Modern Coast Guard Failures

I recently wrote a long an d controversial article titled “Top 10 Recent Failures Of The USCG” and wanted to pose the following question to our forum members:

What is the number one [I]current[/I] failure of the USCG in [B][I]your eyes[/I][/B]?

The failure to employ real mariners in all of their decision making. From rule making to licensing they should have people with some inkling of an idea on how the real world works.

[QUOTE=captjoe;30255]The failure to employ real mariners in all of their decision making. From rule making to licensing they should have people with some inkling of an idea on how the real world works.[/QUOTE]

I think that’s an excellent point. I heard they were, at least trying, to hire mariners for a few critical positions like Marine Investigator and Marine Inspector. But I do not know how successful the initiative has been.

Any CG personnel out there wish to enlighten us?

[QUOTE=john;30256]I think that’s an excellent point. I heard they were, at least trying, to hire mariners for a few critical positions like Marine Investigator and Marine Inspector. But I do not know how successful the initiative has been.[/QUOTE]

Not well the last I heard, see here. http://towmasters.wordpress.com/2010/01/22/real-towing-vessel-inspectors-wanted-maybe/

I just found this over at the unofficial CG Blog:

When people voluntarily give you a critique, you probably ought to at least listen. Below are links to a critique offered by a mariner, [I][B]apparently one of considerable experience[/B][/I].
HA, they must not know you as well as I do John :wink:

http://www.cgblog.org/2010/04/03/top-10-recent-falilures-of-the-coast-guard/

[QUOTE=cmjeff;30336]
HA, they must not know you as well as I do John ;)[/QUOTE]

Apparently not!

Why did I talk you into joining this forum? I’m not sure I remember the reason. :wink:

I heartily agree on what John said here. Large drillships are classified as MODU and many flag states such, as for example Marshall Islands, allow non-licensed personnel to man the ship.
To me it is like to call an airplane a “train”, so that you do not need qualified pilots to fly it. Would you feel safe in this situation? Big lobbies are ruling in the GOM, and as a result the regulations in the oilfield over there are way too slack. Everywhere else in the world, including in the so-called 3rd world countries, would be not possible to operate a vessel in this way. Brazil for example issues an additional Safe Minimum Manning Certificate to any foreign Flag MODU’s working in Brazilian water where it is required to carry STCW qualified personnel.
In UK, Norway and Canada the OIM MUST be a qualified Master Mariner; it is incredible that a drilling supervisor with an OIM MODU ticket can be in charge of a self-propelled vessel, no matter the way you call it. Wy waiting for catastrophic incidents before taking any actions?

This probably does not measure as a great failure in the bigger picture. But to those hawsepipers who have been swallowed-up by the NMC - this is relevant.

So far I would have to call the NMC a colossal failure. Based on what I had read and heard, I thought the NMC was getting its act together. Now that I am back in the system for an upgrade, I am seeing the same problems all over again.

I am convinced that the NMC is being driven by Management Information System analysts who tailor their software reporting programs to put a positive spin on what is an inept system staffed by examiners who do not have the proper tools to do their job. The NMC has a gimmick in the reporting system that makes everything look rosy. Its called “[B]Awaiting Info”.[/B]

Here is how it works. The NMC deems that they are awaiting information from you. The clock that keeps application processing time is stopped. As long as you are in this limbo status, the NMC makes time stand still. You can go to the NMC website where you can view the report card the NMC gives itself. According to the NMC they are doing a wonderful job. Processing time for an application now averages under a month. Problem is they can put your file in suspended animation to pad their numbers.
For example: I got an email stating that the NMC that my status was as follows: "[B]Additional information is required to complete the evaluation of your application. You will receive a letter from the National Maritime Center detailing the information requested. For more information, you may also visit Homeport’s Merchant Mariner Application Status site, which is updated daily. Please Note: You have 90 days from the time of your official letter from the Coast Guard to submit the required information[/B]

I contacted the NMC and was told to disregard the the notice, and that my file was still being evaluated. A month goes by. My file had not still not been processed. I get another email from the NMC: [B]“This is a reminder that you have outstanding information due to the National Maritime Center. If the information is not received within 60 days of this email, your application will be withdrawn.”[/B]

Still I have no letter from the NMC. I call the NMC (this had by now become a twice weekly event) emphatically requesting that I be allowed to talk to the examiner to ask what is going on. I get put through to the examiner! She tells me that they cannot find information sea time information in my file that was submitted and accepted for my first license seven years ago!

