After the November elections, the outgoing MARAD and DOT political appointees were forced to scramble. First, they had to confront the reality that neither they nor their cronies would continue to be in control of their effort to obtain $1.8 billion to fund a bailout of the state maritime schools by buying and building their training ships for them.
Second, Congress was not cooperating with their effort to end USMMA’s sea year on commercial ships. A month after the elections, Congress passed the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA-2017”). In NDAA-2017, Congress ordered MARAD to establish — within 90 days [from the date the president signed it on December 27, 2016) — criteria that vessel operators must meet in order to participate in the Academy’s sea year program; and, a process for verifying compliance with those criteria. That language was added by the House-Senate Conference Committee to force MARAD to restore sea year on commercial ships. The same Conference Committee also redirected the mission of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (“SAPR”) Working Group that MARAD had been working to get Congress to create. As proposed by MARAD, one mission of the SAPR Working group was to
assess whether the United States Merchant Marine Academy should continue with sea year training on privately owned vessels or change its curricula to provide alternative training;
S.2829, §204(d)(6) (emphasis added).
The only “alternative training” that was not already a part of USMMA’s sea year program was training on state maritime school training ships. So it is clear that MARAD was trying to redirect USMMA’s sea year from commercial ships to state school training ships.
Fortunately, the Conference Committee replaced MARAD’s proposed language in NDAA-2017 and directed the SAPR Working Group to
assess all other feasible changes to Sea Year training at the Academy, and corresponding changes to curricula, to improve prevention of and response to incidents of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other inappropriate conduct;
Make no mistake about it, these changes were a direct repudiation of what MARAD was trying to do — switch the Academy’s sea year program to one based upon the use of training vessels (which, in turn, would help justify MARAD’s quest for the $1.8 billion state school bailout).
So what was the outgoing administration to do? I’ve got to give it credit for nimbleness and resourcefulness. Remember Secretary Foxx’s $363,000, discredited, LMI report – the “climate culture study” that was procured under questionable (to be charitable) circumstances and likely as a result of cronyism by someone with a demonstrated bias against the Academy? That report was supposed to be a report on the “climate culture” for SA/SH at the Academy and in the maritime industry. And when concerns were raised by this website that MARAD was asking the potential bidders who wished to perform the climate culture study to consider alternatives to sea year, that part of MARAD’s request was “withdrawn.” Yet when the LMI report was released on January 13, 2017 — a week before the presidential inauguration and 40 days after it was due — it contained the following unsupported recommendation on the “withdrawn” topic (but a recommendation that had recently become MARAD’s mantra when debating sea year issues with stakeholders):
“Our findings indicate that cadets may not be prepared for the sea experience after only one year on campus, both in terms of maturity and in technical competency. Some industry representatives indicated that cadets from state maritime academies are often more prepared than USMMA cadets, possibly due to their additional maritime experience gained while aboard training vessels. USMMA should consider restructuring Sea Year to send midshipmen later in their academic career, potentially as a capstone program.”
Other than arguably the word “maturity,” that recommendation has nothing to do with SA/SH. LMI was recommending the state maritime school model (where some cadets in their later years go out on commercial ships after spending the first couple of semesters-at-sea on the school training ship). No real surprise that LMI should parrot what its MARAD masters wanted it to say. LMI certainly “earned” its $363,000 in the eyes of those masters.
Did the outgoing administration use the 40-day delay in releasing the LMI report to redirect the report’s recommendations? With Congress clearly indicating in NDAA-2017 that it was standing behind sea year and the political appointees suddenly finding themselves searching for ways to advance their agenda when they were going to be out of power, it looks like the former administration shifted its strategy from completely ending sea year on commercial ships to a fallback — replacing third classmen’s sea year on commercial ships with time on training ships instead. This “solution” will still provide an argument for MARAD and the state schools to use to support the $1.8 billion bailout.
And as a parting effort from the departing administration, it changed the mission of the SARP Working Group from the mission required by Congress to one that would advance the former administration’s agenda by directing the Working Group to “evaluate”
1) The findings and recommendations contained in the US Merchant Marine Academy Culture Audit. [n.b. This is Secretary Foxx’s discredited, $363,000 LMI report.]
2) Current Academy practices with respect to Sea Year assignments.
3) Implications of changes to Academy curricula.
4) Other elements of the Academy’s Sea Year program as identified by Sub-Group B and accepted by the Chair.
NDAA-2017 says nothing about the LMI culture audit. But, the LMI report conveniently includes the recommendation that Congress took out of NDAA-2017. The legislation does not direct the working group to use that discredited $363,000-embarassment-of-a-report. MARAD’s former administration steered the results of the LMI report and then dictated the tasks for working group in an effort to try to force the working group down a path that will result in a recommendation that third classmen’s sea year be on training ships instead of commercial ships.
All of this is part of the former administration’s effort to extend its reach beyond the end of its power and to steer the working group to the result it wants — a finding that will support funding for $1.8 billion in training ships to bail out the state schools. It hopes this will slip under the radar while the transition within DOT and MARAD is underway. The LMI report and the tasks set by the past administration for the working group are IED’s for the new administration.