Coast Guard Licensing Changes At The NMC

John Konrad
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August 3, 2007

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By now you should know that all licensing requests by U.S. Mariners are routed through the Coast Guard National Maritime Center‘s new headquarters in West Virginia. The NMC’s Commanding officer, Captain David C. Stalfort USCG, tells us of improvements and changes you should expect to see as a result:

• Decreasing processing time

With 17 Regional Exam Centers (RECs), we have 17 different processes for issuing credentials. Once we have only one process to monitor and improve, it will be far easier to substantially decrease the time it takes to process an application.

Recent information technology changes now enable NMC leadership to measure program-wide processing times by credential type to identify process inefficiencies in need of improvement. Several concurrent improvement projects are in-progress to address both short-term and long-term objectives.

• Consistency of service

Mariners readily know how customer service, processing time and interpretation of regulations vary from REC to REC. By centralizing evaluators, we can assure consistency…

• Improved Customer Service

Centralizing creates economies of scale and process consistencies that make possible the new 1-800-AskNMC Call Center and the capability for mariners to check the status of their credential application online via http://homeport.uscg.mil/. (From the home page, select Missions > Merchant Mariners > Merchant Mariner Application Status) Many more improvements are in the pipeline, too!

• Some Improvement Projects Resulting from Your Feedback (status in parentheses):

1. WV processing time reductions (on-going)
2. NMC Help Desk (complete)
3. Simplified Application Forms and Packets (in-process)
4. Online application status tracking (complete)
5. Pay.gov (complete)
6. Fill-able PDF applications (final testing)
7. Online electronic applications (planning)
8. Publicly available performance metrics (in-process)
9. RECs as mariner advocates (in-process)
10. Bulk application processes designed specifically for academies, schools and industry groups (in-process)
11. Electronic records (planning)
12. Elimination of license creep (in-process)

• Some Other Credentialing Improvement Projects (status in parentheses):

1. Passport style MMC (in-process)
2. Major MMLD improvements (in-process)
3. Merchant Mariner Medical Advisory Committee (in-process)
4. Improved consistency through centralized processing (in-process)
5. NMC now primarily focused on credential production (complete)
6. Establishment of NMC-1 to manage quality assurance and training processes (in-process)

• Other important factors

USCG issued credentials will soon take the form of a passport. The increased security and complex equipment required to produce these credentials is prohibitively expensive to duplicate at 17 locations.

• The new process

Mariners will use the existing RECs for face-to-face customer service. REC staff will help Mariners ensure their applications are ready for evaluation by the NMC. We have a new checklist for applicants that define exactly what is required for an application to be “ready for evaluation.” This checklist will be included in application packages to ensure mariners know what’s expected. The considerably-sized project to simplify the applications, application packets and supporting information is already underway.

Mariners will verify their identity, get fingerprinted and take their tests at RECs. When the TWIC is implemented, RECs will no longer be taking fingerprints. Once an application is accepted at an REC, it will be sent to the NMC either electronically or via courier. NMC will evaluate all applications for Safety and Security, Medical Fitness and Professional Qualification. The NMC will communicate directly with the Mariner for the remainder of the process. Should a Mariner require testing or specific medical functional performance tests, he/she may be required to visit or contact an REC. NMC will send issued credentials directly to Mariners.

• Role of the future REC

RECs now spend most of their time evaluating applications. Centralization will result in minimal reductions in REC staff while removing the lion’s share of evaluation work. RECs will then focus their efforts on other parts of the overall process important to the Mariner:

REC Activities:

• Work face-to-face with applicants to ensure applications are “ready for evaluation”
o Benefit to the Mariner: Complicated regulations sometimes create questions that cannot be answered by a phone call
• Provide examination services
o Benefit to the Mariner: Regional locations with people who are experts in testing means continued convenience
• Monitor USCG approved courses
o Benefit to the Mariner: Confidence that course providers saying “USCG Approved” are doing what they promised
• Evaluate local and specialty credential applications
o Benefit to the Mariner: USCG local knowledge is maintained

This also means the NMC can focus on the overall program and process to:

• Make it simpler and easier;
• Provide decisions and credentials as quickly as possible;
• Get it right the first time.

Direct and indirect calls for improving customer service, credential processing time and consistency of service have come from Mariners, Industry, Schools and Academies. We have heard these calls and are undertaking the tremendous task of solving these problems. Centralization is one component to making the solution reality.

*Many Thanks to Maritime Executive magazine for sending us this story. We consider their free newsletter a must read for every mariner. Sign-up here.

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