SPECIAL REPORT: OOIDA takes FAST interim rule to task

| 10/13/2006

Oct. 13, 2006 - Allowing foreign truckers to complete only a FAST background check before hauling hazmat into the U.S. is misguided, expensive and downright unfair.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association pointed out a number of flaws with the Transportation Security Administration's interim final rule that allows foreign drivers hauling hazmat into the states to only have a Free and Secure Trade background check.

The Association filed comments responding to the interim final rule in early October.

In the 2005 highway funding legislation, Congress directed TSA officials to establish a background check system for hazmat haulers coming into the states. Officials at TSA decided that the background check used in the FAST program meets that requirement.

The interim final rule went into effect Aug. 10, although foreign truckers have until mid-November to actually get the FAST background checks.

Completely aside from the phase-in enforcement, OOIDA challenged the logic behind TSA considering the FAST background check as similar to the hazmat endorsement background check for U.S. drivers.

In its comments filed in response to the interim final rule, OOIDA points out the programs are not similar at all. In reality, OOIDA contends the rule does little to improve safety or security on U.S. roads.

As OOIDA officials and members have pointed out in Congressional hearings, round tables and other comments, the two background checks really are very different.

U.S. drivers pay up to $140 for a hazmat endorsement background check. Foreign drivers hauling hazmat will only have to pay $50 for the FAST background check. OOIDA says this cost different is burdensome and is a disincentive for U.S. drivers to obtain, or maintain a hazmat endorsement.

But, when it comes down to what records are checked for the background check, OOIDA has serious concerns about what those background checks will really mean for Mexican drivers.

"The notice . explicitly states that U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection 'exclusively' performs the background checks for Mexican FAST card applicants. Apparently the CBP plans to rely upon American databases to determine checks and assessments for Mexican drivers," OOIDA said in its comments.

Also, there are no reports of cooperation from the Mexican government or access to adequate background information about Mexican for the FAST check to really be "similar" to the hazmat background check.

"OOIDA does not believe that the acceptance of a FAST card from Mexican truck drivers hauling hazardous materials has been justified," OOIDA stated in its comments.

But beyond the "similarities," or lack thereof, the entire concept of allowing foreign drivers access to the states has even bigger problems.

Access allowed by the TSA interim final rule creates an economic advantage with a less-stringent background check afforded to drivers who may very well not be as trained or qualified as U.S. drivers.

The determination that a Mexican Commercial Drivers License is equivalent to that of a U.S. commercial driver's license was made in the 1990s. Since then there have been many changes to the U.S. program.

"OOIDA believes that any analysis relied upon by the federal government that the commercial driver licensing and hazardous materials training requirements in Canada and Mexico are equivalent to those in the United States is long out-of-date," OOIDA stated in its comments.

Canadian drivers must provide proof of Transportation of Dangerous Goods training which is somewhat similar to the U.S. HME endorsement to a CDL.

But, OOIDA is unaware of similar requirements placed on Mexican drivers.

"Because U.S. hazmat requirements play such an important role in safeguarding our homeland security, OOIDA strongly encourages (the Department of Homeland Security) to perform a thorough analysis of Canadian and Mexican driver hazmat training requirements," the Association commented.

OOIDA also took to task the lack of current enforcement on the already present illegal movement of Mexican drivers within the states and its impact.

"Additionally TSA ignores the economic affect of lower paid drivers from Mexico taking the work now performed by U.S. drivers. This includes hauling loads between two points within the United States in violation of immigration and cabotage laws," the Association commented. "Such practices have, for years, been reported by the Department of Transportation's Inspector General and by truckers to OOIDA.

"Combined with the complete lack of preparation at all levels of government to enforce these rules, this new interim rule will just expand opportunities for such illegal and economically damaging activity."

- By Jami Jones, senior editor