Matsuda asked to improve Kings Point
President Obama's nominee for U.S. maritime administrator was asked by a senior lawmaker from New Jersey to make it one of his priorities to improve operations at the country's primary merchant marine officers training school.
'The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is in unacceptable condition,' said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who led the Senate Commerce Committee nomination hearing Tuesday for David T. Matsuda to head the Maritime Administration. 'Its infrastructure is deteriorating. It's had difficulty maintaining leadership and nearly $20 million in financial reporting violations were recently discovered.'
The Kings Point, N.Y.-based academy is a component of MarAd and one of five U.S. service academies. The school is affiliated with 14 non-appropriated fund instrumentalities and two foundations.
• GAO Merchant Marine academy needs internal controls
'We're taking a very close look at the academy at Kings Point,' Matsuda told the committee. 'One of (Transportation) Secretary LaHood's priorities is to make Kings Point the crown jewel of the service academies and I share that vision.'
The Government Accountability Office released a report in early September stating that the Merchant Marine Academy engaged in 'improper and questionable' uses of funds. The report added that the academy has suffered 'numerous breakdowns in its stewardship responsibilities with respect to maintaining accountability over the receipt and use of funds.'
Matsuda said MarAd is reviewing all 47 recommendations in the GAO report, including leadership, financial accountability, facility investment and ship officer training.
In November 2009, Rear Adm. Allen Worley announced his resignation as superintendent of the academy, effective Jan. 4. Worley had held the post for about a year.
Shashi Kumar, assistant superintendent for academic affairs, will serve as interim superintendent while MarAd conducts a search for a new school leader.
The Merchant Marine Academy was created in 1943 to develop licensed officers for commercial shipping fleets.
In the past year, MarAd and the school have taken steps to attract more candidates, including cutting student fees in half, hiring an outside accounting firm to improve academy finances, and establishing a blue-ribbon panel to catalog the school's capital needs and make recommendations for upgrades.
'It's critical in my view that the United States has fleet representation out there that can manage to be effective to be called upon in an emergency,' such as during the most recent deployment of several MarAd vessels to transport humanitarian supplies to earthquake-ravaged Haiti, Lautenberg said.
Matsuda has been serving as deputy administrator and acting maritime administrator of MarAd since July. He previously was deputy assistant secretary for policy at the Transportation Department, focusing on issues including surface transportation reauthorization, maritime matters, labor issues and high-speed rail. Prior to that, he spent seven years on Capitol Hill, serving as senior counsel and primary transportation advisor to Lautenberg.
Matsuda is expected to become maritime administrator after the Senate approves his nomination. ' Chris Gillis