It is Academy leadership, not its stakeholders, that is standing in the way of solving the problems at USMMA

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.


  1. Andy:

    I am as suspicious oftjhe current DOT and the current MARAD as the rest of us. That said, is it possible that the phrase “recent” refers to the June decision to suspend/cancel sea yeat and that the additional $7MM in the CR is to cover the additional costs incurred and to be incurred in FY 20017 (which began in Sptember 2016) until this gets sorted out. Does $7MM look like a full year additional cost or only a partial year additionap cost?

    Cleaerly the language raises a question and the explanation can run from a full – they are sticking it to KP – to sloppy drafting.

    Perhaps MARAD DOT should be allowed/forced to explain.

    Let’s hope that Elaine Chao hads a better view and that the new key people at MARAD are selected quickly and that they are the right people.


    • Alex, two different sources confirmed to us about a month ago that MARAD had asked MSC to give a quote for handling all KP midshipmen on sea year through 2016 and were given a quote of $2 million dollars in response. On top of that, there is the simple math: At any given time, there are approximately 200 midshipmen at sea. (Actually, that’s not true anymore because of the sea year stand down cancellation. Now, there are a bunch at home without a ship assignment.) But let’s assume 100% deployment: Midshipmen get paid $1000 per month. 200 midshipmen times 12 months times $1,000 is $2.4 million to pay 200 midshipmen on sea year for one full year. Let’s be conservative and assume a $50 per diem food cost that should be reimbursed to federal ships for feeding the midshipmen: 365 times $50/day times 200 midshipmen equals $3.65 million for the per diem expense of hosting a midshipman. That brings us to $6 million for a full year of hosting midshipmen on sea year. The Academy is asking for $7 million as a part of a CR that goes until April or May. So, it doesn’t sound to me like this request is designed to cover past expenses of the stand down cancellation. And, I question whether funds in a Continuing REsolution could be used to cover past expenses in any event. The Secretary’s statement and the size of the ask makes it pretty clear that this is for the future — the Secretary has made up his mind. The nature of the Continuing Resolution simply forced him to show his hand before the LMI study was delivered. And he probably wasn’t prepared for the resourcefulness of the many people working behind the scenes to feed this blog information about what is happening in Washington, D.C.

      I am very optimistic about the selection of Elaine Chao. She knows the Academy and knows what it was before the current administration attempted to dismantle it. I’m also hearing “things” from others who are working with me that give me tremendous optimism. Nothing I can say publicly; but, I haven’t been this optimistic about the future for the Academy in a long time. Even the damage that this current administration can do in the next 45 or so days can be undone.

  2. Thanks. As an FYI, each time you post. I send the link via email to my Representative, and two Senators.

    Everyone should consider sending each new posting to your Congressmen, Local Reporters, Friends and Family Members (and ask them to do the same).

    On other news, Helis et al have reduced the number of leadership positions/opportunty for 1st Class. All but one company have done away with Moral Officer (I think that is what my child said it was called). Said the rationale was the Student Activities Center saw them as competition.

    The Mental Beatings by Helis and Staff will continue until Morale improves.

  3. Andy, While I enjoy reading your blog to the point of addiction, I’m disappointed that you choose not to list the local New York newspaper editorial that raised an opinion contrary to your own. After all, KPS is all about unmasking the truth behind the unwarranted continued suspension of commercial sea year for the midshipmen. It seems the more information made available can only help our cause, even unfavorable newspaper editorials which can be easily debunked. R/Mike

    • Michael, thanks for the input. The reason for not linking to the local newspaper is to avoid having the newspaper’s editorial rise in search engine rankings. I gave enough information that I think anyone really wanting to find it could do so through a simple Google or Bing search; but, I also indicated why I didn’t want to drive traffic to the site. With newspapers, search engine ranking can be very important to how a story gets distributed. What appears in a WAPO blog, for instance, may get elevated to a print edition story if there are enough “clicks” on the blog entry. And I’d prefer that someone searching for general information about USMMA in a Google search find that info and not a hit piece that was carefully manipulated into publication by MARAD. IMHO, there was enough inside information in the particular editorial in question that I was pretty confident that MARAD was instrumental in getting the editors to take the stand that they took.

