Will MARAD’s departed politicos succeed in hijacking the SAPR Working Group created by Congress?

It is critical that Secretary Chao ask Congress to delay the delivery deadline for the USMMA Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Working Group report until after a new Maritime Administrator is in place at MARAD and has had an opportunity to review it.  Otherwise, it is former Secretary Foxx’ agenda, and that of former MARAD politicos Chip Jaenichen and Mike Rodriguez, that will rule the day with the SAPR group.  And that has severe implications for Kings Point.

Secretary Chao has proven in her short tenure that she has the best interests of the Academy and midshipmen at heart – and knows the value of USMMA Sea Year on commercial ships.  This needs to be HER administration’s report.

Equally critical is that the members of the SAPR Working Group follow the letter of the law when doing their work and resist MARAD’s efforts to push them in another direction.

Read on to understand just how Jaenichen and Rodriguez hijacked the Working Group’s mission —  and Congress’ intent — before they left MARAD.

The MARAD political appointees from the last administration were determined to force USMMA to switch its curriculum from its venerated sea year on commercial ships to a state school training ship model. Each time Congress or USMMA stakeholders caught MARAD and blocked those attempts, MARAD would bring the idea back through a different strategy.

We meticulously cataloged MARAD’s efforts in this post. We highlighted how MARAD tarred commercial ships as “unsafe” in an effort to push the training ship model and create a crisis (actually multiple crises) that MARAD hoped to use to convince Congress to fund $1.8 billion in new training ships for the state schools.

After that series of failed attempts, MARAD’s last effort to force USMMA on to state school training ships was put into play shortly before the presidential inauguration and was intended to take advantage of the void in political leadership at MARAD during the transition between administrations. As MARAD’s political appointees were on their way out of office, they took the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Working Group created by Congress — which was intended to guide Congress on Academy SA/SH issues — and hijacked the Working Group’s mission. As we described here, in response to MARAD’s prior efforts to force unwanted and unsupported changes to USMMA’s heralded sea year curriculum on commercial ships, Congress deliberately limited the Working Group’s analysis of sea year to “feasible changes”  to sea year designed to “to improve prevention of and response to incidents of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other inappropriate conduct.” The law deliberately ties the SAPR Working Group’s task directly to changes designed to improve the prevention of, and response to, SA/SH during sea year.

As we explained in this post, in January 2017, the departing MARAD leadership decided to take the law into their own hands and overrule Congress by surreptitiously hijacking the Working Group. They did so by instructing the Working Group to evaluate the  recommendations made by former Secretary Foxx’s discredited, $363,000 LMI culture study. Why? Because one of the discredited LMI recommendations was, unsurprisingly, MARAD’s agenda. LMI suggested abandoning sea year on commercial ships except for limited time as part of a “capstone program.” Thus, MARAD’s departing politicos put back into the Working Group’s tasks the exact task that Congress had deleted.

The MARAD hijackers were determined that even after they left office, the Working Group would remain on the new course they had set rather than the course charted by Congress.  To do this, they stacked the membership of the Working Group to control the recommendations they receive.  In this post, we identified MARAD’s initial invitees to the Working Group. One of the key ways MARAD has come up with to control the direction of the SAPR Working Group is to make it top heavy with DOT/MARAD/Government employees. Forty percent of the Working Group members fall into this category and thus answer to bosses who have an agenda that is counter to Congress’ dictates.  Second, the Working Group has been divided into three subcommittees. MARAD decided who would lead each subcommittee. The subcommittee charged with following MARAD’s tasks relating to sea year (rather than Congress’ tasks) is co-chaired by USMMA’s Deputy Superintendent (who has toed the administration line throughout the entire sea year stand down cancellation and must answer to Superintendent Helis); and Marie Huhnke, Director of STCW/Licensing at Mass Maritime (who must answer to her bosses at Mass Maritime). (The incentive for state maritime schools to direct USMMA into a training ship model is described here).

MARAD also put an “Oversight Group” in the chain of command over the three subcommittees. The Oversight Group consists of seven members; but, three of those members are  MARAD employees, and a fourth is Superintendent Helis. One of the MARAD representatives is MARAD’s Acting Deputy Director for Training Ships.  Can you see where this is headed?

Most recently, MARAD has begun drafting the outline for the report that the Working Group will issue.  Item four on that outline, immediately after the Executive Summary, is a section entitled “The Congressional Requests That This Report Fulfills.”  Want to bet that when that section is drafted, it does not reflect the actual language of the law but instead somehow tries to make it seem like the discredited, $363,000 LMI culture study was a part of the Congressional Request?

The Working Group includes a number of individuals from the maritime industry who are volunteering their time to perform an important task — advising Congress on the best ways to improve the prevention of, and response to, SA/SH during sea year.  MARAD’s hijacking of that task and the Working Group members’ efforts for its own agenda is reprehensible. One sure way to make sure that the Working Group has wasted its time is to deliver to Congress something that it not only did not ask for but which it specifically rejected. Ultimately, that also does great harm to the goal of addressing SA/SH at sea.

In the current void of political leadership within MARAD, one hopes that the individuals within the Working Group will go back to the actual law that creates the Working Group and look at the tasks Congress gave it; and then ensure that the results of their analysis address those tasks instead of the MARAD agenda. And if MARAD tries to force the result in another direction, then hopefully some members of the Working Group will at least issue a dissenting report that alerts Congress as to how the their efforts were hijacked.




  1. Does not the Federal law state that in exchange for the substantial subsidies that the maritime security fleet receives they shall receive and train cadets from the USMMA? If so, why was it so easy to offer all of these billets to the state schools?

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