By Mark H. Reddig
The TSA has hired a private contractor to help review drivers’ information and conduct the actual security assessments on truckers who haul hazardous materials.
The revelation that the Transportation Security Administration will rely on yet another private business comes in the wake of truckers’ outrage about the fact that the parent company of DAC Services – US Investigations Services – is helping collect their fingerprints and personal information for background checks.
DAC is a private company that provides information on truckers’ employment history to motor carriers.
“We’re extremely concerned about the security of the information drivers would have to provide to these private companies,” OOIDA President Jim Johnston said.
“When you give a fingerprint, you’ve also got to provide a lot of other information.”
Those concerns include misuse of truckers’ private information and identity theft.
Company officials at Computer Sciences Corp. of El Segundo, CA, told Land Line that TSA awarded their firm the contract on Jan. 5.
However, TSA did not make a formal announcement at that time. In fact, despite continued investigation, it was well into March before Land Line discovered the deal.
And the deal appears to be in conflict with some previous statements made by TSA officials.
In a Jan. 31 press release from the TSA, officials wrote that “drivers’ fingerprints and biographical information will be forwarded to TSA for vetting (evaluation).”
However, the TSA’s spokeswoman, Deirdre O’Sullivan, recently told Land Line that agency officials had known since at least November of 2004 that they would use a private contractor to help with the actual security evaluations, which TSA refers to as “the adjudication function.”
Fingerprint-based checks start May 31 for renewing hazmat drivers
By Land Line staff
Current hazmat drivers who are renewing their endorsements or transferring them to a new state will be subject to the Transportation Security Administration’s fingerprint-based background checks starting May 31.
Commercial drivers applying for hazmat endorsements for the first time started undergoing checks Jan. 31.
Drivers in the 34 states that chose to use the federal government’s contractor can go to any location operated by Integrated Biometric Technologies to submit their fingerprints and personal information. Based in Nashville, TN, Integrated Biometric Technologies is TSA’s preferred private-sector contractor.
In most other states, state officials will collect truckers’ fingerprints and information to be sent to federal officials. But in a few states, contractors chosen by the state – neither screened nor approved by TSA – will collect the prints and information.
To find out whether a state is using TSA’s contractor, visit hazprints.com on the Web. If your state is not using that company, call the agency that issues CDLs in your state.
In March, O’Sullivan said TSA anticipated at the time of its rulemakings in November 2004 and January of this year that it would use a private contractor to help decide whether drivers should be approved for hazmat endorsements “because at the time, we were still building up the office to provide these services. That’s the reason we’re bringing in the private contractor.”
But when asked whether any rulemaking – or any other TSA public document – included an indication that a private contractor would be used for the actual security threat assessments – and not just the collection of the information – O’Sullivan was clear.
“I don’t think so,” she said. “I don’t know why it would.”
OOIDA Director of Regulatory Affairs Rick Craig said if the association had known a private business would be involved, “We sure would have been suspect of it.”
“We obviously would have said the same thing we said when it came to using third parties for the fingerprint collections and so forth, and that is there are certain people who should not be involved in this.”
Since TSA first announced the decision to conduct the fingerprint-based checks, many truckers have expressed outrage that their private information – and fingerprints – would be in the hands of private, for-profit companies. OOIDA, in its comments to TSA, has consistently called for an end to the involvement of private contractors.
Even after it was revealed that a private contractor would be involved in the collection of fingerprints and personal information, most in the trucking industry thought TSA itself – with the FBI performing background checks – would conduct the actual assessments.
“I figured they were going to run all that through TSA, that their personnel were going to be doing those checks,” Craig said.
Craig did not wholly rule out the role of private contractors in the process, but he said the list of requirements OOIDA would like to see in a contractor is long – and, in reality, unlikely to be met.
“As long as they really, truly have the qualifications, as long as we can be totally assured that they’re going to keep all the information private, not divulge it to anyone other than TSA …,” Craig said. “As long as they do have the experience, as long as they have good data, as long as they’re diligent in making sure that they’re not confusing the bad guys with good guys, as long as they abide by all the federal privacy laws (it might work.)”
How is CSC qualified to screen hazmat drivers?
CSC officials stress the credentials of their employees when talking about the TSA contract.
Bill Cleveland, the director of the CSC unit handling the TSA contract, said the company’s senior personnel have “a lot of law-enforcement background, or previous histories in law enforcement for the federal government or state agencies.”
CSC’s program manager for the TSA contract, Rick Savini, said all the workers are required to have some “adjudication background experience.”
Cleveland said most of the workers have government security clearances, and all of CSC’s senior workers have undergone a security background check. He pointed out that Savini, for example, is a retired federal government employee with 27 years’ experience.
Savini says the company has performed the same kinds of functions for other government agencies – including the Defense Department, the Air Force, the Navy and U.S. Customs. And he said he and many of his employees have previous experience doing checks on non-government personnel.
There are already 26 employees at the company’s Fairfax, VA, facility to work on the TSA contract. Savini said the company intended to ramp up that number after May to bring its staff up to about 40.
What will CSC be doing?
Savini said the CSC workers would provide “adjudication support.”
“We review the records or the applications as they’re sent in, and associated records, in comparison with the guidelines,” Savini said. The CSC staff will then “make a recommendation to TSA as to approve or to reject the application.”
TSA’s O’Sullivan said all information would be reviewed by TSA employees.
“And TSA employees will make all final decisions regarding the security assessments,” she said.
O’Sullivan also said truckers’ information would remain on TSA’s computer network.
“Basically, the company is going to log onto TSA’s network in order to ensure the security,” she said.
Privacy rules are ‘absolute’
Officials with TSA and CSC said the computer network is secure.
“It’s a government system that they’ve just developed,” Cleveland said. “Basically, our people hook up to the system, sign on, and access the information electronically so the system has no paper basing.”
But what’s to stop a CSC employee from printing out hard copies of truckers’ files or simply taking notes by hand from the computer screens? Lisa Dean, TSA’s privacy officer, summed it up in two words: “Jail time.”
“If they want to break a federal privacy law, and pay for it, that’s something they might want to consider before copying any information,” Dean said.
There are other safeguards as well. Cleveland said the information on TSA’s computer network is “encrypted in transportation back and forth” and Savini said the electronic nature of the data makes it even more secure.
“The private information of the tuckers is never in any kind of a paper format that we see; it’s all handled electronically,” Savini said.
O’Sullivan said that TSA’s contractors and their subcontractors are “absolutely” required to follow the agency’s privacy rules. She said the agency also planned to regularly check up on its contractors to ensure privacy rules were followed.
“TSA monitors all aspects of any contract it has with any private company,” she said.
Savini confirmed that, saying his company’s personnel are supervised by CSC, but a number of TSA staff are at the facility too.
“There’s a constant audit,” he said, adding that while TSA plans in the long term to review about three-fourths of the cases, currently, “100 percent of them have been reviewed by TSA for accuracy and quality.”
But OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said despite any safeguards, the association is still concerned that the involvement of private companies could create a problem.
“Security breaches of personal information are routine,” Spencer said. “Anybody that would insist that they can safeguard your information will be likely lying to you about other things.
“When you find it wasn’t a good idea, you usually find out because bad things happened.”
Land Line Copy Chief Coral Beach contributed to this report.