During Wednesday's hearing on port security and the credentialing of port personnel, Phil Byrd, president and CEO of South Carolina-based Bulldog Hiway Express, testified before the Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
Byrd's company is an intermodal carrier, and as such is concerned about the proliferation of background checks, fingerprinting and IDs required by individual intermodal ports.
While the situation has been exacerbated by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, it started before then, when Florida passed the Florida Seaport Security Act last year. The legislation requires each of Florida's 14 seaports to restrict access to seaports, or specific areas within the port identified as restricted access areas by the seaport's security plan, to persons who have undergone fingerprint-based criminal history checks and met the criteria for allowing access.
"For a trucking company operating in all 14 ports in Florida, this means that all of that company's drivers have to undergo 14 separate fingerprint-based criminal history checks using differing criteria to determine whether that driver will receive 14 separate identification badges," Byrd said. "The cost for the criminal history check and badge for one driver is $74 at the Port of Jacksonville, and the badge is only good for one year. Each year thereafter, the driver must undergo an additional name check with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement before being issued a badge. The cost for this check is $25."
Bulldog Hiway Express, he said, no longer does business in Florida because of this. But other states are reportedly looking at similar legislation, he said.
"No purpose is served by querying the same criminal history records database of the FBI 14 times for the same driver in order to gain access to the 14 ports within Florida. Nor would any purpose be served by querying the same criminal history records database of the FBI for the same driver three different times in order to gain access to ports in three different states, such as the Port of Charleston, the Port of Savannah, and the Port of Jacksonville. It should only take one check to produce the information to determine whether to issue a uniform, interoperable I.D. card that works at all the ports nationwide."
The U.S. Department of Transportation, Byrd noted, is already working on the concept for a national transportation worker ID card.
The ATA, Byrd said, has proposed a model in which a private, government-designated entity, such as ATA, would play a central role in channeling criminal history record checks for a segment of the transportation industry -- in ATA's case, trucking -- and issuing properly designed transportation worker ID cards pursuant to government standards and guidelines.
"Under the ATA proposal, my company could channel the fingerprints of a potential employee to the FBI through the designated entity," Byrd said. "The government could check those prints against any database it desires, but only the results of the check against the FBI criminal history record databases would be provided to us."
The card would contain the employee's fingerprints and conform with DOT-prescribed software and hardware standards. The employee could then use the card to access seaports, airports, and any other areas that may restrict access for security purposes.
The Teamsters union issued a statement announcing its opposition to the proposal.
"Through this arrangement, the ATA and its member employees could have unfettered access to a broad range of sensitive information, including information concerning an employee's past wholly irrelevant to seaport security," the union said in a statement.
"We oppose this fox guarding the chicken coop approach," said Teamsters President James P. Hoffa. "As we have seen in the airline industry, such unlimited access to an employee's history, by a non-neutral party, has led to abusive practices."