Congress stays out of Coast Guard Academy picks

Lawmakers upset over how few blacks attend the U.S. Coast Guard Academy have backed off their proposal to shift for the first time to congressional nominations of cadets, which have been required at the nation's other service academies for decades.

On a voice vote, the House approved a compromise Coast Guard measure late Tuesday that includes $10 billion in authorized spending, and various management reforms, but nothing intended to boost black enrollment at the New London, Conn.-based academy. Black enrollment has been at 5 percent or less in recent years.

The academy provision was in a bill that won overwhelming bipartisan approval in a House vote last year. But it was left out of last spring's Senate-approved version. The compromise bill is expected to receive Senate approval as early as this week.

House Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar, D-Minn., and the chairman of its Coast Guard subcommittee, Elijah Cummings, D-Md., a leading member of the Congressional Black Caucus, had been outspoken advocates for congressional nominations during hearings.

"Though it is critical that the authorization passes, I am certainly disappointed that there were a number of provisions we had to drop from the House-passed bill in the final revisions," Cummings said in a statement after Tuesday's vote. "Included among the dropped legislation were provisions I authored ... that would have encouraged efforts to support diversity at the Coast Guard Academy."

Advocates of congressional involvement in admissions have argued that with some 40 members of Congress typically in the Congressional Black Caucus, it would be likely that the Coast Guard Academy would have more blacks enrolled if Congress members and senators had a say in nominating qualified candidates.

But even among black academy graduates, there has been disagreement over whether to take that route.

"I'm starting to see the critical masses that our system needs for us to have a bright future," said Vice Admiral Manson K. Brown, the highest ranking black in Coast Guard history, who won his latest promotion last May. "I'm using my bully pulpit to help the system."