Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Transportation Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations Subcommittee, announced committee passage of her provision to set firm deadlines for the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) to submit its required biennial survey and annual report on sexual assault and sexual harassment to Congress. If the Maritime Administration (MARAD) fails to meet these deadlines, it will face a $100,000 penalty for each day the report is delayed past the January 12, 2015 deadline. The provision was included in Senator Murray’s 2015 transportation and housing appropriations bill, which passed through the Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday. The bill will now be considered by the full Senate.
Senator Murray’s provision comes after a series of disturbing, and much-delayed, reports about the conditions at the Academy. On March 27, 2014, the Secretary of Transportation finally released the 2011-2012 Academic Year Biennial Survey and Report on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault at USMMA, over a year after the survey was complete. From the 2009-2010 to 2011-2012 academic year surveys, the estimated rate of sexual assault more than doubled, and the estimated rate of sexual harassment increased by more than 500 percent.
“As I recently told Rear Admiral Hellis, I have been very frustrated about the time it has taken to not only implement reforms to combat this critical issue, but by the unnecessary delays in reporting,” said Senator Murray. “I have full faith that Secretary Foxx and others take this as seriously as I do, but these avoidable problems are not helping a very concerning situation that seems to have only gotten worse. I am hopeful this provision serves as the first of many steps taken by Congress to hold senior leadership accountable and ensure our Midshipmen receive the education they deserve in an environment free from fear of sexual assault or harassment.”
In the previous survey released to Congress in November, 2011 midshipmen reported that 11 assaults and 21 sexual harassment incidents occurred during the 2009-2010 academic year. In response to these findings, the Secretary developed an action plan to improve prevention, awareness and training. Despite these steps, conditions at the Academy have gotten worse. The most recent survey estimates that 25 assaults and 136 incidents of sexual harassment took place during the 2011-2012 academic year.
Last month, Senator Murray and THUD Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Inspector General urging him to examine the oversight that senior leadership at MARAD and within the Office of the Secretary have done on this issue. The DOT Inspector General is currently conducting a formal audit of the action plan and the steps USMMA has taken to address the issue. In their letter, the Senators also requested a meeting with the Inspector General as soon as findings are available to discuss his audit to date.
In April, U.S. DOT Secretary Foxx appeared before the Subcommittee, where both Senators Murray and Collins expressed their frustration with the delayed action and troubling findings. (Watch video starting at 1:31:00)