A recent editorial in a local New York newspaper (I’m deliberately not providing a link; driving traffic to it will merely raise its visibility in search engines) opined that USMMA alumni and parents are “[standing] in the way of independent efforts to determine what’s wrong – and what should change – at the school.” As this blog has spearheaded the effort the editorial criticized, I thought it appropriate to correct the misconceptions in that editorial.
The fundamental error in the editorial is the assumption – incorrect – that midshipmen are refusing to participate in an “independent” evaluation. There are two evaluations that are ongoing at the Academy. One evaluation, by a company called “LMI,” is not independent. Although the contract for the evaluation was supposed to be competitively bid, the news that LMI was getting the contract was leaked before bids were even submitted. This blog, not the local newspaper, delivered that scoop. The fact that LMI was “wired” to get the contract violates fundamental government contracting rules. And keep in mind that government agencies typically “wire” such contracts to a chosen vendor when they want to ensure that the vendor will deliver a pre-determined result.
After “choosing” LMI, the Department of Transportation widely publicized its intent to rely upon the completed LMI study before deciding whether to once again assign midshipmen to commercial ships during Sea Year. But, what the public and Congress didn’t know is that the decision to cancel Sea Year on commercial ships has already been made, and the LMI study is just a $363,000 ruse. DOT has already informed Congress that it requires an additional $7 million in funding because:
“[t]he Secretary of Transportation has recently determined that cadets should meet [sea year training] requirements by assignment to Federal vessels instead of by assignment to commercial vessels.”
So the decision is made; the LMI audit is clearly intended only to provide the façade of an independent study to Congress and the public. (The irony of the Secretary requiring midshipmen to train solely on federal ships is that the only recent report of sexual assault involving a midshipman occurred on a federal ship.)
As we documented in another scoop that the local newspaper missed, LMI’s “independence” is further compromised by a blatant conflict of interest. The Department of Transportation has tasked LMI with evaluating the current leadership of the Academy. But, who is on the LMI team conducting that evaluation? That would be LMI’s Marlise Streitmatter, the woman who led the selection of the current Superintendent of the Academy when she was Deputy Chief of Staff at . . . the Department of Transportation. Further, the current Maritime Administrator was hired at MARAD when Ms. Streitmatter was in DOT leadership and he took direction from her. As we have also documented, Ms. Streitmatter was also part of DOT leadership when MARAD’s Chief Counsel was forced to resign – for requesting an Inspector General investigation into allegations of sexual harassment at the Academy. The types of conflict of interest that Ms. Streitmatter’s involvement represents are banned under government contracting laws.
There is absolutely nothing “independent” about the LMI study. It is intended to direct attention away from the leadership failures at the Academy – which is what the Middle States Commission on Higher Education was concerned about – by creating a false narrative that blames sexual harassment issues at the Academy on the maritime industry instead of Academy leadership. MARAD desperately wants to cover up the fact that leadership actions – like trying to quash an Inspector General investigation into sexual harassment – might be the reason that midshipmen fear that they will face retaliation if they report sexual harassment.
The reason that midshipmen do not want to participate in a compromised evaluation is that they have already seen how a compromised evaluation can be weaponized against them to create MARAD’s false narrative. Amazingly, the local newspaper’s editorial actually cited one of those weaponized statistics: the false claim that USMMA “has the highest rate of sexual harassment and assault of any U.S. service academy.” This false statement has been used by the USMMA administration even though it knows that the statistics from the USMMA survey are not comparable to those from the other federal academies. As we explained previously, the surveys at the other federal academies asked the students about sexual assault and harassment over a 10 month period; in contrast, the survey at USMMA covered a period ranging from a minimum of 10 months to a maximum of 20 months. Which means that
if the data for USMMA is properly calibrated to a 10 month period to allow an “apples-to-apples” comparison, USMMA almost certainly had the lowest rate of sexual assault and harassment of any of the federal academies.
The report relied upon by MARAD actually highlights this discrepancy when it cautions about comparing data – but MARAD omits that from the conversation. Once again, this blog had that story; the local newspaper missed it.
There is a second study that is ongoing that is not compromised by rampant violations of government ethics rules. A blue ribbon panel of highly respected leaders in the maritime industry selected Self Solutions to conduct this independent study. And rather than attempt to stymie this independent study, the alumni, through their alumni association, are actually funding it. Midshipmen are eagerly and voluntarily participating in this study because they have confidence that it will be fair and objective. No one is standing in the way of the independent evaluation that is ongoing at the Academy other than the Academy’s administration – which has refused to facilitate the study by denying Self Solutions access to conduct its study on campus. Fortunately, Self Solutions has used technology to work around those obstacles.
The local newspaper’s editorial included a “bottom line” conclusion to the effect that the alumni and parents should welcome the LMI study. But, we would suggest a rewrite: “Bottom Line: USMMA leadership should welcome and assist all efforts to uncover problems and be willing to do whatever is necessary to turn the ship around.” Unfortunately, USMMA leadership is instead using the LMI study to try to cover up its failures and to create yet another false narrative.