime going to put its students in 2019 (or sooner)?

And here’s the answer: When LMI and/or MARAD recommend that USMMA sea year training be done exclusively on MSC, other state maritime school training ships, and other federal platforms, it will then be clear why commercial ships — the core of the Academy sea year curriculum — are no longer a part of the Academy’s core curriculum and are instead a part of SUNY Maritime’s core curriculum.


  1. MARAD could be forced to withhold funding from the SMAs, to include shutting down the school ships…
    – Title IX requires that the Federal Government withhold funding from colleges who knowingly subject their student bodies to SASH. How can MARAD provide financial support to the SMAs who place their students in danger?

    MARAD cant have it both ways.

    • The Dept of Education Office of Civil Rights contact information can be found at:

      Civil Rights Hotline
      Call the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at 1-800-421-3481 to report any educational discrimination on the basis of race, sex, disability, etc., request information on civil rights compliance programs, procedures for filing discrimination complaints, or access to civil rights regulatory and policy documents. The local number in Washington, D.C. is 202-453-6100. Federal Relay Service. Email:
      See the OCR Contact Us page to find the enforcement office serving your area or use the OCR Electronic Complaint Form.

    • Unfortunately, the Title IX withhold funding route isn’t quite that simple. There is a formal process that must be followed. See 45 C.F.R. 80.8. And it appears to me that it must be initiated by the Secretary of Education or HHS. (The CFR refers to HHS; but, it covers more than just Title IX. I think in Title IX cases, it has to be initiated by the Sec. of Ed. But I haven’t researched it thoroughly.)

      That said, there’s no reason that MARAD cannot exert pressure using the funding hammer that it has.

    • This webpage has the MARAD contacts for FOIA. At the bottom of the page, there is a link to a downloadable document that gives details about how to submit a request. It’s pretty easy. You can submit via email.

  2. To paraphrase a former jurist, ” please don’t piss on me and tell me it’s raining.”.

    Over the time that my mid has been at the academy, it ‘s become clear that I am more “left wing ” than most academy parents. That said, the response from this administration is an embarrassment. Let’s be clear– if there is a legal reason it cannot cut off funding to the SMAs, I might be able to accept it. The fact is, however, that they are never prohibited from expressing moral outrage, concern, or at least issuing a SASH warning of some sort about the SMAs putting kids on these ships that MARAD believes to be unsafe, particularly as to the kids that it supports financially. At the very least, it could threaten to withhold funding in the future.

    Yet, it has done nothing, which can only lead to one of two conclusions. Either MARAD think the ships are really “safe” or if not safe, they don’t care about the cadets they fund at the SMAs. Which is it?

    MARAD may never believe this, but I have never once bought into the idea of some on this board that they want USMMA to close or lose its accreditation.I cannot imagine that anybody would want the destruction of a top college to be the highlight of their career in higher education. Those who have read my posts know that my big issue has always been the fact that the stand down actually fails to address SASH and plays right into the hands of the sexists.

    Yet, everything MARAD does plays right into the hands of the conspiracy theorists. It has given its opponents absolutely no reason whatsoever to believe a word it say and the kids at USMMA are still being screwed and, if you believe MARAD that SASH at sea is a real problem, the SMA kids are being placed in harms way.

    Great job. MARAD.

    And that’s based on the answer to only one question. God only knows how bad the answers are to the others.

    • “God only knows how bad the answers are to the others.”

      The answers to all 14 questions are linked in the post. You can also see them here.

      As to whether it is a conspiracy to close KP, I can tell you without fear of contradiction that there is a cabal within MARAD and DOT that would be very happy to close KP. And if you read In Peace and War: A History of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, you will see that there have been repeated efforts to close KP. I think the most recent (prior) attempt was when Gore was Vice President. It was only the powerful intervention of Lane Kirkland, the president of the AFL-CIO (and a Kings Point graduate), that stopped it that time.

      “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I can appreciate that a parent of a midshipmen doesn’t know the history. Many of the alumni know the history and are determined that it will not be repeated.

