GAO Says Mariner Rights Protected in Law Hearings

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report Friday detailing its findings following a review of the Coast Guard's Administrative Law Judge Program that was requested by Congress and welcomed by the Coast Guard.

The GAO conducted an independent and objective review of 1,675 suspension and revocation cases opened and closed by the Coast Guard from Nov. 10, 2005, through Sept. 30, 2008.  Analysis of those cases revealed:
•    Sixty two percent of suspension and revocation cases are disposed through settlement agreements between the Coast Guard and mariners.  Click here to view or download a chart showing the disposition of all cases reviewed by the GAO.
•    Roughly three percent, or just 45 cases, were disposed through a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge.
•    Of those cases heard by an Administrative Law Judge, 51 percent resulted in a sanction less severe than revocation, with 13 percent resulting in no sanction at all.
•    Of the 1,035 cases disposed by settlement agreement, 68 percent involved stayed revocation, an agreement that allows mariner's to regain their credentials but also allows for permanent revocation if mariners fail to meet agreed-to conditions.  Click here to view or download a chart showing the sanctions associated with cases resolved by settlement agreements.

The GAO also conducted an independent and objective review of the elements in the Coast Guard's Administrative Law Judge Program.  The GAO found that the Coast Guard's Administrative Law Judge Program provides the service's judges protection from agency coercion or influence, that all persons related to a case are adequately informed in a fair manner, that regulations governing complaints filed against mariners were being followed and that the program's appeal process is designed to protect the interests of mariners.  The GAO also reports that all of the Coast Guard's Administrative Law Judges serving during the period of the audit were hired and paid under Office of Personnel Management regulations and that the Coast Guard has issued additional regulations (above those mandated by the Administrative Procedures Act and the Office of Personnel Management) that govern the Coast Guard's administrative proceedings and are designed to ensure judges' decisional independence.

"The GAO audit reaffirms the Coast Guard's position that our Administrative Law Judge Program is sound, fair, and creates an environment that allows judges to issue decisions free of agency influence or coercion," said Rear Adm. Charles D. Michel, director of the Coast Guard's Directorate of Governmental and Public Affairs.  "The GAO report specifically noted that the Coast Guard has implemented protections for mariners through regulations the agency has enacted that govern administrative proceedings, and that the appeal process is also designed to protect mariners' interests.  While the GAO report does not address allegations made by retired Judge Jeffie Massey, a Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General review requested by the Coast Guard that will directly address Judge Massey's allegations, is ongoing and expected to be completed later this summer.  We look forward to sharing the results of that review."

To view or download the GAO's report on the Coast Guard's Administrative Law Judge Program go to: www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-09-489 

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