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USMMA Q&A for Great Neck Record

(Editor’s note: Interim Superintendent Dr. Shashi Kumar gave the following answers to a list of questions submitted by the Great Neck Record.)

GNR: What has been the trend for the last five years for the operating budget for the Academy? Specifics, please.

Dr. Kumar: The Academy’s operating budget has generally increased over the past five years.  The operating budget has increased over 28 percent since fiscal year 2008.

GNR: Has money been appropriated by Congress for capital infrastructure improvements at the Academy? If so, how much?

Dr. Kumar: Yes. The amounts appropriated each year by Congress for capital infrastructure improvement are reflected in the table below.

The Secretary’s Blue Ribbon Panel issued its report in March 2010, which was during Fiscal Year 2010.  Following the report, in Fiscal Year 2011, a year in which most of the federal government had a flat line budget, Congress appropriated nearly $15 million for capital improvements at the Academy, approximately as it did the year before.  For Fiscal Year 2012, the capital improvement appropriation increased nearly 53 percent to $22.9 million.

GNR:  Has a strategic plan been developed?

Dr. Kumar:

The strategic planning process is a multi-stage process.  During the first part of this effort, which began this month, the Academy is working with the John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, MA to lay out a formal planning process. Volpe staff members are currently working with key internal stakeholders to identify the range of issues and critical questions that should be addressed in the strategic plan.  After a formal approach is finalized, the Academy team will lead a comprehensive outreach effort to the maritime industry and other stakeholders, including alumni, to ensure the strategic plan addresses the Academy’s statutory mission, the needs of the maritime industry, and American higher education accreditation expectations. This plan will provide the strategic vision for the Academy and strengthen our ability to attract a talented and diverse student body to serve the maritime needs of the nation.

GNR: Are there specific priorities for upgrades and estimates of costs? 

Dr. Kumar:

Four of the Academy’s six barracks buildings were renovated during 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2010.  Of the remaining two barracks one will begin renovation in summer 2012 and the final barrack in 2013.  The combined cost for these last two barracks renovations is roughly projected at just over $30 million.  The architecture and engineering work getting underway now will provide more accurate cost projections.

Demolition and replacement of the Academy’s 70-year-old waterfront pier and renovation and modernization of the Academy’s mess hall and its equipment are both scheduled to begin this summer.  Past cost projections for the pier project and mess hall project were $15 million and $22 million respectively.  However, before construction begins, architecture and engineering designs for those projects are being reviewed for potential cost savings.

GNR: There is a rumor circulating around town that assets are being sold off. True?

Dr. Kumar:

That rumor has been circulating for years, and is simply not true.  Since its establishment in Kings Point in 1942, the Academy has never sold off property or other capital assets, but rather, only expanded its facilities and acquired additional real estate.

GNR: For example, what is the fate of the Kings Pointer? The TV (training vessel) KINGS POINTER was recently transferred, for a combination of reasons, to support another Maritime Administration training program at Texas A&M University.  The reasons included providing room in the Academy’s waterfront to undertake an estimated 12 to 18 month reconstruction of its Mallory Pier, providing cost effective support to Texas A&M’s program rather than lay berthing the vessel elsewhere, and providing the Academy the opportunity to acquire a replacement training vessel that is more cost effective to the Academy and that can expand the Academy’s training. 

GNR:  It is our understanding that the staff numbers have decreased significantly through attrition. Is there a plan in place and/or money in place to enhance staff levels, both for academic positions and for buildings and maintenance staff?

Dr. Kumar:

The Department of Transportation has focused additional resources on the recruiting and hiring process for Academy faculty and staff towards addressing some long standing hiring backlogs at the Academy.  Working together with managers at the Academy, the human resources team has been able to dramatically reduce the turnaround time on filling recently vacated positions, and also to significantly reduce a major backlog of unfilled positions.

GNR:  Is there a present danger of the school losing its accreditation?

Dr. Kumar:

No.  During its November 2011 meeting, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) formally accepted the Academy’s Periodic Review Report and reaffirmed its accreditation.  The next MSCHE evaluation visit is scheduled for the 2015-2016 school year.  In October 2011, the ABET (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) Engineering Accreditation Commission visited the Academy to review its Marine Engineering Systems, and Marine Engineering and Shipyard Management programs.  The visit was very positive in tone, and we expect that ABET will be reaffirming its accreditation of these programs during its July 2012 meeting.