      That said, I think there are a number of agendas working in concert. The drive to get the $1.8 billion to bail out the state schools is a huge part of Jaenichen’s agenda. Jaenichen, Helis and van Wyk all have motivation to hide the fact that the failure to address SA/SH problems at the Academy happened on their watch and the “look-a-squirrel” false narrative that SA/SH during sea year had risen to such levels that sea year had to be stood down cancelled was obviously deployed with the express intention of protecting the people who should be held accountable.

  3. If the members of the press really wanted a new story … why not an interview of the Presidents of the State Academies asking each why they permit their cadets to serve aboard merchant ships that Marad believes are unsafe SASHwise?

  4. I have now read their full response and while I really find it unsatisfactory overall, I am happy that they have publicly committed to the survival of the Academy.

    What I can never understand(and I have read that Middle States report at least five times) is their continued insistence that SASH is where the emphasis should be placed. As we all know, THAT IS NOT WHAT THE REPORT SAYS.

    Giving MARAD the benefit of the doubt, they seem to be saying that “the atmosphere” on campus at campus leads to SASH at sea. Assuming they are correct for a moment, the question is not what do the commercial shipping companies have to do. The questions should be “what have you people who have run the campus for the last five years been doing? Didn’t you notice a problem? There are two press releases from USMMA dated April 2016 touting their great SASH program. Guess it hasn’t worked as well as insinuated in those recent releases.

    Yet, as I have said before, the folks in charge still have their diplomas, their paychecks, their commissions and their licenses. The midshipmen should be so lucky. Shouldn’t at least somebody publicly take responsibility and resign or be fired for failing to address the campus “atmosphere”? That would at least give MARAD a veneer of credibility on the issue.

    Don’t hold your breath.

    BTW, I saw a headline on line today from New York City (Post or Daily News.. Can’t remember which.) The storyline is that women joggers in New York City are being harassed sexually and threatened on a regular basis when they go running in local parks. I’m waiting for the press release from the NYS Commissioner of Parks announcing that, at least temporarily, young men and women will not be permitted to jog in NYC parks while the problem is addressed.(Sorry for being so sarcastic, but the surrender to the abusers represented by the stand down is just too appalling for me to be reasonable about anymore.)

  5. MARAD makes some interesting points about the status of the students at sea in the response to #9 regarding cadet wages.
    For the following:
    1. Commercial ships; “employees of the commercial company and paid as such.”
    2. MSC; “Aboard MSC vessels, they have been considered employees and are paid, although it is not required by law.”
    3. Federal assets, including SMA and Academy training vessels and Ready Reserve Force (RRF) vessels, “are not considered Federal Government Employees and there is no legal requirement to pay them.”

    It appears these answers are relying on 46 CFR 310.60 Training on subsidized vessels and 46 CFR 310.61 Training on other vessels and by other facilities or agencies.

    With regard to the amount of pay, 46 CFR 310.60(c) states, “Pay. Midshipmen shall receive pay while employed aboard merchant vessels directly from the steamship company employers at the same rate received by cadets and midshipmen at the other Federal academies. ….The steamship company employers shall also pay the midshipmen such subsistence and room allowance in port, transportation allowances, and other bonuses or allowances as are paid to the licensed officers of the vessel in which the midshipmen are employed.”

    Other than 46 CFR 310.61, Is there any other labor law (USC) or CFR that allows “employees” to be paid below minimum wage? Does this CFR actually violate other US Code law regarding employment compensation rates for civilian students?

    Since the students are not employees on Federal Assets (detailed above), does that mean they can refuse work that would be normally done by employees?

  6. This was submitted by a KP grad who wishes to remain anonymous but is in a good position to know what he is talking about.

    I’d like to make a couple of points, based on my first-hand knowledge of recent events and practices at USMMA:

    1. In response to question 1, DOT states that the many of the vacancies highlighted by MSCHE have been filled, such as the Director of Admissions, Director of Academy Financial Management (assume this to be the vacant CFO position; Sadly, the USMMA website is so out of data that it still lists CAPT Bob Johnson as Director of Admissions, and makes no references (i.e., press releases, director listings, etc.) for any of these other key positions. Notably, the letter signed by Secretary Fox was dated October 25th, a full week after the Commandant’s reassignment, so it fails to mention that a key leadership position is now vacant. Also noteworthy is there is no mention of the vacant Academic Dean’s position, which has been vacant for over a year!!!! There are also other key vacancies, including the Director of Public Affairs (vacant for a couple of months) and the Director of Waterfront Activities (vacant for over two years).

