There are 210,000 mariners licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard who are engaged in the movement of cargo and passengers within the United States and overseas, operating merchant ships, tugboats, ferries, dredges and other vessels on the oceans, the Great Lakes, rivers, canals and harbors.
The man in charge of the federal certification program is Capt. Anthony Lloyd, whose job it is to ensure that those plying the waterways are qualified to operate vessels safely and efficiently.
“At its heart, America is a maritime nation. It is the backbone of our economy and our way of life,” said Lloyd, the head of the Coast Guard’s National Maritime Center. “Our mission is to issue credentials to fully qualified mariners to assure a safe, secure, economically efficient and environmentally sound marine transportation system.”
Having competent, qualified people operating vessels, said Lloyd, can help reduce the number of oil spills, collisions, groundings and shipboard accidents.
Under the licensing system, the National Maritime Center enforces the standards that need to be met and monitors the tests that must be taken for a variety of different shipboard jobs, including deck officers, engineers, staff officers, radio officers and pilots. It also provides a list of approved schools and programs that offer courses needed to prepare for the licensing examinations.
Applicants must obtain a passing grade on exams that establish training and competency for sea service requirements and show the requisite experience. They also must show they are medically fit for duty, without any serious occupational risks; and that they do not have a violent criminal history or involvement with substance abuse.
On an average day, Lloyd said the National Maritime Center approves about 250 credentials, receives some 280 new applications, gives the okay to about four new training courses, receives some 1,300 emails, 2,300 website hits and almost 1,100 customer service calls. At the end of March, the center had 2,113 pending applications.
Lloyd said at least 95 percent of the license applications are processed within 30 days. A large majority are handled in under two weeks.
The Coast Guard had come under heavy criticism in years past from the merchant marine community and members of Congress for delays in processing mariner licenses. Reforms were initiated several years ago that included centralizing the licensing expertise and evaluation functions into a single headquarters in West Virginia as opposed to having these functions performed at 17 separate locations that often had different standards and procedures.
Lloyd took command of the center in September 2010, and has continued the reforms that were underway.
He said performance standards and customer service had been lacking, but the system has steadily improved with the centralization of key functions, increased staffing and greater emphasis on improving the medical review process. Lloyd said that incomplete medical applications still remain the largest cause of the delays.
At one point, Lloyd said the backlog of pending mariner applications was as high as 9,000, and it took many months to issue credentials. “We have come a long way,” said Lloyd.
Vice Admiral Brian Salerno, the Coast Guard’s deputy commandant for operations, said Lloyd “is not a status quo caretaker, but a leader who is always looking to make processes better and to be responsive to the public.” At the National Maritime Center, he said, Lloyd has reached out to the maritime trade associations and unions to identify what has been working and what can be done better, and has made significant improvements.
“He is a problem-solver, one of those people who stays calm in a crisis and who is collaborative in the way he conducts business,” said Salerno.
Lloyd began his career as a deck watch officer on the Coast Guard Cutter Salvia based in Mobile, Ala. He also served in southeast Louisiana, Elizabeth City, N.C. and Memphis, Tenn. In June 2004, he assumed command of the Pacific Strike Team and served there for three years before going to Coast Guard headquarters as program manager for marine environmental response.
His work has involved standard Coast Guard rescues and patrols to providing assistance after Hurricane Katrina, a tsunami in Thailand, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and an oil spill in Alaska.
Lloyd said his career has “always been challenging and rewarding,” and centered on “people and a humanitarian service, one that involves saving lives and serving the nation.”
His current job at the National Maritime Center, said Lloyd, represents a leadership challenge.
“My goal is to make clear visible steps to improve the credentialing process for the benefit of mariners and the marine transportation system,’ said Lloyd.
This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/fedpage/players/ to read about other federal workers who are making a difference.