USIS in the mix
Federal contractor is using USIS/DAC to help gather hazmat drivers’ background information

By Mark H. Reddig
Associate Editor

US Investigations Services, the company that bought DAC Services, will be involved in the background check process for truck drivers with hazmat endorsements.

A federal official told Land Line earlier this year that USIS/DAC would not be the primary contractor. Land Line learned recently, however, the firm would be involved on a different level.

DAC, long a target of truck drivers’ distrust over its handling of truckers’ employment records, is now a part of USIS, which has been revealed as a subcontractor for Integrated Biometric Technologies. That company was chosen earlier this year by the Transportation Security Administration as its preferred contractor for fingerprint and background information collection for hazmat drivers, and will be used for that function in 34 states.

Charles R. Carroll, vice chairman and CEO of Integrated Biometric Technologies, said USIS operates the call center where truckers call in questions or fill out their applications online. USIS is also contracted to provide truckers information on the status of their applications.

OOIDA contends that any company contracted by the TSA to collect information to be used in conducting sensitive background checks on drivers must be free of any business interest in the trucking industry.

“TSA must not place a private company into the course of public duty when that company may then have an opportunity to further its private interests,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA’s executive vice president. “It’s called conflict of interest, and it is wholly unethical.

“If you’ve been in trucking long, you probably know about DAC Services, now owned by US Investigations Services. DAC claims 2,500 motor carrier clients and access to more than 4.7 million driver records. How can this not be a conflict of interest?

“They are trying to serve two masters. It smells. It smelled from the start, and nothing has happened other than the smell has gotten stronger.”

Before the first of this year, Integrated Biometric Technologies’ Web site stated it had “partnered” with Lockheed Martin for some of its software. But on Jan. 16 – three days after the final fingerprinting rule was issued by TSA – the company posted a news release listing six subcontractors: Lockheed Martin, Hewlett Packard, Logista Solutions, Automated License Systems, Examination Management Services and US Investigations Services.

Land Line reported in its February issue that DAC had not been chosen as the vendor based on interviews with a TSA official. In January, the official, Deirdre O’Sullivan, confirmed that the Nashville, TN-based biometrics firm was selected, and that DAC was not the approved vendor. O’Sullivan said federal regulations prohibited her from saying whether DAC or its parent company, USIS, were among the bidders.

However, in a February interview – after Land Line learned that DAC’s parent company was involved as a subcontractor – O’Sullivan said that when the agency chose its primary contractor, it was aware that subcontractors would be involved, and it was aware that USIS was among those working with Integrated Biometric Technologies on the hazmat information collection.

O’Sullivan said the use of USIS and other subcontractors would have been included in the primary contractor’s proposal to TSA.

Carroll confirmed that USIS was added to the list of subcontractors when his company put its bid together and started to identify the functions that would have to be carried out to fulfill the TSA contract.

“We developed a teaming agreement and secured them as a subcontractor,” Carroll said, later adding that “it is public information when you respond to a RFP.”

The inclusion of the firm did not raise any alarms at TSA – O’Sullivan said TSA did not have any concerns about the involvement of USIS.

However, OOIDA’s Spencer expressed strong concerns about whether the subcontractors could be patrolled effectively enough to protect drivers’ private information.

It is conceivable that a lead contractor could do so, but “in reality I would be very apprehensive about that,” he said. “Any time where they allow third-party testers now, for example for issuing CDLs, there are abuses of the system that take place.

“Obviously, no one at TSA has been in the same position as a truck driver who’s been DAC’d or suffered the effects that inaccurate information can have on your personal mobility and viability as a truck driver.”

Most of the association’s members who have called OOIDA have said that if their fingerprints must be taken, they are most comfortable having them collected by their own local law-enforcement agencies.

“That’s the level that gives them the most amount of comfort,” Spencer said. “Once you move beyond those entities that are directly responsible to those who simply approach this as a vendor with a profit motive, then the reason to be apprehensive and suspicious is much more obvious.”

All of the subcontractors are compelled under Integrated Biometric Technologies’ contract with TSA to follow the same privacy rules as the main contractor, O’Sullivan said. And those subcontractors are not allowed under the contract to integrate any of the information from the hazmat background checks into any other database they maintain.

Carroll confirmed that USIS and the other subcontractors used by his company are forbidden by federal law from using the information for any other purpose, such as their own background checks or services.

“As you know, the rules and laws are very specific on what that information can be used for,” he said.

