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Trump names USMMA grad to lead maritime administration

President Donald Trump has selected retired Navy Rear Adm. Mark Buzby, a 1979 alumni of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, as the next leader of the U.S. Maritime Administration.

Buzby, 60, whose appointment must be confirmed by the Senate, would hold the title of administrator of the agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation, known as MARAD.

He 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.

The MARAD administrator advises U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on issues related to the maritime industry, commercial maritime, and strategic sea lift, among other tasks, according to the agency’s website. It also oversees the Merchant Marine Academy, the only federal service academy operated by the Transportation Department.

The service academies for the Army, Navy and Air Force come under the Defense Department, while Homeland Security operates the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), chairman of the Merchant Marine Academy’s Board of Visitors, a congressional oversight panel, said in a statement Thursday that he is “pleased that the president has nominated Admiral Buzby to be the new Maritime Administrator. It is especially important that the USMMA have an experienced leader with maritime credentials and an understanding of Kings Point.”

Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), whose district includes the academy and who is a Board of Visitors member, said in a statement, “I have serious concerns about the Merchant Marine Academy, and I’m looking for partners in the federal government that will communicate with me and other stakeholders to address the problems swirling around the Merchant Marine Academy.”

Suozzi noted that Buzby “has had a long and distinguished naval career, and I look forward to working with him to help guide the Merchant Marine Academy through these difficult days ahead.”

The 74-year-old Kings Point school was placed on warning in June 2016 by its accrediting agency, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which cited issues in leadership, governance and the culture of the Sea Year training program. The independent, Philadelphia-based commission met Thursday to review the academy’s status; the results of that meeting will not become public for about a week.

Newsday reported in January that sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexism have persisted at USMMA for nearly a decade despite attempts at reform, according to public documents and interviews with midshipmen. Those issues have been spotlighted in a series of Transportation Department annual reports that are mandated by federal law.

Buzby, who retired from the Navy in August 2013, is a former commander of the Military Sealift Command and has held key posts in the Navy staff, Joint Staff and several fleet staffs.

He serves as president and chief executive of the National Defense Transportation Association and sits on the boards of several corporations whose work is related to the maritime industry. In 2013, he was appointed to Carnival Cruise Lines’ Safety & Reliability Review Board. He has received the Navy Distinguished Service Medal and Bronze Star, among many other awards.

Capt. James Tobin, president of the USMMA Alumni Association and Foundation, said in a statement, “MARAD and the entire maritime community, including the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, will benefit from Admiral Buzby’s leadership. He’s had a storied career in the U.S. Navy and is a distinguished Kings Point graduate.”

Buzby holds master’s degrees from the U.S. Naval War College and Salve Regina University in strategic studies and international relations.

The last Merchant Marine Academy graduate to serve as MARAD administrator was Sean T. Connaughton, who served from September 2006 to January 2009. Connaughton was a commissioned officer on active duty with the Coast Guard and later was in the Naval Reserve.

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