Why Jaenichen and Helis must both be fired

In the editorial I posted the other day, I called for the firing of Maritime Administrator, Chip Jaenichen, and Superintendent James Helis. A number of people have asked me over the last couple of days why I think Jaenichen should fired. Often, the suggestion is that the problems at Kings Point will be solved if only Helis is terminated. To understand why Jaenichen must be fired, you need to understand that MARAD has micro-managed the Academy. This is made clear in the MSCHE accreditation report:

  • “The independent and separate reporting of several key functional units to MARAD clearly undermines integrated planning and, in the opinion of most at USMMA, is counterproductive and even demoralizing.” p.8
  • The direct reporting of the Financial, Human Resources, and Procurement administrative service areas to MARAD, with an additional level of oversight from Department of Transportation in many instances, provides significant impediments to the allocation of assets in a timely way. p.9
  • The inflexible and indifferent approach of Human Resources personnel coupled with the direct reporting relationship to MARAD introduces conflicting objectives, severely slows the hiring of employees and, it is widely reported, takes the hiring unit out of hiring decision. p.9
  • The former Director of Public Works/Maintenance and Repair described his frustration with the budget process in a May 2014 interview: “There needs to be a more streamlined way to get the money from Washington to the Academy.” p.10
  • The Academy has significant impediments to achieving institutional effectiveness, many created by the inadequacy of and the lack of control over its own resources. p.10
  • The Superintendent does not currently have direct control over the hiring process for faculty and staff. The Superintendent must have the authority and responsibility, assigned or delegated from DOT and/or MARAD as appropriate, to ensure adequate faculty, staff, and administration to support the institution’s mission and outcomes expectations. p.10
  • The institutional strategic plan was led and produced by MARAD with assistance from the Volpe Center with marginal participation and input by faculty. Guidance for the plan, and most of the participants, came from the Office of the Secretary of Transportation. There has been very little buy-in into this strategic plan, and the administrative structure does not appear to provide support to effectively achieve the milestones in the strategic plan. p.13
  • The team did not find any evidence of efforts of the senior administrative structure to be in regular contact with faculty thinking or with students to understand their concerns and perspectives. The Superintendent periodically conducts town hall meetings for the faculty, staff, and midshipmen. According to the faculty these meetings are primarily meant to update them on the activities going on at the Academy and not for a dialogue with the faculty, staff, and midshipmen. p.13

Add to this criticism Jaenichen’s role in the sea year stand down. Jaenichen knows what the SA/SH statistics show. He knows what MSCHE had to say about SA/SH and that MSCHE did not implicate sea year or the maritime industry as the source or cause of the SA/SH problem. But he has pushed that false narrative (my guess is that he did so to shift the blame for the MSCHE dismal performance — to the severe detriment of the midshipmen who now will not graduate on time. As the maritime unions have recognized, the false narrative has implications for the entire American merchant marine and national defense. Jaenichen has severely undermined the very industry that he is supposed to foster. He has lost the confidence of the entire industry. Jaenichen should be shown the door – and quickly.

Jaenichen is also responsible for the language in S.2829 which, if not removed in conference committee, will allow a committee dominated by representatives of state maritime schools to decide whether the Academy should continue to have a sea year in which midshipmen are placed on commercial vessels. (Background here.) Jaenichen’s MARAD is charged with fostering the Academy – the “crown jewel” – and yet Jaenichen is the one who is responsible for the language in the bill that allows the state schools – which compete with the Academy for federal funds – to determine the Academy’s fate.

Given Jeanichen’s role and the fact that MARAD has micro-managed the Academy and therefore thwarted Helis’ ability to do his job, some might ask, “Then why are you calling for Helis to be fired, too?” My answer to that is two-fold. First, the Academy Superintendent has to be the advocate for the midshipmen. When the decision was being made to cancel sea year, Helis should have said, “Secretary Foxx, canceling sea year is not the solution. Sea year is not the problem and canceling it won’t do a damn thing to address the problem. If you go forward with this, I will resign in protest and I will not go quietly.” That’s what a real leader would have done. Helis failed that test of leadership; presumably because to take such a stand would have required him to admit, rather than cover up, the fact that the MSCHE accreditation disaster was due in large part to his failure to address SA/SH at the Academy and had nothing to do with sea year.