Most of the locations where the fingerprints and accompanying information will be gathered are being operated by another subcontractor, Examination Management Services, according to information on TSA’s Web site, which identifies the firm as EMSI. Only one fingerprinting location included in the contract with Carroll’s firm, in Delaware, is being operated by another company.

J.T. Stewart, a spokesman for Integrated Biometric Technologies, said that the locations now on the Web site are only the initial locations; the company’s contract with TSA requires that additional locations be opened by May 31, when the checks will be required for hazmat drivers who are renewing their endorsements or transferring them to another state.

Carroll said Integrated Biometric Technologies is the “prime contractor.” The firm manages the contract for TSA and provides both the hardware and software – which he said is jointly owned by his company and Lockheed. That includes the fingerprint capture workstations and installation of that equipment. The Nashville company is also responsible for training the people who will operate that equipment and take truckers’ fingerprints.

The locations where fingerprints are being gathered are run by EMSI; the personnel who will man those locations are either Examination Management Services workers or people hired directly by Carroll’s company.

The additional sites that will be added before May 31 will also be staffed by Examination Management and Integrated Biometrics personnel as well, Carroll said.

The subcontractors working for Integrated Biometrics Technologies will serve a number of functions in the fingerprinting contract, Carroll said. Hewlett Packard, will provide computers and security technology. Logista Solutions will load software and provide a maintenance help desk for equipment operators at fingerprinting locations. Automated License Systems will act as a finance center, where truckers can call to prepay and make arrangements to be fingerprinted at a particular site.

Carroll emphasized that his company is committed to making the collection of information and fingerprints for the background checks as easy as possible for the truckers going through it.

“At the end of the day, when you look at who the customer really is, the customer is the truck driver,” he said. “It’s not the trucking associations, it’s not really TSA, or the government or the state DMV. At the end of the day, it’s the truck driver that we serve.

“The reason why we’ve done that is we want to be user friendly, and we want to be able to make this as painless as possible for our client, our customer.”

Carroll said that he encourages truckers to call in if they have “any issues” regarding the fingerprint process. The toll-free number listed on the Web site is 1-877-429-7746.

“Somebody from our company will return every call.”

Those calls will go to the USIS call center, but if USIS employees cannot resolve callers’ questions, Carroll said the calls would go to Integrated Biometric. If the callers’ concerns are about USIS, they can be put in contact with Carroll’s company directly.

“Ultimately, it’s almost like the military, there’s a chain of command, there’s a chain of reporting,” he said. “Obviously, that’s the task and job of USIS. But if something is not working in this process, the caller is free to call TSA or to call us.”

Lag in hazmat background checks could put the brakes on for some truckers

By Mark H. Reddig
Associate Editor

Some hazmat drivers could end up grounded because of the lag time for results of new security checks that started Jan. 31.

The security checks – required under the USA Patriot Act – will take roughly 30 days to run, and truckers will get only 60 days’ notification that their endorsement is due for renewal.

“They receive in the mail from the states a … notice that their hazmat endorsement is going to expire in 60 days from a certain date,” said Deirdre O’Sullivan, TSA spokeswoman. “They then are also told in that notification that they have 30 days to start the process” because of the time it takes to complete the security checks.

The lag time in processing the security checks could be a major issue for some drivers, said Rick Craig, OOIDA’s director of regulatory affairs.

“They say it takes 30 days,” Craig said. “For someone who is going to go in to get their first-time endorsement, they could be walking in cold thinking they’re going to take a test and walk out with an endorsement. Then they find out they’re going to be sidelined for 30 days waiting on a security threat assessment.”

If truckers receive timely notices that their endorsements are up for renewal, the lag time might not be a problem. The difficulty, Craig said, is that many drivers will be out on the road when the notices arrive at their homes.

For a trucker who is out two months at a time, the 60-day notification required under the regulations may not be seen until the endorsement renewal deadline has nearly passed.

That situation could lead to a driver being forced off the road – and forced to do without income – for the entire 30 days it takes to process the security check – if the federal government completes it in the time predicted.

OOIDA requested that the government provide truck drivers with earlier notices of hazmat endorsement renewal dates. And initially, at the beginning of the rulemaking process, federal officials were talking about requiring states to give drivers 90 to 180 days advance notice of endorsement renewal.

However, Craig said the feds decided against that because many state notifications are set up for 60-day notification.

“In our comments, we suggested that it shouldn’t be any more of a burden for a state to notify somebody 90 days out as opposed to 60,” he said. “It shouldn’t.”

However, a California official said all of that state’s systems were set up to do 60-day advance notifications, not 90 or longer.

