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Put U.S. Merchant Marine Academy back on an even keel

U.S. Merchant Marine Academy midshipmen walk out of

U.S. Merchant Marine Academy midshipmen walk out of a town hall meeting with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood where he talked about the future of the school at Kings Point, Long Island (March 13, 2012)

It's no wonder the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, one of the nation's five government-run service academies, has been drifting in recent years: It is missing a captain.

Not to mention the other basics that are lacking, like a training ship and a decent pier, which are tantamount to classrooms for any student mariner. So Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who toured the Kings Point college on Monday, is correct in calling on the U.S. Department of Transportation, the agency in charge of the school, for an expedited appointment of a superintendent, a new training vessel for midshipmen and millions of dollars to fix its aging infrastructure. Schumer should use his clout to give a rudderless institution direction.

The senator's involvement comes after reports that the 82-acre academy on Long Island Sound needs a $300-million overhaul -- to fix or replace items including a boiler system, a crumbling pier and barracks.

President Barack Obama's 2013 budget cuts the academy's funding by $8 million, but Schumer wants to maintain its current $85-million annual allocation, which includes $23 million for capital work and $9 million for maintenance and repairs.

Even full funding isn't enough to make it shipshape, but it will keep the academy functioning until a long-term plan is designed. That's also why it's so important to fill that leadership void. The academy is an important U.S. and Long Island institution. It has problems, but it deserves one more shot at getting back on course.

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