[B]Here is the rub - in the NMC system, my file has only been in the pipeline for two weeks because I am still in the “awaiting info” status.[/B]

I imagine that my situation is not unusual. The NMC has an army of people in West Virgina who answer the phone and are very polite and helpful - as long as you are not trying to speak to an examiner. I am convinced that their primary job it to prevent the mariner from speaking with the examiner. The NMC has obviously determined that allowing the mariner and the examiner to talk would corrupt their sterile, stagnant, ineffective processing system. The examiner is effectively forced to work in a vacuum. And, as been indicated by many mariners on this website, in many circumstances they (a) do not have a mariner background; and, (b) do not know what they are looking at when a request is not plain vanilla. But, stiil the NMC puts up roadblocks to prevent the mariner from trying to help fix the problem that the NMC has created!

I am very bitter right now. I am going to find myself in a situation where my ship has sailed (literally) without me because I did not have the license in hand that I had applied for months earlier. And this same thing happened to me in in 2008 with the NMC. I don’t blame my examiner for this situation. That honor goes to the people in the Coast Guard who have created this bureaucratic nightmare.

I retired about a year and a half ago and was afloat for most of my career (thank god). I am sailing commercial now as a Captain which is what I did before I joined the Coast Guard. My biggest bitch (today) in our world (Commercial Mariners) is that the upper level of the Coast Guard tries to understand the commercial side but winds up getting in bed with the “industry” (don’t get me started on DWH) and I am sure we can all imagine what goes on under the covers, especially when you see some of the jobs in the industry the upper level falls into at retirement from being a blue suiter.

That being said, there is a group (including at least one Admiral) inside that desperately wants to understand our side but are unable to acquire that knowledge for many reasons. One of the best ways I kept my finger on the pulse (what a cliche writing moron I am) was to cold call companies and ask to go on rides. The Sandy Hook Pilots (SHP), PENN Maritime, Reinauer, Boston Marine Towing and the Alaska Marine Highway guys were some of the best. On a side note I want to specifically thank the SHP for the incredible knowledge I was given and respect I was shown by Captain Quentin Woods and his pilots when he was superintendent.

Unfortunately, most afloat guys in the Guard are working in excess of 60 hours a week so it is difficult for them to make the time unless the command is down with it. I never was a fan of the Inspection and Investigation guys but I will ASSUME the good ones were working close to that as well. Additionally, most input to regulations is done by the companies and lobbying groups which is why we end up with some of the problems with regulation and licensing by the Coast Guard. They do not understand half the time how something works (outsuide of what the book says or are told by a company) or how to effectively regulate it. Off the soap box now…

The biggest problem I see is regulating and inspecting an industry that you do not totally understand. While there are mentoring programs in the Cioast Guard for some things, I feel getting the junior people out to see what we do is the biggest travesty. The youngsters, both officcers and enlisted are hardworking individuals and most really respect the commercial guys (and gals) and have an almost unquenchable thirst for knowledge. A quick example is taking a Cutter crew to a commercial tug or OSV and letting them see what we do. They are amazed at what a crew of 10 - 14 can do on a boat that if it was in the USCG would have a crew of 40 - 70.

The solution? Maybe putting our heads together and coming up with some type of mentoring program for the lower end. The upper echelon already have made their minds up and their programs. Promoting understanding and knowledge with the youngsters will foster respect and a more realistic Marine Safety program in the trenches which is what the majority of us see.

I would have to say the consolidation of the NMC has been a failure. The NMC is purposely designed to prevent the mariner to have any direct correspondence with the evaluator. If your request is not plain vanilla, you are at mercy of a system where your future be being determined by someone who does not understand the tonnage of your vessel or what you do on that vessel. And they could care less about the ramifications to a mariner’s career about files that can sit on evaluators desks for months, or in the case of one captain I worked with - over one year to be approved to test for chief mate unlimited!

