National Maritime Center promises more efficiency

The National Maritime Center, often criticized by mariners and Congress for its inefficiencies and delays, says it has made several reforms aimed at improving customer service while assuring marine and public safety.

One of the biggest problems cited by mariners has been processing delays caused by the medical portion of the application review. The NMC has struggled with this, due to turnover of government medical evaluators and a transition to a new medical services contractor, according to a statement from Capt. Anthony Lloyd, the NMC’s commanding officer.

“Vacancies and contract transition resulted in increases in the inventory and cycle time to process mariner medical fitness applications,” Lloyd said in the Coast Guard memo.

Lloyd cited the following changes:

• Assignment of a full-time, on-call government medical evaluator to receive calls from mariners and their physicians regarding submitted applications.

• An increase in the number of permanent federal medical screeners, evaluators and reviewers. Some positions had been advertised for 18 months. Medical personnel in the mariner-credentialing program specialize in occupational health medicine, which is a competitive recruiting field.

• A new medical evaluations and service contract was awarded in December to the RGB Group Inc., Miami. Improvements have been made to the NMC’s internal guidance documents to improve consistency of reviews.

Lloyd said that incomplete medical applications remain the largest cause of the delays. This can be avoided by correctly and completely providing information on all medical conditions. The average time for processing a credential without medical issues or lower risk medical reviews is currently about 16 days.  

The American Waterways Operators, which represents the tug and barge industry, said it is pleased with the changes and will continue to work with the NMC to further smooth the credentialing process.

“Two of the most important improvements AWO wants to see are reducing processing times and providing easy access to knowledgeable medical people so that when a credential application is delayed, mariners have someone they can reach out to,” said Brian Vahey, government affairs associate at AWO. “As I understand it, the improvements address those issues, so we’re very pleased to see that.”

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