A spike in truck-involved fatal crashes and fraudulent truck driver medical certification cases has spurred a Department of Transportation Inspector General audit of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s medical certificate program.
“Our audit objectives are to evaluate FMCSA’s procedures for: (1) oversight of its medical certificate program, including commercial driver medical certificate data quality, and (2) validating information in its National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners,” said a Feb. 20 memo to FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez from Barry DeWeese, assistant inspector general for surface transportation audits.
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DeWeese said FMCSA’s data shows that fatalities in crashes involving large trucks or buses grew from 4,397 in 2012 to 4,879 in 2017, an 11% increase.
“One key area of addressing motor carrier safety is to ensure that commercial drivers maintain a valid medical certificate, which confirms they are healthy enough to safely operate the commercial vehicle,” DeWeese wrote. “Since August 2014, Office of Inspector General criminal investigations have resulted in eight indictments and six convictions as a result of fraud in the medical certification process.”
For example, an August 2017 indictment of a medical examiner in Georgia resulted in more than 600 truck operators having to renew their FMCSA medical certifications, DeWeese added.
DeWeese noted that FMCSA in January 2015 established a database to receive digital copies of medical certificates directly from medical examiners. In addition, FMCSA is implementing a process for states to receive medical certificate information directly from DOT, DeWeese said.
FMCSA maintains a list of all physicians and other medical professionals authorized to conduct medical examinations and certifications of commercial driver license holders in the agency’s National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners.
All interstate truck and bus drivers are required to pass a physical exam for a medical certification that is valid for up to 24 months.
However, FMCSA’s medical certification process was seriously hampered by a Dec. 1, 2017, hack that caused a months-long shutdown of its registered medical examiners site.
An FMCSA spokesman said the site’s “user experience” is back up, but declined to say if the entire web site is operational.
Although the agency said no private data or sensitive personal information was stolen, the hack compelled a rebuild of the site that delayed the medical certification process for more than a year. The hack also caused a setback until June 2021 or the effective date of a final rule that would eliminate the need for truck drivers to carry a medical card as proof they passed their medical exams.
The medical examiners database contains records of medical exams and sensitive information on the 58,000 examiners as well as exams administered to truck drivers, according to a privacy impact assessment of the website last year by U.S. DOT.
There have been past indications that information technology systems at FMCSA and DOT have room for improvement in protecting what is known as “personal identifiable information.”A DOT Inspector General audit released in January 2018 recommended that DOT’s chief privacy officer establish a continuous monitoring program for security controls to ensure that personal identifiable information systems remain compliant with the agency’s privacy risk management policy.
In a 2017 report on FMCSA’s information technology, the Government Accountability Office said the agency needed to strengthen its strategic planning and oversight to modernize IT legacy systems, including the medical examiners registry.