The NMC’s organizational structure is designed to protect the NMC from direct correspondence between the mariner and anybody at the NMC who is authorized to make a decision. Its foot soldiers are a bank of very polite telephone operators who all share the same telephone number and apparently are not issued last names. Their job is to politely tell you what point in the amorphous pipeline your file is at. You will be told that your file is under review and that they will contact you if they have any questions.

If the NMC really worked, reviews should take a week from the time the file was submitted and complete. A 30-minute review of a mariner’s file would not take two months. Instead the NMC can just mark a file as “awaiting info”. From first hand experience I can tell you that “awaiting info” can mean the Coast Guard has misplaced info from your file. I was told to disregard the “awaiting info” request. That way the NMC can sit on your file for two months and their self-evaluation system says they have been working on it for only two weeks.

Here is the bold idea. When a file is being initially reviewed, send the mariner an email telling the mariner who their evaluator is and how they can be contacted directly. The NMC could budget a 10-minute telephone interview between the evaluator and the mariner at the beginning of the evaluation process. In that way a 15-minute evaluation would not be dragged on for two months.

[QUOTE=BMCSRetired;32750]…That being said, there is a group (including at least one Admiral) inside that desperately wants to understand our side but are unable to acquire that knowledge for many reasons… Additionally, most input to regulations is done by the companies and lobbying groups which is why we end up with some of the problems with regulation and licensing by the Coast Guard. They do not understand half the time how something works (outsuide of what the book says or are told by a company) or how to effectively regulate it… [/QUOTE]

There are at least a few commercial mariners working in the Coast Guard as civilians. The division I ran at NMC (not the one that evaluates applications) has eight. There’s a few of us in HQ as well, some of them even participate in writing regulations.

BTT and Reinauer were most likely cooperative in your efforts as they have ex-USCG people in their offices.

PMC,

I totally agree with your post on the NMC and proposed solutions. I used to be a thorn in my bosses sides, but I always made sure when I had a complaint, I had a solution.

My experience with the NMC was a complete nightmare. It is getting better but it remains an unpleasant experience. We are not going to change them quickly. The best way to accomplish this is go to their customer survey and hammer them. EVERYONE should do this every time they call or e-mail the NMC. Give credit where credit is due but smash them at all levels when they screw up. If you go and look at it, according to their numbers (last time I looked) they were doing great, which we all know is incorrect.

The only way their bosses (HQ and Congress) know it is screwed up is when it is documented on THEIR system, not your phone call. It has to be documented other wise they disregard you.

The USCG is run by bean counter office types because they believe the Coast Guard is a business. RADM Mary landry jammed that one in my face about 4 years ago which is why if the USCG was a business and issued stock, I would not buy it.

The Coast Guard is a business?

I worked in the corporate world for 20+ years in an “executive” position, before I ran away to sea. And I thought corporate America was a bureaucratic snafu! I can assure Mary Landry that no private company the sized of the Coast Guard could survive, let alone prosper, the way the Coast Guard operates.

  1. A business survives by staying on top of industry changes. As mentioned in an above post, the Coast Guard is too short-staffed to spend time visiting its customers.

  2. A business always listens to its customers to understand what their needs are and how the industry is changing. The NMC, for example, is designed to actually block direct access from its customers.

  3. A business would not work internally on major changes in the way in conducts its business FOR MORE THAN 10 YEARS and then afterwards ask its customers ask for initial feedback from its customers. Look how the proposed STCW changes to lower level licenses are being handled.

  4. When application files were being handled by the REC you could gain favor and approval with a box of doughnuts or you be screwed because someone did not like your attitude. What business could possibly survive by qualifying their customers this way.

  5. The Coast Guard had a monopoly position in an industry where doing business with them is an absolute necessity. It’s like breathing - and the Coast Guard owns all the air. What other private industry business operates in an environment like that?

  6. The Coast Guard’s customers are afraid of the Coast Guard. For example, the Coast Guard could keep every boat in the US at the dock, at least temporarily, if they were to enforce every last detail of the CFRs (there are a lot of shades of grey) when they do their inspections. What other business has vendors that can keep them afraid of being put out of business?

