A reliable source from within DOT advises me that there are five other commercial shipping companies (in addition to the three that were initially approved with the announcement of the restoration of sea year) that are “in the pipeline” for approval for restoration of sea year. Of those five companies, MARAD is giving priority for approval to the ones that have the most billets available for midshipmen. It sounds like they are hopeful that all five companies will be approved in the next 4-5 weeks. That seems like good news; but, it’s good news in the same way that offering a thimbleful of water to someone dying of thirst is good news: He’s glad for the water; but, in the long run, he’s still dying of thirst.
If all five companies are approved, that will bring the total billets available for sea year to approximately half of the number of billets that were available before Secretary Foxx abruptly cancelled sea year last June. (MARAD is putting out the word that the first three companies that were already approved represent 50% of the prior billets, but the word I am hearing from insiders at MARAD is that the first three companies actually provide only about 33% of the prior capacity) Even worse, it appears that no other companies are in the approval process after these five companies are (hopefully) approved for sea year.
Reportedly there are a some smaller companies that are interested; but, the red tape created by the approval process and the burden of some of the requirements — in addition to what they are already doing to address SA/SH by policy, regulation and law — is discouraging them from applying for approval. One decision-maker wrote to me about his company and described the company’s robust SA/SH program; but, he added that the red tape he would have to wade through “just for the privilege of helping [the Academy] is just stupid.” Frankly, I don’t blame him. MARAD should be proactively doing what it can to get this company and similar companies to accept cadets again instead of erecting barriers that discourage them from offering sea year to midshipmen.
The Academy’s communications with its stakeholders about this process have been abysmal. There is no need for any secrecy surrounding the process. There is no reason this process should not be completely transparent. We should be given regular updates as to how many companies are in the approval process, estimated timetables for approval, and, most importantly, what steps the administration is taking to encourage all of the many other shipping companies to apply for approval. Have any efforts to encourage applications been made? We don’t know. If efforts have been made, what are the reasons being given for not applying? What steps are being taken to adjust the sea year criteria imposed upon commercial shipping companies*** to recognize that a one-size-fits-all approach is neither realistic nor necessary for restoration of sea year.
This is also an area where the alumni may be able to help. The alumni and other stakeholders are all unified in wanting to restore sea year. Alumni may have contacts within shipping companies that can help encourage those companies to apply for approval. But, it all starts with communication.
*** MARAD did not even publish the criteria until after we called it out for failing to publish them in this post.