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Rep. Tom Suozzi appointed to USMMA congressional oversight panel

Rep. Tom Suozzi at a town hall

Rep. Tom Suozzi at a town hall meeting at the Mid-Island Y JCC in Plainview, Feb. 23, 2017. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Rep. Tom Suozzi announced Tuesday he has been appointed to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy’s congressional oversight panel, saying he would work to reduce cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

The federal service academy at Kings Point is in the district that Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) now represents. He took office Jan. 3, succeeding longtime congressman Steve Israel, who also served on USMMA’s 13-member Board of Visitors until he left Congress at the end of 2016.

“When I was first seeking which committees I could get on, this was something that was offered to me that could be done readily,” Suozzi said. “So, of course I accepted it right away.”

USMMA, operated under the Department of Transportation, trains men and women to work on federal and commercial vessels as part of the nation’s marine transportation and defense needs in peace and war. The 74-year-old academy came under scrutiny last June when its academic accreditation was placed on warning and revelations of underreporting allegations of sexual assault and sexual misconduct caused the first shutdown of its key shipboard training program, the Sea Year, which will fully resume this month.

Lawmakers at the Board of Visitors’ meeting last July in Washington, D. C., said they were shocked when academy officials spoke about the sexual harassment and sexual assault problem. A Newsday report on Jan. 15 showed the problem had been documented for nearly a decade on campus and at sea.

Suozzi said, “The whole issue of sexual harassment is a major problem throughout the academies, and I hope to be able to bring my voice to that issue for the Merchant Marine Academy. I’d like to make sure we can build up the relationship between the Merchant Marine Academy and the Alumni Association, and I’m excited the Sea Year is back in place.”

He also referenced recent news reports that the U.S. Marine Corps was investigating whether Marines, veterans and other personnel were sharing naked photos of their female colleagues on social media. “We have to address a cultural problem that I think is a new phenomenon given the fact that the armed services are becoming more integrated as far as gender,” Suozzi said.

He said he looked forward to working with Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) on reforms at the academy.

“It’s good to have someone from Long Island on the board with me,” said King, a current member and the recent past chairman of USMMA’s Board of Visitors. “I look forward to working with Tom.”

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