    2. In response to question 10 regarding the Sea Project rubric, DOT touches on the USCG-approved merchant mariner credentialing program. The issue is far more complex than the answer suggests.

    Each maritime academy (USMMA and each state maritime academy (SMA)) submits a detailed “STCW package” to USCG that outlines their compliance with USCG and STCW requirements. There are two key elements of these submissions. The first is a kind of matrix or cross-walk that shows where in the curriculum (whether in residence or during sea year) each deck or engine midshipman obtains the practical knowledge and technical skills required under STCW (IMO) and USCG regulations. These skills run the gamut of abilities required to stand a deck or engine watch, monitor the plant, navigate the ship, fight fires, lower lifeboats, work with shipmates, etc. etc.

    The matrix also shows how that each set of knowledge or skill is assessed or determined. Assessment can be through an examination or through demonstration (e.g., by launching a lifeboat, tying knots, successfully navigating a ship in a bridge simulator, starting up a diesel generator in an engine lab, etc.). Critically, many of the “demonstrations” of practical knowledge takes place at sea, such as loading and discharging cargo, and many aspects of seamanship and ship handling.

    The second element of the USCG submission is the sea time equivalency. STCW requires 360 sea days or sea day equivalents for deck cadets in a program “approved” by the National Authority (i.e., USCG). My understanding of USMMA’s package for deck cadets is that it includes 300 actual sea days aboard ships, 30 equivalency days for simulator time, and 30 equivalency days for in-residence training (which includes a variety of watchstanding duties, as well as some of the curricular time spent aboard USMMA vessels such as TV Kings Pointer and TV Liberator). (The latter two equivalencies could be 45 for bridge simulator time and 15 for other duties, or vice versa.)

    Historically, USMMA midshipmen who were “short” a few commercial sea days could make up those days aboard TV Kings Pointer and TV Liberator during summer or inter-trimester cruises, or on weekend cruises, for a day-for-day basis. These make-up days were counted over and above the equivalency days noted above. USMMA had an internal policy that limited these make-up days to 15 or 30 days max.

    It is worth noting that STCW only requires 180 sea days for engine cadets, but USMMA has consistently sent them to sea for 300 days, due to the additional practical experience they obtain. It is also worth noting that the USCG packages submitted by the SMAs include a 1.5 multiplier for school ship time (i.e., a day and a half of seagoing time for each day spent aboard a training ship). The SMAs use the argument that experience gained under the direct instruction of a teaching staff aboard a school ship is more “valuable” than time spent on a working commercial ship. (I will not editorialize on the merits of this pedagogical approach.)

    My bottom line points are:
    A) As the sea year stand down drags on, USMMA will likely need to submit a revision of their STCW package to the USCG, particularly if USMMA will seek to use the same 1.5 day multiplier for time spent by USMMA cadets aboard any SMA school ship.
    B) USMMA will need to reassure USCG that the changes in shipboard experience (likely the reduction in actual sea time, through use of any equivalency time on state schoolships) impacts the matrix of knowledge and practical skill. That is to say, under the new training regimen, where each item is learned and how it will be assessed.
    C) The potential shortage of sea days is a little less dire for engine cadets, since they don’t technically require as many sea days as deck cadets. A revision of the STCW package for engine cadets could be made to reflect that lower number. However, the STCW package would need to show how that missing experience is otherwise acquired (e.g., through internships, etc.)
    D) It is unclear from the DOT response whether USMMA is already taking action on these issues, or whether they have even been brought to the USCG’s attention.

    Acta Non Verba!

  7. Looks like contingency planning at USMMA is more reactive than proactive.
    I hope this does not occur, but some midshipmen, particularly deckies, may be looking at a 5-year program, rather than a 4-year matriculation, until the knock-on effects of these decisions on Sea Year are all sorted out.

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