The United States Coast Guard's Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) program is designed to, among other things, promote safety at sea while protecting mariners' rights and is composed of judges whose duties include presiding over cases involving mariners' credentials. If a mariner does not meet certain requirements related to safety and security at sea, Coast Guard investigative officers are to serve the mariner with a complaint that lists the allegation(s) and initiate proceedings that can result in the mariner's credential being suspended or revoked. GAO was asked to review elements of the ALJ program and this report addresses (1) the extent to which the ALJ program contains elements designed to foster the decisional independence of ALJs, (2) the extent to which the ALJ program includes protections for mariners and whether complaints and decisions include elements required by program regulations, and (3) the outcome of mariner suspension and revocation cases in recent years. To conduct this study, GAO analyzed the laws, regulations, and policies governing the ALJ program. GAO also reviewed all suspension and revocation cases opened and closed from November 10, 2005, through September 30, 2008, to determine outcomes, and further reviewed a representative sample of these cases to determine whether complaints and decisions included the required elements. GAO supplemented these case reviews with interviews of Coast Guard ALJ program officials.
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