By Dave Osiecki, Pres., Scopelitis Transportation Consulting LLC & Regulatory Consultant to DriverReach
It was 1999. Congress passed the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act which, among other things, directed the newly-created Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to study the merits of a national CDL drug and alcohol test results clearinghouse (Clearinghouse) for the motor carrier industry. Five years later, in its 2004 report to Congress, FMCSA found that a Clearinghouse designed to maintain records of all drug and alcohol program violations of CDL holders was both feasible and potentially cost-effective. Fast forward 12 years and, in December 2016, FMCSA published a rule establishing requirements for the Clearinghouse, and setting January 2020 as the official industry “compliance date.” The Clearinghouse will need to be a real thing, of course, for the industry to meet the compliance date.
So, will FMCSA ‘stand up’ the Clearinghouse in 2019, allowing the industry to meet the January 2020 compliance deadline? Or, will the Clearinghouse be delayed? It’s a fair question, and one I’ve received a few times this month from industry stakeholders. As a result, I went to the source—the right folks at FMCSA, and here’s what I learned:
FMCSA has every intention of meeting its internal deadlines to develop, test, and begin implementing the ‘industry side’ of the Clearinghouse this year. Put another way, the Agency does not want a delay, nor do key staff anticipate a delay. FMCSA is working closely with the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center**, a separate part of the USDOT that serves as a technical resource for agencies like FMCSA, to write the software, acquire the hardware, establish system security protocols, create a carrier registration process, etc.
FMCSA expects Volpe to finish its Clearinghouse development work later this year (2019), and is planning to allow carriers and others (i.e., Medical Review Officers and Third-party Administrators) to begin registering in the October 2019 timeframe. Even before this happens, however, FMCSA plans to undertake an industry outreach program, beginning in the Spring 2019 timeframe, that will include a new webpage to provide the industry with Clearinghouse-related information, FAQs, etc. While not specifically mentioned to me by FMCSA, this outreach effort will likely include webinars, motor carrier checklists, and other user-friendly resource documents, similar to what the Agency provided during ELD implementation.
It’s important to note, however, that the ‘State side’ of the Clearinghouse will experience a delay. FMCSA’s December 2016 Clearinghouse rule did not specifically address how State Driver Licensing Agencies were supposed to use drug or alcohol violation information in the Clearinghouse during the CDL licensing or renewal process. As a result, FMCSA will be undertaking a rulemaking process this year to clarify State CDL-related responsibilities.
So, as it stands today, the answer to our original question—will 2019 bring Clearinghouse implementation, or a delay?—appears to be yes and no. Implementation for industry use appears on track. State use of the Clearinghouse, and State CDL-related actions based on Clearinghouse data, will be delayed for the foreseeable future.
Stay tuned for the launch of FMCSA’s industry outreach program concerning the Clearinghouse.
** “Volpe” may sound familiar to you because it is the USDOT organization that helped create the CSA SMS scoring methodology for FMCSA, and it is essentially the CSA ‘back office’.
Have questions? Want to know more? If so, call or email Dave Osiecki, of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting LLC, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-728-2851
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