OOIDA to feds: Devil in the details on background checks

At press time, federal transportation officials were reviewing changes to the U.S. PATRIOT Act contained in legislation (S1750) introduced by Sens. Ernest Hollings (D-SC), John McCain (R-AZ), John Breaux (D-LA) and Gordon Smith (R-OR). 

S1750 concerns rules about background checks that could affect the nation’s three million truckers who hold hazmat endorsements and 10 million others who hold CDLs.

Meanwhile, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) is concerned some nitty-gritty issues may lack clarity when final regulations are published. OOIDA has informed the Senate sponsors of its concerns.

Some key points: OOIDA believes federal officials and not employers or private companies should conduct security background checks, and the information should be kept private. In addition, background checks should be the basis for obtaining a CDL, not just a hazmat endorsement.

The effort to iron out these and other details currently involves the FBI, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. 

So far, OOIDA is concerned because the federal spotlight appears to focus on drivers — not terrorists. 

OOIDA President Jim Johnston: “Terrorists are more likely to steal a truck than obtain a CDL and work as a trucker. OOIDA encourages the government to focus primarily on this more likely scenario in its proposals to address security issues in the trucking industry.” 

Specifically, hijacking or stealing a truck from a public space is a likely terrorist scenario achieved without a background check or proper CDL.

“OOIDA would like to re-emphasize the need for a greater number of secure rest areas in every part of the country,” Johnston said. “Truckers are usually forced to improvise and park on the side of the highway or ramp, in industrial areas, and in other remote, unsecured and unpatrolled areas. This makes trucks easy pickings for a determined terrorist with a gun.”

OOIDA believes background checks can be useful in preventing terrorism involving trucks. Here are some suggestions to achieve that goal:

  • The driver should be the only person learning any details that negatively affect the check. All others should know only if the person passed or failed. An individual who fails should have some right to appeal.
  • Requiring a background check as part of the CDL process would address motor carriers’ concerns that the process would take too long should the government perform the checks. Individuals wishing to become drivers would wait on a background check to get a CDL, then would enter the marketplace. Current drivers needing a check for license renewal would have fair warning and could begin the process well in advance of the license expiration date.
  • If private interests are allowed to use biometric verifying technology, they should only confirm the person’s identity and not be allowed to make a record of that person’s biometric signature.
  • Employers or private organizations are not equipped to do the special background checks required by this anti-terrorism legislation. Among the reasons: these entities have no authority to grant or revoke a CDL or hazmat license; an inherent conflict exists because carriers want to keep all of their trucks on the road and would resist hiring limits; there would be no standard preventing one carrier from hiring a driver whom another carrier concluded was a terrorist threat; there’s too great a risk that background check information will be misused; and the cost of background checks would be least burdensome if performed by the government.
  • Trucking security would improve if current CDL standards were enforced. For example, it’s not uncommon to find persons holding a valid CDL who cannot speak English as required by federal regulation. CDLs should not be issued to illegal aliens and CDLs given to foreign workers should be set to expire when that person’s visa expires.

And finally, the legislation needs a much clearer focus on the problem at hand — preventing terrorism.

— Dick Larsen, senior editor