It should come as no surprise that as the nation — and the world, for that matter — adjusts to the new realities of the U.S.-led war on terrorism, North American truck drivers and their activities will be under a microscope like never before.
It may take awhile for all the proposals floating around the halls of government to work their way into actual legislative or executive actions, but you can be sure it's no longer business as usual for trucking.
For example, based on recent Senate discussions, the Truckload Carriers Assn. (TCA) expects to see “tougher federal guidelines for the driver licensing process, criminal and immigration background checks for new hires, and possibly fingerprint identity on Commercial Driver's Licenses.”
TCA, which keeps a pretty close ear to the grindings inside the Beltway, reports that during Senate surface transportation committee hearings — almost a month after the terrorist attacks — Sen. John Breaux (D-LA) told Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) chief Joseph Clapp to “get a hammer” to get the agency's rules in motion.
In fairness to Clapp, that visit to Capitol Hill on October 10 came just five days after he was sworn in as FMCSA administrator. At any rate, he told the committee what FMCSA had already done to improve haz-mat security and noted other safety initiatives were under way.
And, according to TCA, Duane Acklie, chairman of the American Trucking Assns. (ATA), testified to Congress that trucking wants the same access to FBI criminal databases for background checks that other security-conscious industries have.
TCA and ATA are jointly working to propose legislation that would indeed open criminal records maintained by the FBI and the National Crime Information Center to trucking firms.
But drivers are not going to be looked at only before they are hired. Anyplace a driver arrives that has any connection to national security or even just to a skittish private concern, he or she will be getting the once-over.
And given that many of the terrorists who carried out the September 11 attacks were later determined to be in this country illegally, drivers of all nationalities are getting more attention at both our northern and southern border crossings.
There is at least some movement afoot to streamline things. The Transportation Intermediaries Assn. (TIA), which serves third-party logistics providers, says Tom Ridge, director of homeland security, has proposed merging the operations of the U.S. Customs Service, Border Patrol and Coast Guard.
While TIA points out such integration could cut the time it takes to inspect trucks at the borders, I highly doubt these bureaucratically well-entrenched entities will quietly give up their historic independence — nor perhaps should they. That would be like saying the Marine Corps might as well be part of the Army. The truth is one big organization, governmental or otherwise, is often far less nimble than several smaller ones.
We should all expect to put up with longer delays and greater inconvenience for the duration of the war on terrorism. That's not to say there will not be solutions devised that will improve security yet also speed truckers on their appointed rounds. On the other hand, we shouldn't expect quick fixes of the sort that can be expressed in a politician's sound bite to carry the day for us.
Two things are certain. We are all in this new world together. And we will all navigate it together.