  7. What other business could invest the vast majority of its resources into an unproven and unquantifiable venture like - Homeland Security - and then turnaround and ignore it existing customer base - the American mariner without facing any consequences?

  8. What kind of business moves its human resource based business, but not its human resources, to a remote part of the world where there is an unproven work force lacking relevant industry experience? I have only two more words to say about that - West Virginia.

  9. The Coast Guard’s strategic plans are developed by a senior officer base that has NEVER worked in private industry. There is no industry in the world that is more removed from its customer base than the non-defense role of the military.

  10. When your customer base has no voice, your service business cannot be quantified, and you grow your senior management in-house, from the time they are an 18 years-old marching around on a field during swab summer wearing a dress sword (don’t get me started on that one), senior-level staffing decisions are going to be made based primarily on politics.

In summary, the Coast Guard has no product. It has no bottom line. And, in reality, it has no accountability. It does not value its customer base; rather, it intimidates it. And worst of all, because of the Homeland Security albatross that has been hung around it’s neck, the Coast Guard could not care less.

Today’s Coast Guard is an organization without the adequate resources to properly fulfill its mission. And for that reason alone, as a business, it would fail.

Edit: Ahhh… Now that I have vented, a couple of positive notes. Almost all of the people I have dealt with in the Coast Guard have been pleasant and excessively polite. I think that they ask the wrong questions a lot of the time or don’t provide the correct information, but that is not a result of lack of effort. It is a result of the system they work in.

WOW Where do I start commenting?

BMCRET I have finally found a retired USCG person who admits to the issues!

[I][B]The biggest problem I see is regulating and inspecting an industry that you do not totally understand. While there are mentoring programs in the Cioast Guard for some things, …

The solution? Maybe putting our heads together and coming up with some type of mentoring program for the lower end.[/B][/I]

You are probably aware of the TSAC committees. One would think this would be where the melding of the minds would occur. Not so! They have been made up of industry and environmental and blue suits for so long, no one actually has an input who DOES Towing for a living. Recently the USCG was taken to task to make these spots on TSAC open to the mariners who actually do the work. This was a first, and is still a struggle to attend, make positions and have a say. No matter what is done, said or submitted by rank and file members is unceremoniously dumped after a couple of yeah, we’ll look into that, and other similar responses.

The Towing vessel inspection program has been populated by either retired blue suits, or ‘inside’ candidates, with no real expectation for change. The last one to be posted was in Paducah Ky. ??? Exactly how many coastwise towboats operate out of Kentucky? All the rest around the country are blue suit alumni or office hacks who went looking for shoreside government jobs. The paygrade is commensurate with a very low end Mate in the towing industry. Who exactly is the USCG trying to recruit? I don’t know of a single experienced, reputable captain who would quit a wheelhouse job to go ashore for 48K to 55k a year!

How does the USCG expect to learn from the industry when AWO seems to keep their thumb on any changes, and (by company sponsorship) take the point of view of the operators, not the crews?

The TSAC does not make policy…it makes [U]recommendations [/U]only. The USCG [U]chooses[/U] whether to accept the recommendation or not. I believe there are 3 currently sailing mariners on the committee. The Towing Vessel Inspection Program is another example of good intentions paving the road to hell.

youre right, three, within the last two years only. How about the previous 30 years?

The reference was to BMCSRET post on where to start. It seems until those in power realize the system is broken (for 30 or 40 years) nothing will change.

The towing vessel inspection program is an example of AWO ‘pretending’ to have “a plan” in place to make inspection unnecessary. How’s that working? Not really! The USCG has been browbeaten into delay, delay, delay on EVERYTHING that has been enacted, enforced or regulated for 85 years regarding the towing industry (By the towing industry). Notice 'by the industry, not by the mariners who actually work in it!

Personally I feel that blue suits should be permanently barred from soliciting work after retirement in the very industry they have been involved in regulating for the first 20 years of their career. Not to mention, by the time the senior staff matriculates up the career ladder they are actually pushing the same legislation that they then go out into public industry as the ‘knowledgeable’ professionals who need to decipher these same laws they enacted.

