Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Improving Service to the Mariner

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard “Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council” magazine.

Full article by CAPT David C. Stalfort, Commanding Officer, U.S. Coast Guard National Maritime Center, available at www.uscg.mil/proceedings/fall2008.

For the past several years, the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Maritime Center (NMC) has focused on restructuring and centralizing the Mariner Licensing and Documentation (MLD) program to reduce credential processing time, improve customer service, and ensure the consistency and quality of U.S. credentials.

Why Centralize?
Simply put, our customers demanded better service. Workload within the MLD program has risen steadily over the past 10 years and has become increasingly complex, due mainly to changes in international and domestic requirements. The implementation of the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers substantially increased the program’s work. Additionally, the regulations implementing the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 required mariners to renew their merchant mariner documents, which increased activities throughout the program.

Under centralized operations, many of the functions that were historically accomplished at regional exam centers have been shifted to the NMC in West Virginia, allowing REC staffs to focus their efforts on customer service efforts, such as helping mariners through the application process.

Mariners will continue to submit their credential applications to their local REC, where the staff will review the applications to ensure they contain sufficient information to begin the evaluation. This role is especially important, as incomplete applications are a leading cause of processing delays. Further, many mariners need assistance, as the application process is often confusing and complex.

Once ready for evaluation, the regional exam centers will forward applications to the National Maritime Center to begin the evaluation process. RECs will continue to administer examinations to mariners.

Functions at the National Maritime Center
NMC teams will evaluate mariner applications to ensure they meet the requirements for each credential sought. All mariners undergo:
· a professional qualification evaluation,
· a safety and security evaluation,
· a medical evaluation.

NMC maritime experts who are unlimited licensed masters and engineers also review and approve maritime training courses and qualify instructors to teach these courses. These experts also develop and update the professional exams administered to the mariners by the regional exam centers.

Several improvements aimed at reducing processing time have already been completed and are producing notable results. Applications that are complete when submitted to NMC via the centralized RECs are being processed faster.

Medical evaluation system—Beginning in December 2006, as part of the centralization efforts, the evaluation of all merchant mariner physicals were conducted at the NMC.

Process improvements—In July 2007, the evaluation processes at NMC were adjusted to eliminate bottlenecks in the professional qualification evaluation branch.

Electronic application forms—In October 2007, NMC deployed electronic versions of the credential application forms. Built-in business rules alert mariners to missing information to assure that the forms are complete before they submit the forms to the REC.

Making it easy to contact us—We’ve established multiple ways to contact us or obtain information about the MLD program, including a “live person” call center, online application tracking, online user fees, and subscription e-mail updates to MLD news and information.

Credential aging inventory initiative—NMC moved to reduce the inventory of aging credentials and reduce processing time.

Online sea service calculator—NMC has launched a sea service calculator that enables mariners to identify the type of credential they are qualified for based on the amount of sea service and training they have accumulated.

Trusted agents—NMC is expanding best practices from REC Houston’s “streamlined evaluation program” into a nationwide program of trusted agents.

Electronic records—NMC will establish the electronic information in MMLD as the official record, thereby eliminating the requirement to save paper files containing mariner information.

Eliminating license creep—We are taking steps to have a renewed credential become “valid” upon the expiration of the existing credential.

Electronic application system—We are developing the Merchant Mariner Secure Electronic Application System, or MM-SEAS. This system will be the “TurboTax” for mariners to use to submit their credential applications and for NMC personnel to use to process them.

About the author:
CAPT David C. Stalfort is the commanding officer of the Coast Guard’s National Maritime Center, and has worked in the Coast Guard’s marine safety program for 23 years. He also holds a Coast Guard license as a master of steam, motor, or auxiliary sail vessels.

For more information:
Call center: (888) IASKNMC
Main phone: (304) 433-3400
E-mail: iasknmc@uscg.mil
Website: www.uscg.mil/nmc
List server subscriptions: http://cgls.uscg.mil/groups.php?ID=10

Full article and 124-page “Focus on the Mariner” edition of USCG Proceedings is available at www.uscg.mil/proceedings/fall2008. Subscribe online at www.uscg.mil/proceedings.

Direct requests for print copies of this edition to: HQS-DG-NMCProceedings@uscg.mil.