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WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) introduced legislation to enhance the oversight board that supervises the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA), a federal service academy that serves the entire nation by producing trained merchant mariners/military officers to meet critical national sealift needs. 

During the 112th Congress, Vice President Joe Biden appointed Boozman to serve on the USMMA Board of Visitors, the academy’s official oversight board. The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Board of Visitors Enhancement Act, S. 2076, will improve the ability of the Board to perform critical oversight responsibilities. 

“The USMMA is a vital institution that trains the men and women, including Arkansans, who ensure our country can extend its reach across the oceans,” Boozman said. “In today’s world, the United States needs trained merchant mariners who it can call upon during times of emergency, natural disaster, or foreign conflict. The Board of Visitors should help the Academy meet this need, and it should ensure that the Academy provides a first-rate experience to the midshipmen who have volunteered to serve our country in uniform.” 

Each federal service academy has a Board of Visitors. However, the Boards at the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy, and West Point, are directly empowered by law to carry out thorough oversight activities. Current law creates a Board for the USMMA, but the law does adequately structure the Board to carry out its oversight duties. Current law also fails to ensure that the Board receives support from the Department of Transportation, which operates the Academy. Finally, existing law also fails to provide a seat at the table for key stakeholders, such as alumni, the maritime shipping industry, and the armed forces.

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Board of Visitors Enhancement Act expands the board to include non-Congressional stakeholders, such as representatives of the Military Sealift Command and the U.S. Coast Guard. The legislation also provides seats on the Board for at least two USMMA alumni and at least one representative of the maritime shipping industry. The bill ensures the operation of a functional Board, by ensuring that vacancies are promptly filled and that Board Members may continue serving until re-nominated or replaced. Finally, the bill ensures that the Department of Transportation will facilitate annual Board visits to the academy and provide full access. In short, the legislation ensures that Board can effectively inquire into the state of morale and discipline, the curriculum, instruction, physical equipment, fiscal affairs, academic methods, and other matters relating to the Academy. 

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Board of Visitors Enhancement Act is cosponsored by Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Roger Wicker (R-MS), who are also members of the Board of Visitors. Congressman Michael Grimm (NY-11) is sponsoring identical companion legislation, H.R. 4144, in the House of Representatives. H.R. 4144 is cosponsored by Representatives Tim Bishop (NY-01), Peter King (NY-02), Carolyn McCarthy (NY-04), and Alan Nunnelee (MS-01). 

Additional Background: 

The USMMA at Kings Point, New York, is a four-year educational institution that prepares midshipmen for careers on U.S.-flag ships in the modern merchant marine. All graduates serve as officers in the U.S. military, and many will spend their time aboard Military Sealift Command vessels. Graduates are prepared for careers in business and engineering, with a focus on the maritime industry. In exchange for a first-rate scientific and maritime education, USMMA graduates fulfill a service obligation of either (1) five years in the United States maritime industry, with eight years of service as an officer in any reserve unit of the armed forces, or (2) five years active duty in any of the nation’s armed forces. 

The USMMA is the second leading commissioning source for officers in the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard, and provides numerous officers to the other branches of the armed forces as well. During wars, natural disasters, and other emergencies, the U.S. Merchant Marine can be called to deliver supplies, equipment, emergency relief, or troops. In World War II alone, more than 140 midshipmen gave their lives in service to our country. 

Boozman has appointed numerous Arkansans to the USMMA, and many Arkansans have graduated from the Academy and gone on to honorably serve in our armed forces. The USMMA has traditionally prepared its graduates to work on oceangoing vessels, but the Academy is expanding its curriculum to also prepare graduates for work on the inland waterways, such as the rivers that provide shipping to and from Arkansas.