To borrow a phrase from the AMO thread, Acta Non Verba!

to put it clearer terms: I firmly believe in term limits for politicians. I feel the same for Governmental employees. They get a 20, or 25 yr pension. then GET OUT. This is too much conflict of interest involved to first enact and enforce; then go out into industry and pretend to be the concerned professional mariner to obey these laws.

They first need to be a mariner to UNDERSTAND this industry in the first place. Come on, be honest. How many times during boardings have you gotten a 835 for BS? But when you need actual interpretation of the regs you get the confused runaround and NO one will put anything in writing!

Every one wants to be in charge, but NO one wants to be responsible! Government at its finest!

If your bored, read this. It gives the back history of whats wrong with our industry. and it’s not even My writing!

[QUOTE=cappy208;32816]to put it clearer terms: I firmly believe in term limits for politicians. I feel the same for Governmental employees. They get a 20, or 25 yr pension. then GET OUT. This is too much conflict of interest involved to first enact and enforce; then go out into industry and pretend to be the concerned professional mariner to obey these laws.
[/QUOTE]

Cappy,

The first thing to realize is getting to the 20 to 25 year level is like working in Washington for more than a year; after being there for that period of time you tend to believe what is going on inside Washington (or inside the USCG) is reality. After you see this in reality you understand better the root cause of the problem. For example, if you are the chain, forming policy and only associate with industry leaders and retired USCG “M” types (Inspection and Investigations) that becomes your reality. However, if you spend your time on the water working or liaising with mariners on deck, that becomes your reality. Both types are needed. The guys (and gals) in the field that stay in the field to formulate new policies and procedures and high end people to help with opening doors and implementing the new policies passed up from the deck. Much as I dislike these types, they know how the game is played in Washington and you need people who can navigate there just as we need people who can actually drive ships.

BTW Cappy, are you against me working in the industry because I wore the suit for 22 years?

I wasn’t referring to an individual WORKING in the industry, but to a retiree working in management, only seeing it from that perspective. We need more (if i am reading your posts correctly) like yourself who have actually done the job. (done both sides of the job)

Don’t know where the last post went, But after coming back to edit it, I can make a clearer comment. You are exactly what is needed to go back in, as a civilian(or with a commission) and give direction to the blue suits.

As you succinctly put it; This is a conundrum, the inside wont take advice from the outside, and the outside is skeptical of the inside. And this is IN the USCG. I am referring to the guys who get out, and go into the regulatory end in private companies. I know of two who have done this, and after 10 years or so, they have gone BACK into full time commissions. They are well versed in the office point of view, the AWO point of view, and the USCG point of view.

How about the actual operators point of view? This is the defect in the system. However since this stubborn hard headedness prevails, I guess I wont hold my breath waiting for a change.

Did you click the link on the message from Saturday? That pretty well sums up and gives the history of why, how long, and the base reasons for these ongoing discussions.

To modify BP’s response: When the Thresher went down they changed things immediately, When Apollo 13 blew up in flight they changed things immediately. When the Space shuttle blew up they changed things immediately. When a tugboat blew up in 1917 they STILL haven"t changed (substantially) the way, the method and the the process of regulating, inspecting and overseeing towing vessels! The law specifically reads : “Vessels powered by steam boilers are subject to inspection.” Thus diesel powered towing vessels aren’t considered falling under this law. How bogus is that? Could this issue be this simple? A simple change in technology has baffled the Government on how to oversee the industry? (Or the towing industry has better lawyers who can beat the issue until it dies each time in legislative session)

Who is at fault? Who is responsible? It doesn’t matter. The only issue is the knowledge that it MUST change. Can you imagine the fall out if the ferry industry was able to stonewall and stimy sub T and H inspected passenger vessel regulations? That is exactly what is happening between the USCG and industry (AWO for example) IMHO this is because of the featherbedding that has gone on for decades between retirees, and industry. Why did the ‘Morro Castle’ incident effectively make all passenger ships have sprinklers fitted? God help us lowly tugboaters who catch on fire. The only protected space is the ER, and that’s a last ditch effort to prevent immolation!