  4. While this resourceful website has been an asset in challenging the Administration steering the Academy to the rocks, it lost its course by encouraging the cadet corps to refuse to participate in a SASH survey on the ground that the survey results will be skewered. This advice has been attributed the the AAF and the Parents Association when neither advocated that course of action. And many objections to this advice were registered by website subscribers. To counter this advice, The Washington Post and NEWSDAY have advocated continuing Congressional investigations while the Sea Year remains dismantled. I suggest that this website encourage the cadet crops to fully participate in all SASH surveys so that the facts will bolster the website claim that the Administration and not SASH, are to be held responsible for sabotaging the Sea Year.

    • Joe, we’ve just got to agree to disagree on this. The decision to recommend non-participation was carefully thought out and discussed with a number of people before we made the recommendation. The reason for doing so was not so that the “results would be skewered.” It was so that the results could not be manipulated by the administration to harm the midshipmen — which is exactly what the administration did with the 2013-14 SAGR Survey results. (And it was only constant prodding by this website and others that finally forced the administration to release the actual data behind the 2013-14 SAGR Survey and thereby allowed us to prove that the administration had been manipulating or misinterpreting that data.)

      The enthusiastic participation of the midshipmen in the Self Solutions study demonstrates that the alumni and the midshipmen strongly support getting the facts out. What they won’t support is the false narrative crafted by this administration and the midshipmen agreed with our recommendation that they not bring the rope to the hanging party being thrown for them.

      As for the attribution of the advice to the AAF or the Parents Association, that is beyond our control. We have repeatedly made it clear that we are independent and do not answer to either organization. Ironically, I learned recently from a reliable source that for some time now, MARAD has been urging the AAF to control I understand that the the AAF response was that (a) it has no control and (b) that it would be inappropriate for it to try to silence any alumni who had an opinion and wanted to express his or her First Amendment rights to express it. It speaks volumes about MARAD that they would try to silence freedom of expression and do so in an indirect route — especially since this website has responded to MARAD’s criticisms in the past and even offered to allow MARAD to correct the record.

      For the record, we are not controlled by AAF or the Parents Association and if either organization were to ever try to silence us, you can bet that there would be a major post on the topic, along with my personal resignation from the Flying Bridge Society and my decision to cease donating to the AAF until whomever was stupid enough to make such an effort was replaced.

  5. So how exactly does the Secretary use the voluntary organization of the United States Maritime Service “for the training of citizens of the United States to serve on merchant vessels of the United States and to perform functions to assist the United States merchant marine, as determined necessary by the Secretary” per 46 USC 1295 and 46 USC 51701

  6. One more nail in the coffin. Let me see if I have this. Mr. Paul Jaenichen is the first Maritime administrator to cancel a 73 year standing sea year program at the United States Merchant Marine Academy without sound evidence or reason; he is the first Maritime administrator to set women in the merchant marine back 35 years; he is the first Maritime administrator to be serving when the United States Merchant Marine Academy is placed in accreditation warning status, and the first of any Federal Academy to be designated as such. These are a lot of firsts and now we see that the House Appropriations Committee’s latest continuing resolution would allow the Maritime administrator to redirect the USMMA’s capital improvement funds(up to 7 million dollars) to pay for student training at sea. The wheels that he has set in motion will have the effect of doubling the training costs for the midshipmen (because the midshipmen at sea were already being funded by subsidies through the commercial merchant marine maritime security program). This blatant and careless act will reduce the ability of the Academy to refurbish badly needed infra structure as well as reduce or eliminate badly needed upgrades and improvements required in the midshipman academic laboratories. But, hey, he’s outta there in a few weeks even if this diversion of funds borders on reckless behavior.

  7. I am not a graduate of KP. I did graduate from one of the State schools. I know what its like to have your school take on water. Seems like negative comments come from all directions. Having said that and having lived it and survived the process. I am going to offer you all some advise. AS a father of three girls i would have serious questions of recommending KP to them. Not because of the sea year suspension or the a;allegations of sexual abuse in the industry. But rather because of all of you who circle the wagons and desperately try to rationalize actions by government bureaucrats. As you do that you destroy your credibility. Why can’t you admit you have a problem. Focus on the root cause and fix it. Starting letter writing campaigns to congress or hiring your own experts to attack a point of view that you find offensive is ridiculous. Stop thinking about your alma mater and start thinking about lives that are being impacted. No one wants to see Kings Point close!! Maybe people just want to see it fixed and the dignity of individuals protected. Your “Acta Non Verba” on this subject will forever define the USMMA.

