The AAF’s voice — and our voices — are heard in Congress

Earlier this week, Representative Peter T. King and Senator Roger F. Wicker wrote Jim Tobin, the president of the USMMA Alumni Association and Foundation, to thank him for his (and the AAF’s) “tireless work on behalf of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.” Further, they noted that:

The Alumni Association offers tremendous support from experienced mariners who are familiar with the maritime culture and the challenges experienced both on campus and at sea. Your membership can provide valuable insight on ways to improve the quality of the educational experience, while maintaining a safe learning environment free from sexual assault and sexual harassment.

I think there are a number of important takeaways from this letter.

First, Congress recognizes that the AAF is working for the betterment of the Academy. That’s the AAF’s primary agenda. It’s not a social club; it doesn’t have competing agendas like MARAD (which must support both USMMA and the state maritime schools).

Second, I get a lot of correspondence at this blog complaining that the AAF isn’t doing enough about the sea year stand down cancellation. (Not that I could do anything about it even if the complaints were valid — this blog and the AAF are completely separate.) I have been aware, however, of some of the things that the AAF has been doing in the background. Those things often are not public and may well never become public.  I usually respond to explain that just because the AAF is operating “under the radar” doesn’t mean it is not making a difference; I also point out the importance of the Self Solutions study that the AAF commissioned; the fact that it has hired Edelman to advise it on strategies for public and congressional relations, and more recently the Advisory Committee it formed on the Academy’s accreditation. The letter from Senator Wicker and Congressman King validates what I’ve been saying — the AAF is making a difference and Congress recognizes it.

Third, I have a similar response to criticism I have seen leveled on Facebook at one Member of Congress or another. There were a number of key changes made to legislation that worked its way through Congress in the last few months of 2016. We didn’t always get the changes we wanted — that’s inevitable in the process; but, there were some important changes, such as the changes that forced MARAD’s hand on restoring sea year that I described here. No one from Congress, the AAF, or anywhere else has stepped forward to take credit for those changes; but, they didn’t happen by themselves. That’s the way Washington works sometimes.  Similarly, I suspect that Senator Wicker wasn’t exactly surprised by the answer he got to this question he asked of Secretary (then nominee) Chao. That’s the way Washington works.

Fourth, as Representative King and Senator Wicker both recognize in their letter, their work — and the AAF’s work (and all stakeholders’ work) is not done.

  • Sea year is not even close to being fully restored.
  • We still don’t know how the Academy intends to respond to the reaccreditation threat even though its response is due in less than a week. It’s not for want of asking.
  • The leadership problems at the Academy remain unresolved.

We all need to stay engaged and continue to let Congress know that we are engaged.


  1. Andy – well stated on all counts/points. Bravo Zulu to you, your blog, and Jim Tobin and the AAF and NPA – Heave ho all, we’ve a long long way to go.

  2. The alumni group is really the permanent “guardian” of the academy. It has the institutional memory , along with the dedication, the finances and the organizationa/ political infrastructure to get things done on the inside of the system. They are doing a great job.

    We, as parents, obviously have more immediate concerns, namely our kids, and for us things are moving slowly because of their short window Of opportunity. But we should let the alumni do what they do best because slow and steady usually wins the race.

    As parents, we have, as demonstrated by the recent letter to Admiral Helis, made our position clear . We should also constantly be reminding our congressional reps that the problems at the academy are far from solved and that mids there now are not getting the education they were promised.

    Remind your congressional reps that sea year is not yet fully restored; that accreditation has barely been addressed and that there is still no guarantee that all the mids will be able to complete their sea year projects and graduate on time. Call every two weeks if you have to until this situation is resolved.

    Also keep in mind that as important as it is to us, MARAD is a relatively small part of the Department of Transportation. Give Secretary Chao every opportunity to do the right thing before going on the offensive. So far, under her leadership, things seem to be, albeit slowly, heading in the right direction. She deserves our patience.

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