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White House may revive TIPS program

Paul Cullen Jr.
The Cullen Law Firm, PLLC

In the continuing saga of the federal government’s efforts to involve the trucking industry in a homeland security plan, the Department of Justice has announced the creation of Operation TIPS to which truckers and other parts of the workforce can report suspicious, potential terrorist activity. The future of this program is in doubt, however, as critics have accused the program as being one to promote neighbors spying on their neighbors.

The TIPS program would be one of five components of the Citizen Corps designed to provide ways in which the average American can contribute to our country’s security. Workers in areas such as trucking, utilities and letter-carrying would be invited to call a TIPS hotline should they see something during their usual work routine that looks suspicious or out of place. The TIPS line would take in the information, and then alert the appropriate local, state or federal authorities. In emergencies, people would still be requested to call 9-1-1. 

In Congressional hearings on legislation designed to create a Cabinet-level Homeland Security Department, the TIPS program found great opposition and was eliminated from the legislation. Opposition came from across the political spectrum, including House Majority Leader Dick Armey and the American Civil Liberties Union. The general fear was the TIPS program would, in effect, deputize citizens into “government sanctioned peeping toms” on their neighbors.

The Justice Department and Tom Ridge, head of the Office of Homeland Security defended the program and said that its intention is not to make Americans spies against other Americans. Despite Congress’ action, the program continues to have support in the administration and may be redefined to gain Congress’ support.

Arming commercial pilots?
One reason the federal government seems to be taking a piecemeal approach to the role of trucking in its homeland security plans is that its main focus has been on aviation security. Amidst the effort being made to hire new security personnel and create new security infrastructure at airports, one idea that came to life is the proposal to deputize pilots as “federal flight deck officers” with the authority to carry a firearm into the cockpit. 

The House of Representatives passed a bill on July 10 to give pilots this authority. Introduced by Rep. Don Young, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the bill is seen by its supporters as a common sense measure given the possibility that our military may be ordered to shoot down a hijacked plane full of innocent civilians. In that situation, they believe the risks associated with a pilot’s use of a gun are less than the possible alternatives. Opponents of this measure worry about the increased possibility of unnecessary violence aboard a plane. 

The program is voluntary, and pilots must undergo specific training before they can bring a gun onto a plane. Pilots will also be required to follow certain procedures during emergency situations on the plane.

Although the bill was originally given some chance at passing the House, it actually passed with bipartisan support and a surprising 3 to 1 margin. The big win in the House may put political pressure on the Senate to act on the bill, although time is running out in this Congress. 

Because of the dramatic nature of large airplane crashes, Congress and the federal government regard and treat the airline industry, airline workers, its customers and their problems very differently than those of any other industry. That understood, it is interesting, from a truckdriver’s perspective, to see what kind of rights the federal government seems willing to give private individuals who have a great deal of responsibility for the public’s safety.

Magaw quits TSA
Did he quit for health reasons or was he forced out? John W. Magaw, head of the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA), resigned his position only six months after the position was created. Magaw was responsible for new security programs across all modes of transportation, including the hiring of new security workers and the establishment of new security infrastructure at our nation’s airports. Magaw had health problems during the last few months that required him to spend time in the hospital. Given the strict congressional deadlines for implementation of many security initiatives, Magaw faced a difficult job in the best of circumstances.

Some believe though, that despite Magaw’s background in law enforcement (he was once head of the Secret Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms), he did not fit with his new responsibilities. Where he used to be answerable only to officials at the cabinet level, the new job requires that the person be able to respond to the constant scrutiny of Congress and coordinate activities with many different federal, state, and local agencies. Magaw was reported to be trying to do his job without the input and consultation of these outside parties.

James Loy, current chief operating officer of the TSA, takes over for Magaw. A former commandant of the Coast Guard, Loy has the benefit of coming from a transportation field and of seeing the mistakes that have been made since the creation of the agency.

Senate reviews Mexican truck issue
On June 27, a hearing was held in the Senate to review the DOT’s progress to ensure that Mexican trucks that enter the country comply with U.S. safety rules. OOIDA Vice President Todd Spencer submitted written comments telling the Senate that much more needs to be done.

Spencer stated that “our country did not make a bargain in NAFTA that the border would open if Mexican trucks complied solely with our truck safety rules.” Mexican truckers must also comply with immigration and customs laws and pay their fair share of taxes on the trucking industry. There are laws that prevent a Mexican driver from coming across the border on a legitimate run, and then begin to operate illegally within the United States. When this happens, the driver is working in the United States without a proper visa in violation of immigration laws, and the truck has technically been imported into the United States without paying any tariffs or duties in violation of customs laws.

As the Inspector General reported, Mexican carriers, drivers and their trucks have been violating these rules without any penalty for years. The frustration with these issues is that the federal government does not have enough enforcement people through the country to oversea the actions of Mexican truckers, and the state officials have no authority to do anything should they suspect a Mexican driver is violating federal laws.

The predicted result is that Mexican truckers, making low wages and paying no income tax, will begin to work within the United States and undercut the businesses of American truckers. While safety issues are important and get the most public attention, the American trucking industry will find nothing fair about NAFTA when some of its basic provisions are ignored by the federal government and Mexican truckers. OOIDA urged Congress to continue to scrutinize the efforts of the federal government to make Mexican trucks comply with all NAFTA rules.

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