DOT Electronic Chain of Custody Article Series

DOT Electronic Chain of Custody Article Series by Robert Schoening, Former Drug and Alcohol Program Manager for the US Coast Guard … 

How Did We Get Here Today with the Federal Electronic CCF?

Before we get into why it took this long to get to where we are today on the E-CCF, there is some background information and definition of terms in this field that need to be identified.  Additionally, why is there a need for chain-of-custody?  That issue will be identified and briefly discussed.

This series of articles will lead to a better understanding of the regulatory process and the myriad issues involved when working in this field and particularly in the Federal arena of workplace drug testing.

One of the very first terms that needs to be identified and understood is “forensic.”  “Forensic” means to establish a legal standard that will hold up in court of law and be able to withstand legal challenges.  A common term that can be used is “forensically defensible” and all workplace drug tests need to meet that standard.  This is important because all workplace drug tests should be considered a legal bomb that can go off unexpectedly. 

The forensically defensible process starts from the time an individual walks into the door of a collection facility to the final test outcome.  If the result is a non-negative test result, this could result in a prolonged legal battle, if the person decides to contest the test result.  We are dealing with workplace, employer and employee rights, and possible deprivation of rights to both parties. Loss of work, loss of family, loss of home, workplace injuries, employer property damage are just some of the major issues that have to be considered in the field of workplace drug testing.  The other factor that had to be considered is that all procedures and steps in the Federal and military drug testing arena have to be able to withstand legal challenges that potentially could be brought forth. 

All of the above are valid reasons of why there is a need for a chain-of-custody documentation, whether it is paper or electronic for workplace drug tests.  Even the military, back in the 1982, when the military first started doing random drug testing active duty military personnel, developed a chain-of-custody document.  The military knew that there would be challenges to test results, particularly when military personnel were being charged and facing court-martials after testing positive.  It was this recognition that led to the initial documentation for the handling of the specimens would have to be developed.  

The Federal Chain of Custody (COC) has taken many steps in its evolution.  When the DOT and Federal Agency programs first started, each lab did their own COC.   It was very confusing and the documentation of each test was confusing to say the least.  There was a committee formed at the behest of the DOT to quickly develop a standardized COC.  That effort was successful but the end result was a 7 part form measuring 8.5 by 17 inches.  The first three parts were for the original with two backups for split specimens. The other copies were for the collections site, MRO, employer and the donor.  A problem with this 7-part form was that it was very hard to make all 7 copies readable or legible. That issue led to the revision of that COC to the current 5 part COC.  That form layout has remained the same since it was first developed back in the early 1990’s.  

The next issue will go further into the development and history of the Federal CCF.  CLICK HERE for Part 2 of this article. 

About Bob Schoening

Robert Schoening is well renowned for his knowledge and influence in the drug-testing arena. As the Drug and Alcohol Program Manager for the US Coast Guard (December 2001-March 2013) he developed and managed a successful drug testing program for the marine industry nationwide and internationally.  During this time he developed and implemented a new compliance audit checklist as well as the writing and publishing a new Marine Employers Guidebook for Drug Testing.  He is also the author of the federal regulation commonly known as the two-hour alcohol testing for maritime incidents. 

Robert’s drug testing career began in the Navy Medical Department, where he received the Navy Achievement Medal for his work on development of the Navy drug-testing program which was the first major workplace drug-testing program in the country. He retired in 1985 after serving 24 years. 

Upon his retirement, Robert established his own drug testing consulting company assisting other companies to establish drug-free workplaces and drug testing programs, concentrating primarily on the marine industry. His knowledge of regulations and policy helped build his company to be one of the premier providers of drug testing services for the marine industry. During this time he was instrumental in establishing many of the current federal policies that are in place. 

Robert has served on the Board of Directors of the Substance Abuse Program Administrators Association (SAPAA) as well as chairing the Governmental and Legislative Affairs committee. He was one of the first individuals to be recognized as an expert in the Drug and Alcohol testing industry and to receive designation as a Certified Substance Abuse Program Administrator (1996). 

Robert is active participant in community service.  He recently served on the Policy Board for the Alcohol Safety Action Program in Fairfax, VA (January 1989-December 2012).  Since moving to Whidbey Island in Washington, he has been named to serve on the Substance Abuse Committee and recently been named to serve on the Ferry Advisory Committee both of these committees are located in Island County, WA. 

Robert is currently a consultant for Workplace Drug Testing and Drug Abuse Prevention Programs.