Introduction to Consortium Third Party Administrators (C/TPAs)

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5 September 2023

Introduction to Consortium Third Party Administrators (C/TPAs)

Administering the DOT-mandated drug and alcohol testing program is complex and requires specialized knowledge of the relevant regulations and best practices for drug testing and treatment. For this reason, many employers engage the services of Third Party, or Consortium, Administrators.

The Role of C/TPAs can be Customized to Meet Employer Needs

Referred to as C/TPAs, Consortium Third Party Administrators are service agents that administer all or part of an employer’s DOT drug and alcohol testing program. Employers are free to decide which parts of their DOT drug and alcohol program they contract out to C/TPAs and which parts they keep in-house. (Learn more in "Drug and Alcohol Program Best Practices".)

C/TPAs can provide and/or coordinate a wide range of services and expertise at every stage of the DOT drug and alcohol testing process. They can manage random drug testing, post-accident testing, and return-to-work testing. C/TPAs can oversee the collection of urine and breath alcohol samples, engage the services of a HHS-certified lab, schedule reviews by a Medical Review Officer (MRO), and arrange evaluations and follow-up by a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP).

C/TPAs can also provide services outside the prescribed drug and alcohol testing process that help employers stay compliant with DOT regulations. They can manage recordkeeping and help prepare annual Management Information Systems (MIS) reports. C/TPAs can also help in the hiring process by coordinating pre-employment drug testing and obtaining prior drug and alcohol testing history for job candidates. (Learn more in "8 Things Employers Should Know About DOT Drug and Alcohol Testing".)

The only role in the DOT drug and alcohol testing program that a C/TPA cannot fulfill is that of the DER (Designated Employer Representative). The DER must be an employee of the company. Only owner-operators are exempt from this prohibition.

C/TPA Qualifications and Expectations

There are no formally defined qualifications or certifications for C/TPAs. However, they are expected to know the requirements of and employer responsibilities under 49 CFR Part 40.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which is responsible for regulating the safety of commercial motor vehicles and their traffic, has an extensive list of additional regulations that C/TPAs must know in order to work in this transportation sector. These additional regulations include 49 CFR Part 382, which specifically addresses controlled substances and alcohol use and testing for commercial drivers. (Learn more in "DOT Drug Testing Panel Now Includes Opioids: What It Means for Employers".)

C/TPAs Fulfill a Special Role for Owner-Operators

Due to their size owner-operators have difficulty staying in compliance with DOT drug and alcohol testing regulations. They are essentially one-person operations and two issues generally arise for them.

First, there are aspects of the DOT drug and alcohol program, like random drug testing and fulfilling the DER role, that a single person cannot administer impartially for themselves.

Second, administering a complex regulation like the DOT drug and alcohol testing program is burdensome for small organizations.

Because of the need for impartiality in administration, owner-operators are required to contract with a Consortium Administrator for random drug testing. Owner-operators can also designate their C/TPA to act as their DER.

Administering the DOT drug and alcohol testing program in-house requires a lot of costly overhead. Rather than trying to manage their testing program themselves most owner-operators choose to contract with a C/TPA. (Learn more in "DOT vs. Non DOT Testing: What's the Difference?")

Employers Remain Responsible for Meeting Requirements and Procedures

While working with a C/TPA can make administering the DOT drug and alcohol testing program more manageable, it does not absolve the employer of any of the related responsibilities.

49 CFR, Part 40, Subpart B, §40.11 clearly states that employers are both responsible “for meeting all applicable requirements and procedures of this part” and “for all actions of your officials, representatives, and agents (including service agents) in carrying out the requirements of the DOT agency regulations.”

If the C/TPA an employer is using makes an error or is non-compliant with the regulations then that employer can face civil penalties or be shut down. In serious cases the C/TPA or service agent can be prohibited from working with DOT agencies through a Public Interest Exclusion (PIE).

Best Practices when Engaging the Services of a C/TPA

Given the serious consequences working with an unqualified or non-compliant C/TPA, employers should carefully evaluate the qualifications, experience, and procedures of any service agent they choose to work with.

Some key questions to consider are:

  • What training and experience does the C/TPA have?
  • How long has the C/TPA been in business?
  • Does the C/TPA provide all the services I need or will I have to contract with additional service agents?
  • Has the C/TPA worked with other businesses like mine?
  • Can the C/TPA provide client references? Are the reference clients from the same transportation segment as my business?
  • What is the C/TPA’s record for passing DOT inspections and audits?
  • Can the C/TPA provide their services in every location that I operate in?
  • Will the C/TPA be available on the days and during the time of day that I will need them?
  • What will contracting with the C/TPA cost?

Finding a qualified C/TPA will take some research. Employers can check with industry associations to see if they have a directory of C/TPAs. Employers can also ask their industry colleagues for recommendations. If they already work with a service agent, like a HHS-certified lab or a SAP, employers can ask them for recommendations. Of course, they can also check the yellow page listings or search the Internet.

While there is no legal requirement for one, having a detailed written contract in place between the employer and the C/TPA, or any service agent, is strongly recommended. A lawyer familiar with the DOT drug and alcohol testing program and safety regulations can help with this.

C/TPAs can Make Compliance with the DOT Drug and Alcohol Program Manageable

Managing compliance with the DOT drug and alcohol program can be overwhelming for employers, especially small employers and owner-operators. By contracting with a qualified C/TPAs and maintaining a good workplace drug and alcohol program policy, employers can make meeting these regulations more do-able. (Learn more in "The Importance of a Good Drug and Alcohol Policy in the Workplace".)