“So they would have to revamp their systems in order to notify anyone earlier,” Craig said. “That was TSA’s justification for backing down to a 60-day notification.”

States can offer truckers an extension if they are not able to obtain their new endorsement in time, O’Sullivan said. But not all states will do so.

O’Sullivan said truckers should go directly to the agency in their state handling CDLs and ask whether their state offers extensions.

Hazmat background checks may cost drivers $100 or more

By Mark H. Reddig
associate editor

Truck drivers who haul hazardous materials could pay close to $100 – or in some cases even more – to undergo fingerprint-based background checks required by the USA Patriot Act.

The fee structure was included in a final rule published by the Transportation Security Administration Jan. 13, less than three weeks before the fingerprint checks were scheduled to begin.

Fingerprint-based background checks for new hazmat applicants started Jan. 31. The checks for renewal applicants and for drivers transferring their hazmat endorsements from one state to another won’t start until May 31.

The background check fee has three parts:

  • $38 for the collection of fingerprints and applicant information;
  • $34 for a threat assessment, during which the TSA decides whether the person is a security threat; and
  • $22 for the FBI to run the fingerprints through its system. This increases to $24 if the prints were collected by an entity other than the TSA.

But the cost for that first step isn’t set in stone.

If TSA’s approved contractor does the work, the $38 amount will apply – bringing the total for the background check to $94. If a state agency or a private contractor other than TSA’s collects the data, the fee for the first step could be more – or less – than $38.

Fees vary wildly in the 17 states that are not using TSA’s approved contractor. For example, Texas’ fee is $23 less than TSA’s contractor; Virginia’s runs $11 less; South Carolina will charge truckers $9 less; Florida will charge about $3 less.

Two states that are hiring their own contractors are charging less than TSA’s fees. Illinois, which is using several private contractors, is charging $36 for the collection fee, $2 less than the federal standard; Wisconsin, which is using a single private contractor, charges $20 less.

On the other hand, several states will charge more. For some, the fee is only a little higher: Indiana is $6 more; Kansas is only $1 more. But others are charging quite a bit more than Integrated Biometric Technologies, the TSA-approved contractor: Maryland’s fee is $14 more than TSA’s contractor; New Mexico is charging $29 more; and Pennsylvania is charging $40 more.

TSA noted that several individuals and organizations protested the amount of the estimated fees in comments on the rule.

Rick Craig, director of regulatory affairs at the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said the association objects to fees being charged to truckers at all, especially considering OOIDA’s view that the whole background check process is unnecessary and ineffective in terms of enhancing homeland security.

“It’s not going to stop a terrorist from using a truck to blow something up,” Craig said. “They don’t care about having a hazmat endorsement; they don’t care about having a CDL.”

Craig said the fee itself was not the only cost involved for truckers required to go through the background check process. For example, he said, truckers could log considerable downtime while they are going through the process.

The other shoe

Some states hire contractors not approved by feds to fingerprint drivers

By Mark H. Reddig
Associate Editor

A Chicago company described by a local newspaper as having a “history of alleged negligence and bribe-taking” will help the state of Illinois gather the fingerprints and personal information for background checks of hazmat truckers in the state.

Land Line recently learned that instead of using state employees, some states will hire other contractors to gather drivers’ fingerprints – contractors neither approved by TSA nor bound by its privacy requirements.

Hazmat drivers have long assumed that when fingerprints were taken for background checks, they would be conducted – as the federal government said in at least two rulemakings – by either a state or by a contractor approved by the Transportation Security Administration.

In its final rulemaking issued Jan. 13, TSA said the agency “required states to choose” between only two options: “(1) The State collects and transmits the fingerprints and applicant information of individuals who apply for or renew an HME; or (2) the State allows an entity approved by TSA (TSA agent) to collect and transmit the fingerprints and applicant information of such individuals.”

However, Deirdre O’Sullivan, a TSA spokeswoman, said recently that TSA anticipated from the start of the rulemaking process that some states would be allowed to use “state resources” – meaning hire other contractors – to collect the fingerprints and personal information.

“In using their own resources, that could mean they do it themselves or they could get their own contractors,” she said. “Some of the states for example had prior contracts with companies to do this. I believe that was one of the things that we did consider.”

O’Sullivan said the concept of state-hired contractors was not contained in any TSA document or rulemaking that she was aware of.

But Todd Spencer, executive vice president of OOIDA, said “It certainly should have been.”

The ability of states to hire their own contractors “was not something we were aware of,” Spencer said. “Nor did we think there was anything in the rules that would even open that as a possibility. Such a thing wasn’t even hinted at to my knowledge.”

The agency is allowing the state contractors, O’Sullivan said, out of a desire to protect the independence of the states.

“When we set up this program, we worked very carefully to ensure that the states were able to maintain some sovereignty, and that’s one of the reasons why we have both a vendor and why we could allow the states to use their own resources,” she said.

“It is the state that has to provide the information to the FBI, and the states do that in the manner in which they see fit. One of the things which we tried to do is not to impose federal requirements, we tried to ensure that the states had a level of sovereignty. … We tried to give the states as much flexibility as we could.”

However, there are concerns: First and foremost is the integrity of those contractors, Spencer said.

“How in the world do you validate their integrity per se, the integrity of the information that they are going to in essence possess and be responsible for,” he said. “The ongoing concern is there may not be any credibility there.

“When you find it wasn’t a good idea, you usually find out because bad things happened.”

To protect truckers’ personal information, TSA should conduct “some pretty extensive and exhaustive background checks” on the states’ contractors before they collect any information from individual truckers, Spencer said.

O’Sullivan said no federal rule compels those state contractors to follow the same privacy rules that TSA and its contractor are required to follow. In addition, the state contractors have not been screened by TSA.

“The contractor itself would not be screened by TSA because TSA did supply a vendor that, of course, had been screened,” O’Sullivan said

The states would decide whether their contractors would be required to meet those privacy standards.

“It would be up to the individual states because the information is being collected by the states and is their information until … it gets submitted to TSA then it falls under TSA privacy requirements,” she said. “If they use TSA agents, then it does fall under TSA privacy requirements. If they do not then it’s up to the states.”

There are some standards that the state contractors will have to follow. For example, any contractors hired by the states have to meet the FBI’s fingerprinting standard, O’Sullivan said.

“In order for the FBI to read it, obviously it would have to coordinate with what they have,” she said. In addition, “in order to submit information to the FBI, they have to meet FBI standards for the transmission of data, and that includes encryptions.”

The contractors
So far, Land Line has found only two states – Illinois and Wisconsin – that are using contractors other than the TSA-approved firm.

The firms vary widely in their background and qualifications. Some have extensive experience in security and background checks. Some are fairly new to the field. At least one has a reputation that has raised questions in its own community.

Wisconsin’s contractor, Promissor, says on its Web site that it has more than 20 years serving everything from private employers to regulatory agencies and health service organizations. The firm is a subsidiary of Houghton Mifflin, which is widely known for its elementary, high school and college textbooks.

In Illinois, truckers will be sent to one of six firms to be fingerprinted and have their information gathered.

One such firm is Richardson & Associates, a licensed and insured private detective agency. Richardson’s services, as listed on its Web site, include “live scan fingerprinting, background checks (professional, personal and tenant), potential mate, asset search, surveillance, eavesdropping sweeps.”

Another firm Illinois is using, Digby’s Security, was the subject of an expose in The Sun-Times in Chicago. The newspaper reported that the firm settled “two of the highest-profile negligence lawsuits” in the history of the Chicago Housing Authority. It was accused of using its connections in the Chicago area to wrongly gain government contracts, and lost a city contract at its tow yards after an employee of the company admitted to taking bribes to release cars.

Another Illinois contractor, listed as Futures In Rehabilitation Management Inc., also known as FIRM Inc., is a management company that provides services to non profit trade associations. It will gather fingerprints and information from hazmat drivers through one of its affiliates, Verify.

Amy Cheatham, vice president of operations at FIRM, said her firm started by providing management services such as membership, lobbying and publications to nonprofit trade associations. During the past few years, it added the service of fingerprinting. Now, that is a “major part” of the company’s business.

“In 1996, one of our clients … had to do the traditional name and social check through the Illinois State Police,” she said. “That’s how we ended up in the criminal history records check business. We evolved with the times. No longer are people doing name and social check; they’re moving toward fingerprinting.”

The company is not a TSA-approved vendor, but it is approved by the Illinois State Police, and is one of six companies approved for collecting information used in the hazmat fingerprinting process. Cheatham said the company keeps records a short period of time, in keeping with the state’s standards, and follows state privacy guidelines.

“We follow all the Illinois State Police and FBI standards on demographic and fingerprint images,” she said. “We don’t even get the results of the criminal history records check. It goes straight to the Secretary of State and TSA. … We don’t ever get the reports back.”

The company does gather information with the fingerprints – “name, Social Security number, height, weight, nationality, hair color, eye color, age, birthday” – and enters that information into a database that is submitted to the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office along with the fingerprint images.