A federal watchdog is recommending the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) better coordinate trucking and other transportation regulators to improve the reliability of drug and alcohol data.
A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, released on Wednesday, acknowledged that DOT, its modal agencies and the U.S. Coast Guard (which is part of the Department of Homeland Security) have taken steps to ensure that drug and alcohol testing data reported by employers is reliable.
“These data verification processes improve the reliability of the data, but are not consistently used by each of the modal administrations and USCG,” the report stated. “Officials have the discretion to use different data reliability processes and may have valid reasons for doing so. However, officials have not evaluated the sufficiency of these various processes and therefore do not have adequate assurance the data are reliable” for calculating random testing rates for the companies that they regulate, according to GAO.
GAO pointed out that the random testing rate is significant for employers because they pay the costs of conducting drug and alcohol tests. “Increasing this rate, and thus increasing the number of tests that employers must conduct, can result in a significant increase in those costs,” the watchdog agency said.
For example, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reported in 2019 that increasing the random drug testing rate from 25% to 50% resulted in an estimated $50 million to $70 million in additional costs to the trucking industry.
GAO’s report explained that, unlike the other modal agencies within DOT and the Coast Guard, FMCSA requires only “a sampled subset” of the motor carriers it regulates to report drug and alcohol testing data for the purposes of calculating random testing rates due the number of companies it regulates. (GAO explained that because the FMCSA’s Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse does not include the total number of negative tests, data collected through the clearinghouse cannot be used to calculate the random drug and alcohol testing rate.)
FMCSA then creates weighted statistical estimates that it generalizes to the entire driver population, and then publishes the information on its website.
“However, the refined data in FMCSA’s analysis are not reflected in the data shown on DOT’s drug and alcohol testing website. Thus, a user trying to calculate the testing rate may not be able to replicate FMCSA’s process for calculating the random testing rate,” GAO stated.
In addition, GAO found that while FMCSA officials contact trucking companies individually if they do not receive testing data, FMCSA officials “only reach out to employers that have more than 1,000 employees” due to limited resources at the agency. FMCSA also did not contact employers if the drug and alcohol testing data they submitted was missing information, agency officials told GAO.
Among its recommendations to DOT and the Coast Guard, the GAO recommended that the secretary of transportation direct the administrators of FMCSA, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration, the Federal Transit Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to:
- Evaluate the different processes used by each modal administration to verify drug and alcohol testing data — including comparing data to records during inspections, checking data for errors manually or with software, and contacting employers that do not submit a report or submit an incomplete report.
- Determine what, if any, additional steps should be taken to improve the reliability of the information.
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