When a Congressional subcommittee wanted to review effectiveness of the current policies and procedures for conducting background checks on hazmat drivers, they heard just how riddled with problems it is - straight from the horse's mouth, so-to-speak.
Michael Laizure, a small business trucker for more than 13 years, testified in Washington, DC,before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Homeland Security on behalf of the Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association Nov. 1.
Laizure's testimony was clearly drawn from his extensive experience hauling a wide variety of security-sensitive loads - forcing members of the committee to realize how current regulations impact the truckers on the road.
"TSA's background check/security threat assessment system is cumbersome and problematic for all involved parties," Laizure testified.
He outlined a number of the complaints truckers have relayed to OOIDA. Among the complaints are the shortage of facilities and available times of operations, as well as the substantial out-of-pocket expense and lost revenue.
Laizure explained that in his home state of Washington, the closest facility for him to complete the process is 170 miles away from home.
"The TSA also never considered that driving to and from the fingerprint location as well as the time involved in the process often counts against the federal hours-of-service regulations that the drivers must abide by and significantly infringe upon their income," he said.
But beyond the expense and the inconvenience, Laizure illustrated the shortcomings of the TSA background checks to the subcommittee, which was also assessing proposals for shoring up security of hazmat loads and the drivers who haul them.
"To date, there are no known background checks for truck drivers used in Mexico," he said. "This implies that foreign drivers are less likely to be terrorists than American drivers.
"It is grossly unfair to U.S. drivers to allow persons whose background cannot be effectively checked to have the same rights and privileges as U.S. drivers."
Despite the measure in the Highway Bill to require comparable background checks of foreign drivers, Laizure said there is no way to ensure the quality and accuracy of the information utilized in those checks, particularly for drivers from Mexico.
"OOIDA does not believe that TSA would have access to sufficient information from other countries to perform a threat assessment equivalent to those performed on U.S. drivers," he testified.
Digressing from the background checks, Laizure encouraged the subcommittee to consider what is the bigger threat to security of hazmat loads - safety on the highway.
"As someone who regularly hauls hazardous material loads, I believe it is also important to point out some of the regulations and practices within the trucking industry that leave drivers vulnerable to terrorist attacks," he said.
Laizure said that while there is evidence and a history of terrorists using trucks as weapons, OOIDA doesn't believe that terrorists will go through the trouble of getting a CDL, getting a hazmat background check and going through all the hoops and hurdles. Terrorists are just going to steal a truck.
"The lack of secure and safe places to for trucks to park, in many areas around the country when a driver needs to sleep or rest, is a significant vulnerability for hazmat transportation," he testified.
"This problem remains entirely unaddressed by TSA and FMCSA."
Further illustrating the dangers to truckers, Laizure took to task placards and global positioning system tracking of the tractors pulling the hazmat loads.
Hazmat loads are required to be posted with a placard. While the placard is to assist emergency personnel responding to an incident involving the load, Laizure pointed out that anyone with an Emergency Response Guide could look up the code and have a pretty good idea what is onboard.
Laizure also pointed out that proposals to require GPS tagging of hazmat trucks miss the mark.
"Isn't it the hazardous materials that you would most like to keep track of?" he asked the subcommittee. "Hazardous materials travel across several modes of transportation. Shouldn't any electronic monitoring be of the materials themselves?"
- By Jami Jones, senior editor