By Joel Milton
I can’t blame mariners for thinking that no one ever pays attention to them except when it’s to make their lives more difficult. However, it turns out that some members of Congress have been paying attention lately, and for once this could spell good news for mariners.
The House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation held hearings in July on the alleged unfairness to mariners who must come before Coast Guard Administrative Law Judges. Chaired by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the subcommittee grilled the Coast Guard and apparently didn’t like what it heard. It seems that the testimony from two former ALJs was disturbing enough that Congress could possibly remove the ALJ program from Coast Guard control to restore its integrity and to prevent the abuse of mariners caught in a system stacked against them.
The second round of hearings addressed whether the Coast Guard is still capable of adequately managing its marine safety program, given its many other duties, funding constraints and, in some cases, very poor performance. The marine safety program includes, among other things, vessel inspections, equipment approvals, accident investigations, and the entire licensing and documentation system for mariners. Managing it in a truly professional manner would be an even better goal to strive for.
To find out the specifics about the hearings go to: http ://transportation.house.gov/coast%20guard/index.htm l . Click the “Hearings” tab at the top, scroll down to 7/31/07 and 8/2/07, and then click on the title. First read the “Summary of Subject Matter,” then be sure to also click the opening statements and witness testimonies on the right-hand side.
After doing some reading, I encourage you all to contact the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee offices of both parties and speak with a staff member about your concerns. I’ve done it myself and, believe it or not, they actually do want to hear from us.
You can reach the majority party at 202-226-3587. The staff member you need to speak with is John Cullather. He proved to be both knowledgeable and sympathetic to our concerns. The minority office number is 202-226-3552.