The second reason Helis must be fired is because he lied. He was the superintendent that drove the Alumni Association off of the Academy grounds based upon the false claim that Babson House was needed for temporary classrooms. Every midshipmen that has gone through Vickery Gate and seen Babson House sitting empty for the last four years knows that their superintendent lied about that. And then he lied about what the MSCHE report said. That lie led to: the cancellation of sea year; the delayed graduation of many midshipmen; and the defamation of the entire marine industry. And by now, everyone know that was a lie, because my $100,000 bet is still safe.  Midshipmen live by the honor code –  “A midshipman shall not lie, cheat or steal.” You can’t lead those midshipmen  if you aren’t willing, or able, to live by that same code. Look at it this way, when the superintendent effectively says to the midshipmen, “when it comes to values, do as I say, not as I do,” how can you expect the midshipmen to accept any of your values – including those relating to sexual assault and sexual harassment?

Get ready for the bureaucratic endgame.  The pressure is starting to build on MARAD; and, my guess is that to relieve some of that pressure, Helis will be shown the door in the coming weeks.  If that happens, though, do not be fooled. Do not become complacent. Helis will not be jetsam thrown overboard to save the sinking ship.  He will simply be sacrificed by those in MARAD (both Jaenichen and the entrenched permanent MARAD staff) who will then argue, “See, we solved the problem.”  It’s just another version of the same misdirection ploy as the sea year stand down cancellation.  The goal will be to ride out the storm – without restoring sea year — while MARAD continues to divert resources from addressing the real SA/SH problem at the Academy with the false narrative it has created. Real reform will only begin when both Jaenichen and Helis are gone and sea year is immediately reinstated. When that is accomplished, the impediments to addressing the actual SA/SH problem will be removed and the hard work can begin.


  1. When one reads the Governance and Oversight provisions of the Academy’s administrative regulations on governance and oversight (Please refer to USMMA website excerpt below)), it is easy to see why no one is held accountable for institutional performance at the Academy. There is no requirement to conduct independent, impartial and objective evaluations of the Academy’s management (leadership) team on a periodic basis in the administrative regulation. In fact, by giving the Superintendent the responsibility “…for day-to-day management…”, it is like having the fox in the chicken coop.

    Responsibility, authority and accountability are the three legs of the management (leadership) triangle. Responsibilities can be assigned, prescriptive authority can be delegated commensurate with those responsibilities but, ultimately, the management (leadership) team must be held accountable for results.

    In the absence of holding individuals accountable, management (leadership) avoids consequences for poor performance by plausibly denying issues when they occur, and vigilantly ensuring that the paper trail (record) will not substantiate the causal factors for problems attributable to poor management, while the institution and midshipmen suffer the consequences. The problems at Kings Point are attributable to self-serving leadership at DOT, MARAD and, most importantly, at the Superintendent execution level.

    It should come as no surprise to anyone that the Academy is and has been the victim of inadequate management (leadership) at every level of the bureaucracy for a long time. And, it will take an independent, impartial and objective team of external experts, under the direction of the Secretary of Transportation and the U. S. Congress, to square things away. Anything short of that will simply perpetuate the on-going travesty to the detriment of the maritime industry.

    Governance and Oversight | U.S. Merchant Marine Academy

    Governance and Oversight


    The United States Merchant Marine Academy is operated by the Maritime Administration (MARAD), one of the modal agencies of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Maritime Administration has a general oversight role for the civilian maritime industry, comparable to the role of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in overseeing the civilian aviation industry.

    Instead, the day-to-day management of the institution is the responsibility of the Superintendent (equivalent to the title of “college president”), who manages the rest of the Academy’s Leadership Team. All staff — whether senior leaders or lower level officers — receive management guidance through strategic plans, policy statements, instructions, laws and regulations promulgated by the Academy, MARAD and DOT. Together, these individuals comprise the Academy’s senior staff, who are assisted by capable office personnel in the daily operation of the institution


    In addition to its leadership structure, the Academy has a number of general oversight and advisory boards that serve to advise the Superintendent, the Maritime Administrator, the Secretary of Transportation, and Congress. In addition to these oversight and advisory organizations, the Academy works closely with the United States Coast Guard, in the administration of the licensed-based portions of the curriculum. The Academy’s general education program is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, while the Marine Engineering Systems and Shipyard Management programs are also accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

  2. Andy,
    I have one quibble with your analysis, to wit, your use of the term “micro-managed.” Would that it we’re so. If MARAD were actually doing its job of micro-managing the academy we could have a situation not unlike the UAVs the Air Force operates over Afghanistan, Syria, etc. A pilot in Nevada operates the plane from a great distance. They make it work. In MARAD’s case the bureaucracy has assumed the authority to micro-manage, but has fallen down on the job. It’s as if the pilots in Nevada went out to the Officers Club and left the planes to wander off, run out of gas and crash here there and everywhere. MARAD’s failures are not only malfeasance, but nonfeasance as well. As long as navel gazing is the order of the day at MARAD and critical items go begging for months at a time the academy sinks lower and lower and no one in Washington cares.

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