Efforts to keep GMATS continuing ed program alive fall short, MarAd to close school in July

The federal Department of Transportation (DOT) is moving ahead with its plan to close in July the 17-year-old Global Maritime and Transportation School (GMATS), the continuing education program at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y.

According to Kim Riddle, spokeswoman for the U.S. Maritime Administration (MarAd), “The U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy are committed to creating and serving a maritime transportation system that addresses 21st century challenges. As part of this commitment and in response to recommendations from the GAO, the academy is taking steps to wind down the Global Maritime and Transportation School and determine its role in continuing education.”

Gene Story, who served as chairman of the GMATS board for 10 years, said there has been no support from MarAd for creation of a nonprofit group to take over the program and that lack of support had stalled any action in Congress.

“If the secretary of transportation is fighting it, it’s pretty hard to get anything done,” he said, even though members of Congress have been “very supportive” of the idea.

“We are still looking at a number of alternatives for the Academy,” Story said, but there are no concrete plans so far.

 DOT decided in December to close GMATS because it served a fraction of academy students and was one of several self-funded operations on campus that a 2009 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report said used questionable accounting.

The issue is that GMATS, like the officer’s club, museum and some other facilities on campus, is run by off-campus groups and supported by fees and not the academy or federal budget. There are 14 of these “non-appropriated fund instrumentalities” or NAFIs, in government jargon, and two private foundations operating on campus, according to the GAO. The GAO criticized the mixing of academy and outside funds in a 2009 report stating that MarAd and academy financial controls were lacking.

GMATS’ volunteer board of directors was terminated in December. Angry board members say they were blindsided by DOT while they were beginning the process of transferring the program to a new nonprofit corporation after MarAd had approved the idea. They have continued to talk to members of Congress about creating the nonprofit to salvage GMATS.

The GMATS curriculum from the academy may be digitized for use at other institutions, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told members of Congress in March. LaHood told the members of Congress that GMATS was going to close, but arrangements might be made to share its curriculum with other institutions for a fee. But DOT has made no decision yet.

By Professional Mariner Staff