Our attention was caught by an item in this week’s Washington Waves regarding processing times for mariner credentials and documents. The Government Accountability Office is recommending that the Coast Guard’s National Maritime Center, which issues mariner credentials, include total processing time in assessing its own performance—including time lost to waiting for information from applicants, which it currently does not include. That recommendation grew out of a study included in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2023.
The NMC does record total processing time—time from receipt of materials to issuance. But it assesses itself according to “net processing time,” or the time it spends processing the materials.
Currently the NPT for processing merchant mariner credentials is about 37 percent within 30 days—the target goal. After seeing steady improvement in 2021 until average net processing times within 30 days were within the 70 to 80 percent range much of the year, the NMC’s monthly rate showed a steady deterioration in net processing times for 2022. Last year that figure dropped to as low as 12 percent some months, before creeping back up to 21 percent by the end of the year.
“Adding a measure to track performance of its overall credentialing processing time could help ensure the Coast Guard remains responsive to mariners’ needs,” the GAO said.
Rear Adm. Wayne Arguin, assistant commandant for prevention policy, addressed these issues at the recent meeting of the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association, saying the current system needs to be completely overhauled. He told GICA members, “Our stretch goal is to make that a completely electronic process. Once the evaluation is complete and you get approved, you’ll get an email with a QR code or some other format that says ‘You’re up, move up.’” Arguin said it would take two years to build out a new system. He ultimately wants to digitize the credential itself, something that would require alignment with the International Maritime Organization.
But all that, if it happens, is in the future. Right now, following the GAO’s recommendation would be a good step forward.