Tuesday, February 21, 2012

relatively painless- Coast Guard credential renewal

I was VERY pleasantly surprised by the process in place by the US Coast Guard for license and credential renewals.

My captain's license and merchant mariner credentials are dated- approaching 5 years since I last renewed and updated my file with the US Coast Guard, the folks who monitor and issue such things.
In the Bush years, the Coast Guard imploded- overburdened badly in terms of mission, the Coasties went from guarding life and limb on our seashores to being whatever anyone wanted, anytime- their primary mission changed over from lifesaving and patrol to policing the oceans and providing security theatre so we could appear to be rabidly safe from waterborne underwear bombers, drug runners, and people who talk loudly at the theatre.
With increasing mission creep being a major issue, the Coast Guard was in a bad way- unable to do anything truly well with the loss of mission focus, with the exception of the lifesaving portion of their job, the other traditional roles suffered. Most notably, for me, the part where they deal with merchant mariners.
The Coast Toasties are the gatekeepers for merchant mariners- they set the hurdles we must jump to qualify for our jobs; whether it's giving exams, grading exams, assessing skill sets or obsessively begging you to pee into a plastic cup like an extra in a german porn film, they're there to see that mariners render unto Caesar his due.
When the US became a signatory to the STCW (Standards of Training and Certification for Watchstanders), everything changed. Rules became ultra rigid- the mission for mariner credentialing went from assessment, testing and demonstration of skills to checking off checklists and killing trees. A visit to a Regional Exam Center became a self-guided tour of the tower of Babel. Many of you experienced this first hand.
I got lucky, sort of. While I got caught in the transition from the old system to the 'new' (STCW-based) system, I was able to get tested and licensed while the old system's paper-management scheme still existed. I drove 15 miles to the REC in Boston, paid a week's worth of bait money to park close to the North End for 2 hours, and handed in my papers, got tested, and received my license and Z-card (a little ID card that lists my ratings- the things I can do besides drive a boat) all in one day.
That system no longer exists. Papers get forwarded to Virginia for assessment now in a centralized system. Delays in issuing licenses and credentials ranged from 6-9 months. People lost jobs. The Coast Guard failed us. Mission creep killed them, and the demand for security theatre gave the Fed free reign to piss additional responsibilities down on the Coast Guard, preventing the new system from launching smoothly. How can you do a job when every day you're receiving a new job that you've never done before?
With time, the Coasties responded. There are still hiccups. Anyone with any medical issue (99% of the population) has massive headaches still to get their papers in order, but even that is slowly getting better. Even if now we have medical Theatre in the Coast Guard (because one guy lied and hid his medical history and unsuccessfully played bumper cars with the Golden Gate Bridge), and the usual Washington response is to create a massive bureaucracy in lieu of enforcing the existing laws designed to prevent accidents, there's another turd in the Coast Guard's punchbowl of a mission. I feel bad for them.
At some point, however, the new regime balanced their on-the-scene personnel needs with the administrative staff at paperwork HQ, and started quietly and efficiently processing more merchant mariner licensure.
Being for the most part a lucky dude, I have no major medical issues, beyond being too handsome for my own good, and also being fat. As such, it was one week to the day between the time I mortgaged my soul and paid for parking in Boston and handed in my paperwork, and the issuance of my new credentials and licensure. Not bad, considering that two years ago, had I been required to renew, it would have taken until last week to get my license anyhow.
The only headache in the whole process was that the doctor at my local occupational health clinic forgot to write down her medical license number, and the assessor at the REC caught the boo-boo, and sent me packing to the clinic for a correction. Took one hour. I parked illegally right in front of the REC on re-arrival, and 3 minutes later handed in the corrected forms, and got sent home. The desk-jockey saved me from weeks of back-and-forth by mail in correcting a clerical error, and for that I'm grateful. I'm more grateful I didn't have to pay $20 an hour for parking twice on the same day.


Ben McKee said...

That's great news. I am do for my renewal right now. Fortunately this time my employment doesn't hang on their processing speed. I lost a sailing job because a renewal (with all the t crossed, and i dotted) got help up for 10 months!

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John Barrett said...
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