SPECIAL REPORT: GAO says drug testing system needs work

| 5/21/2008

Wednesday, May 21, 2008 – The drug testing program facing truckers provides little incentive to follow the regs and has too many opportunities for test tampering according to a report just released by the Government Accountability Office.

The report follows a hearing on the Department of Transportation’s drug testing program conducted by the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.

Leadership of the committee asked the GAO to take a hard look at the current program following the hearing.

The report states that FMCSA has limited oversight resources for all carriers and limited enforcement options for safety audits of new carriers. Although thousands of carriers are reviewed each year, the reviews touch only about 2 percent of the industry. As a result, carriers have limited incentives to follow the regulations.

In addition to a lack of incentive to follow the regs, the report states that the system is pretty easy to beat. The GAO laid blame for drivers beating the tests on the drug testing sites.

The report states that sites fail to detect drug use because of the ease of subverting the urine test, either because collection sites are not following protocols or because drivers are using products that are widely available to adulterate or substitute urine specimens.

For example, GAO investigators, posing as commercial truck drivers needing drug tests, found that employees at 10 of 24 collection sites tested did not ask the investigator to empty his pants pockets, as they are required to do, to ensure he was not carrying adulterants or substitutes.

To counter these weaknesses in the current system, the GAO suggests increasing the number of drivers tested by implementing stiffer requirements, which will likely have new entrants facing a tougher testing system.

The GAO also recommends that the regs have tougher penalties for collection sites that do not follow federal protocols. The report also encourages congressional action to ban products that help drug users beat tests at the federal level.

Finally, a national database of driver drug testing results was endorsed by the report to help prevent drivers from hiding past positive drug tests. The database, according to GAO would also ensure that motor carriers conduct thorough background checks on drivers. Also, using the database to encourage states to suspend a driver’s commercial driver’s license after a positive drug test or refusal to test would be a more direct way to compel drivers to complete the return-to-duty process, the report stated.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor