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US senator pressures White House on mandatory hair testing

U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) has introduced legislation requiring the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to explain why proposed rules on mandatory hair testing for drugs in the transportation sector have yet to be issued.

The Preventing Opioid and Drug Impairment in Transportation Act, introduced by Wicker on Dec. 4, also would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to submit a report to the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives explaining why HHS delayed in submitting scientific and technical guidelines for hair testing to OMB, an agency within the White House. The guidelines, which were sent to OMB in June, are more than two years overdue.

The bill requires, within 60 days of enactment, that both agencies provide an estimated date on which the proposed guidelines will be issued.

“I’d like to believe, if passed, that this language would be effective,” Dave Osiecki, president and CEO of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, told FreightWaves. “However, past congressional pressure on HHS has not resulted in accelerated action on the guidelines, and this language is likely to meet the same fate. A more effective approach might be for Congress to withhold some funding if HHS does not act expeditiously.”

The proposed rule has been closely monitored by the trucking industry. A survey compiled by the Alliance for Driver Safety & Security, with members that include major truckload operators J.B. Hunt [NASDAQ: JBHT], U.S. Xpress [NYSE: USX] and Knight-Swift Transportation [NYSE: KNX], found that more than 300,000 truck drivers currently on the road would fail or refuse a hair analysis, which could have serious ramifications for capacity and the ability to seat drivers.

Portions of Wicker’s legislation are aimed at drug testing among the general motoring public, as well as within Amtrak to determine whether to require locomotive engineers and conductors to immediately report arrests due to drug or alcohol offenses.

But other sections of the bill could have a longer-term effect on the trucking sector. For example, it calls for a study by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to assess the “reliability and accuracy” of devices used in roadside oral fluid drug screening to determine the presence of THC and opioids and which could eventually be used to test truck drivers.

The bill also asks the U.S. Government Accountability Office to evaluate how DOT depends on HHS to determine whether to add new categories of drugs to DOT’s testing panel. The evaluation potentially could result in a finding that DOT should have its own authority to determine which drugs should be included in the DOT drug testing program for commercial drivers, according to Osiecki.

In addition, the bill requires that, 30 days after its enactment, the HHS secretary submit to Congress a status report on determining whether to add fentanyl to DOT’s drug testing panel.

The measure is expected to be considered for passage within the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation during a markup on Dec. 11.

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John Gallagher, Washington Correspondent

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.

4 Comments

  1. This industry is imploding, and they want more regulations? How about better training, quit issuing authority like candy, why are foreigners allowed to come in the the USA, buy multiple trucks, pay their drivers with 1099’s and throw all the bills upon them, and then run the business out of Russia, Macedonia, Bosnia or India? And he wants hair testing? I would say that is the least of this industries problem.

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