    • Patrick, that’s an interesting perspective. You wouldn’t recommend that your daughters attend a school where the alumni demand facts, actually analyze the facts, and then demand accountability when it turns out that the “facts” put forward by the administration are falsehoods? You would prefer that your children go to a school where everyone simple goes along to get along and doesn’t think critically?

      You state, “Maybe people just want to see it fixed and the dignity of individuals protected.” But that ignores what the administration is saying. The administration is insisting that “it” is the commercial shipping industry — not Kings Point. The administration is saying that “it” is you. And your classmates. And me. And my classmates. Ironically, it is the alumni that are speaking out and pointing out that to the extent that there is a problem, the problem is at Kings Point rather than in the industry. (Actually, now that we finally forced the administration to produce the underlying data from the sexual assault surveys, it turns out that the SASH rate at Kings Point is almost certainly the lowest of all the federal academies.) So, we aren’t circling the wagons. We are simply saying, “Let’s address the problem that does exist rather than one that has been made up.” There are lots of theories as to why the administration made up the false narrative about SASH during sea year; but, the one thing at this point that cannot be disputed is that the administration did make up that false narrative.

      I truly hope that the “Acta Non Verba on this subject” by the many of us working on this will indeed forever define the USMMA. It will be the same legacy of honesty and leadership that has always defined USMMA and will stand in stark contrast to the legacy of Helis, Jaenechin, Rodriguez and von Wyk.

      • Andy

        You and I are completely aligned. The issue appears to be at the Academy. Reasonable people can disagree about MARAD’s actions. We don’t have access to what the Midshipmen are saying or not saying. I know of many classmates who have had some issues at sea. I know many have not. I can say the exact same thing about those who have worked shoreside.

        What really worries me is this seems to be an institutional issue. I can’t in good conscience recommend to my daughter ( who is looking at College now) the USMMA. The failure of governance and management are pretty apparent. I have been involved with Higher education as a trustee of another university. Where is the ownership in fixing this? What is really disturbing is the culture at the Academy. As an outsider you have different groups from accrediting to DOT saying there is a major problem but no one is fixing it. And claiming that the statistics are misleading smacks of someone seeing smoke in a room and denying that there is a problem causing the smoke.

        I have a great deal of respect for Kings Point and its alumni. But quite frankly the alumni are not the issue, the administration and the culture are the issue. Until i see stability and improvements how could any parent recommend that their children go to an instituion with such glaring problems. Enough said and i have deep respect for you in publishing my concerns.

        • I can certainly understand reluctance to recommend Kings Point as things presently stand. I have a friend whose son is very interested in attending the Academy and would be an outstanding addition to the regiment. I’ve encouraged the son for several years since he first showed interest. I had to call my friend over the Summer and say, “Full disclosure: You’ve got to take a hard look at what is going on at the Academy right now.” While I think this is temporary and major changes will occur with the incoming administration, it will still take several years to completely repair the damage.

          Interesting that you mention that you were a trustee for another institution. I think the ultimate solution for KP is a board of trustees that sets the policy and curriculum for the Academy and makes the hiring and firing decisions for senior leadership there. The board should be composed of all stakeholders (industry, a faculty rep., a student rep., an alumni rep., a MARAD rep., a DOD rep., a USCG rep., a union rep.; a congressional rep.) That would be similar to the way other institutions of higher education are run.

          The other federal academies are different, because they are essentially run by the consumers of the “product” (not to demean the cadets/midshipmen by using that term) they produce and thus are motivated to make sure that product is top-notch. For KP, it’s crazy to think that policy and curriculum are essentially set by the Maritime Administrator and that the senior leadership is answerable only to that person. The Academy Advisory Board does not fill the roll because the entire board is appointed by the Secretary of Transportation, there is no requirement that various constituencies be represented, and it is advisory only.

          A board of trustees would solve many of the problems of the Academy being assigned to one federal agency or another that does not want ownership of it. I’m old enough to remember that KP used to be “owned” by the Dept. of Commerce, which really didn’t know what to do with it. Switching KP to MARAD was supposed to be the solution; and that worked for a while until new people came into MARAD that didn’t want ownership of it. In my opinion, in an ideal world, the Academy would be funded the way Amtrak is — partly directly by Congress and partly through the DOT budget. That would largely solve the problem of the Academy competing for funds within an agency that doesn’t want to have it.

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