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Legislation would strengthen oversight of Merchant Marine Academy

Midshipmen march down Brooks stadium during the viewing

Midshipmen march down Brooks stadium during the viewing parade as the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy welcomes 237 "plebe candidates" of the Class of 2017 into the Regiment of Midshipmen during the acceptance day ceremony held on the campus in Kings Point on Sept. 7, 2013. Credit: Steve Pfost

A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers has introduced legislation designed to strengthen a congressional board that oversees the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point.

Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) said the cancellation of classes at the academy during October's federal government shutdown spurred him to propose reviving the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Board of Visitors, an eight-member panel tasked with making recommendations about the academy's operations to the academy and its overseer, the Department of Transportation.

The Kings Point academy was left out of the emergency Pay our Military Act, meaning classes were canceled there during the partial shutdown, but not at other federal service academies.

A more active board could have stepped in to make sure the academy was not affected by the shutdown, said Boozman, who serves on the panel.

"We looked at the structure of the Board of Visitors and really didn't feel like it was a strong organization," said Boozman, whose bill was co-sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.). "It's fallen by the wayside through the years."

The board, made up of members of the House and Senate, has not met regularly and has been mostly dormant, although it met informally during the shutdown.

The legislation, introduced this month, would expand board membership to 15, allow for membership by academy alumni and representatives from the maritime industry, and let members continue on the board until a successor is named.

It also would require the board to visit the academy annually, after which it would report its findings and recommendations to the president. The legislation also would require the Department of Transportation to designate an officer to support the board's functions.

"The intention is to make it much more responsive," said Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), a board member and co-sponsor of companion legislation in the House, along with Reps. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) and Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss.). Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island) is the sponsor.

The Transportation Department issued a statement this month saying it was reviewing the proposed legislation and appreciated the "continued congressional support of the USMMA."

Jim Tobin, president of the USMMA Alumni Association and Foundation, said the legislation is needed to re-energize the board. "Now we have an entity that can be an official oversight of the academy," he said.

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