Retired Navy Rear Adm. Mark Buzby has received unanimous Senate confirmation as leader of the U.S. Maritime Administration, the federal agency that oversees the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
Buzby, 60, a 1979 graduate of the Kings Point academy, will hold the title of administrator of the agency, known as MARAD, and will report to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
He was nominated to the post by President Donald Trump on June 22. The Senate’s vote was Thursday.
At his confirmation hearing before the Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation on July 26, Buzby said one of his first priorities will be to “get the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy squared away.”
“This academy is too great an asset to become tainted because of the misconduct or bad judgment of a few,” he said in his opening statement. “We will address these issues.”
Buzby promised to ensure safety during the Sea Year, a hallmark program that provides students with hands-on training on deep sea vessels, and to work to bring USMMA back into good standing with its nongovernmental academic accreditor.
The Merchant Marine Academy, a 74-year-old institution located on Long Island Sound, enrolls about 920 men and women called midshipmen. Students graduate with a bachelor’s degree, a U.S. Coast Guard license and the ability to enter any branch of the Armed Forces as commissioned officers.
The federal service academy has struggled with addressing sexual assault and sexual harassment both on campus and during the Sea Year. During the last year, Newsday has spotlighted these issues and reported in January that the school’s problems go back at least a decade, according to federal documents.
At the same time, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education in Philadelphia placed the academy on warning for failing to comply with five of 14 quality benchmarks, including student services, institutional planning, budgeting and resources. The academy remains accredited while on warning.
The commission in June found that the school had improved in all but one of those five standards — the one related to institutional planning and the allocation of its resources.
Earlier this week, academy officials canceled the 2017 men’s soccer season, citing an ongoing probe into alleged sexual misconduct, hazing and bullying by players against a freshman member of the NCAA Division III team. That case is under investigation by the Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General.
Buzby, who has not yet been officially sworn in, was unavailable Friday for comment. He did not return a telephone call Friday to his home in Norfolk, Virginia.
The maritime administrator advises the Transportation Department secretary on issues related to the maritime industry, commercial maritime and strategic sea lift, among other tasks, according to the agency’s website. MARAD has a budget of about $420 million in the 2017 fiscal year, which includes about $99 million for USMMA.
The service academies for the Army, Navy and Air Force come under the Defense Department, while the Department of Homeland Security operates the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
Buzby succeeds Paul “Chip” Jaenichen, who left the post in January with the change in presidential administrations. Joel Szabat, the agency’s executive director, has been serving in lieu of an administrator in the interim.