Tank fleets deserve better from DHS

April 1, 2007
ON ANY given day, the bulk logistics sector in the United States handles close to 900,000 hazardous materials shipments. Tank truck carriers play a major role, transporting a significant percentage of the loads.

ON ANY given day, the bulk logistics sector in the United States handles close to 900,000 hazardous materials shipments. Tank truck carriers play a major role, transporting a significant percentage of the loads. Refined fuels top the list, but the fleets also move some of the most hazardous of cargoes.

Most of the loads are hauled safely, securely, and without incident. Serious events remain rare enough that they still make the national news. It is an impressive performance, but it is by no means easy. In fact, the job has gotten steadily tougher over the years.

Security in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 took on a much greater significance for hazmat haulers. Unfortunately, the federal government's approach to hazmat security has been haphazard at best, and incompetent at worst. As a result, we probably are no more secure today than we were in 2001.

Fault lies primarily with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — which deserves the prize as perhaps the most dysfunctional of cabinet-level departments. Congress comes in a close second, especially in light of the fact that the biggest push to create DHS came from the Democrats who now control both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

When it comes to DHS, it's hard to tell what they are trying to achieve. Instead of protecting the United States from foreign threats, for instance, the bureaucrats at the department seem more intent on arresting and jailing the US enforcement officials who are assigned to guard our borders. So far the record would suggest that DHS bureaucrats don't have a clue about real border security.

The DHS bureaucrats also seem to have no idea what it will take to secure hazmat transportation adequately in the United States. The Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) stands as a prime example of bureaucratic bungling.

On it's face, the TWIC card was a promising idea. However, the DHS bureaucrats turned it into a very expensive, very cumbersome security document that may provide very little protection from terrorist infiltration of the hazmat transportation sector. Today, the same Democrats who were so eager to create DHS have been ranting about the failures of the TWIC program.

They are upset that DHS spent $94 million (or about $60,000 per TWIC card based on projected participants) on a program that is woefully behind schedule and over budget. The most recent delay came when the rollout date was pushed back to at least May.

Overseen by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which is under DHS, the TWIC program was mandated by Congress as a part of port security legislation in 2002. The plan called for high-tech, tamperproof identification cards that would be issued to workers needing access to secure areas of US ports. That includes hazmat truck drivers.

Under the plan, TSA is supposed to collect background information and fingerprints on approximately 1.5 million workers with port access. Background checks would be performed to look at criminal history, possible terrorist links, and immigration status.

The TWIC program largely duplicates the truck driver hazmat background check requirement that has been in place at the Department of Transportation (DOT) since 2005. The National Tank Truck Carriers and American Trucking Associations were unsuccessful in their efforts to convince the DHS bureaucrats to accept the DOT hazmat background check. That's too bad because DHS could have saved a lot of time, effort, and money. Maybe the TWIC program would even be up and running.

Many of the DHS blunders related to hazmat security programs come from what appears to be poor communication, a culture of bureaucratic arrogance, and general ignorance of the way hazmat shipments are managed. All of that needs to change.

Hazmat transport security is critical in this day and age. DHS needs to become a competent organization that can work together effectively with the transportation industry to achieve positive results.

About the Author

Charles Wilson

Charles E. Wilson has spent 20 years covering the tank truck, tank container, and storage terminal industries throughout North, South, and Central America. He has been editor of Bulk Transporter since 1989. Prior to that, Wilson was managing editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter and associate editor of Trailer/Body Builders. Before joining the three publications in Houston TX, he wrote for various food industry trade publications in other parts of the country. Wilson has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and served three years in the U.S. Army.