The Illinois and Florida CDL scandal, in which truckers obtained licenses through bribes of state officials, shows the system can be abused if officials are not paying close enough attention, according to a DOT report released this week.
And abuses in the states led to a decline in highway safety, the panel found.
The CDL scandal in Illinois has resulted in more than 36 indictments, including the state's former inspector general, and more than 30 people have been convicted. Recently, similar CDLs-for-bribes schemes have been discovered in Florida, as well.
With criminal investigations into the fraud under way, Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater last May formed a panel of CDL experts to study the problem. The panel was chaired by Brian McLaughlin, director of the Office of Policy, Plans & Regulations at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
The panel found shortcomings at the federal and state level, but said the CDL program overall is sound. It said the program has practically eliminated the multiple license scam that drivers formerly used to avoid prosecution for moving violations, and has increased driver professionalism.
The panel came up with 34 recommendations specific to the states. In general, they call for better monitoring - electronic verification of Social Security numbers, for example - and better use of the national CDL database.
One recommendation was for Illinois to prohibit political fund-raising activities by state employees while on state business. This is in reference to the panel's finding that some Illinois state employees believed they would help their careers by raising funds for statewide elections - an attitude that "can create a climate conducive to fraud."
According to news accounts, Illinois Gov. George Ryan - who was Illinois Secretary of State when the scandal broke - said he is moving to ban political fundraising by state employees. Ryan already has issued an order barring employees under his control from soliciting contributions for his campaign.
Illinois also should move quickly to ban hardship licenses to CDL holders whose driving privilege has been suspended, the panel said. This is in reference to a 1999 accident in Bourbonnais, Ill., in which a truck driver collided with an Amtrak train, killing 11 people. The driver had a hardship license given to him after his original license had been suspended for repeated moving violations.
· Adopt the current version of the written knowledge test within one year of approval by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.
· Strengthen monitoring and oversight, with increased emphasis on field operations, at state facilities and third party test sites.
· Consider whether a single employee should be allowed to complete the entire application process, from taking the application to administering the knowledge and skills tests, to issuing license.
· Ensure the impartiality of interpreters who administer CDL knowledge and skills tests.
A complete copy of the 67-page report, "Evaluating Commercial Driver's License Program Vulnerabilities," is available on the FMCSA web site at http://mchs.fhwa.dot.gov.