In an email circulated to Academy faculty on December 23, 2016, USMMA Administration announced:
[T]he LMI Culture Audit is complete and under review by OST and MARAD. The Secretary will make an announcement regarding Sea Year on January 13, 2017.
AHEAD! An Academy ALL-HANDs will be held at some point after 13 January and certainly before 20 January. And with no other Mondays (Common Hour) in between those dates I have no idea exactly when. Will keep you posted!
Also, the Advisory Board will be meeting at the Academy on January 12-13, 2017.
But, yesterday the Academy announced that the LMI report will be released this coming Friday (January 6, 2017). The change was so sudden that until late yesterday, all the Academy could say was that the release would be either today or Friday. Something forced the Academy to move the date up by a week.
So what happened in the last 48 hours to force this move? Yesterday, it was announced that the confirmation hearing for Secretary of Transportation nominee Elaine Chao will be on Wednesday, January 11, 2017. I think a likely explanation for the change in the LMI Report release date is that MARAD wants to tie Chao’s hands before she begins the process to be confirmed as Secretary of Transportation.
Unfortunately, I think the above, and many other signs, suggest that on Friday we will see the last desperate act of the outgoing Maritime Administration as it tries to impede the return of sea year to commercial ships. Here’s how I analyze it:
First, we all know that LMI was wired to get the contract to perform the culture study.
Second, we know that LMI’s Marlise Streitmatter, a former high ranking official in the Department of Transportation who was directly involved in the hiring of Superintendent Helis and was intimately involved in a variety of MARAD’s anti-Academy machinations (including the eviction of the USMMA-AAF, the shutting down of GMATS, the closure of Melville Hall, etc.), was involved in the study despite the evident conflict of interest. When Streitmatter was at DOT, Jaenichen reported to her for all things related to the Academy.
Third, we know that wiring a contract is done for a reason; in this case the likely reason was that MARAD had pre-ordained the result it wanted out of the culture study. It is no coincidence that the contract was wired to a company that employed Streitmatter — she had been part of the team in the past and could be counted on to continue to deliver for the team.
Fourth, we know that the Continuing Resolution that was passed in early December allows MARAD to pay for sea year expenses associated with the
stand down cancellation by pilfering funds from other sources — including the Academy’s maintenance and repair budget. Other than the amount left in the budget, there is no cap on how much can be pilfered. (Secretary of Transportation Foxx had asked Congress for $7 million.)
Fifth, we know that this past Fall, MARAD asked Military Sealift Command for an estimate of the cost to have MSC handle all of the Academy’s midshipmen during sea year and was given a quote of $2 million per year.
Sixth, we know that the language in the Senate’s 2017 Maritime Authorization Act as originally proposed — before the presidential election — looked a lot different than it did afterwards. Recall that this Act included MARAD’s language to create a working group, dominated by representatives from state maritime schools, to recommend whether USMMA should continue to have sea year on commercial ships of change to “alternative training” (presumably state school training ships). MARAD gave itself 90 days to put the working group in place. BUT, after the election, when the Maritime Administrator and his minions realized they were going to be gone from power in less than 90 days, the language that emerged (now incorporated in the National Defense Appropriation Act) suddenly gave the Maritime Administrator ONLY 21 DAYS to appoint the working group (and this included the weekends and Christmas and New Years holidays).
Folks, that’s a “tell.” The only reason that the timing was shortened was to ensure that MARAD Administrator Chip Jaenichen would be able to name the working group and argue that he couldn’t defer to the incoming administration because it had to be done within 21 days. The NDAA was signed by the President on December 23, 2016. The 21st day is Friday the 13th of January, 2017.
So we know that we are facing a determined and entrenched group who are going to fight down to the last minute — until forced to let go of the reins of power — to accomplish their goals. We can disagree as to what that goal might be (I think it is to create the argument for funding state school training ships), but no one can seriously doubt that the administration is determined to dramatically alter sea year at USMMA.
All of the signs suggest that the LMI Report will be released on Friday and an announcement will be made that due to what was found in that report, sea year will remain on hold until the working group (the membership of which must be determined by January 13) issues its report (due under the legislation in September 2017). In the meantime, the Academy has more than enough money to fund sea year in whatever fashion it wants thanks to the Continuing Resolution.
Most importantly, the announcement will be made before Chao’s confirmation hearing and before she takes office in a clear attempt to tie her hands. I wouldn’t be surprised if she received some loaded (and planted by MARAD) SA/SH questions at her hearing on Wednesday designed to try to paint her in a corner. (Chao needs to be well-prepared for those questions. Among other things, she might want to point out that there are significant questions about the underlying data and defer further comment until the Self Solutions study is also released and she has an opportunity to digest both studies).
Also, don’t be surprised if you suddenly see another planted news story designed to make it look like sea year is a dangerous place for a woman. Expect to see it before Wednesday’s hearing so that Chao can be asked to comment on it. That’s how these guys roll.
Similarly, expect the Academy Advisory Board (handpicked by DOT and Streitmatter) to announce next week that it whole-heartedly agrees with the LMI Report — thereby building momentum in support of MARAD’s decision and making it even harder (in theory) for Chao to restore sea year without being characterized as not caring about the safety of “the children” (as Jaenichen and Helis insist upon calling the young men and women who attend the Academy).
I hate to be pessimistic and I hope I’m wrong; but, this is all shaping up as a full-fledged effort to try to prevent Chao from undoing the damage that Jaenichen and his minions have inflicted on the Academy.