U.S. GOVERNMENT ISSUES BACKGROUND CHECK REQUIREMENTS FOR HAZMAT DRIVERS
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Transportation have issued long-awaited criteria for implementing legislation requiring criminal history background checks for all commercial motor vehicle operators that have special permission to transport hazardous material.
The interim rule was required by the USA Patriot Act in October 2001 and satisfies the requirements of the Safe Explosives Act that went into effect early this year.
Under the rule, the nation's 3.5 million truck drivers with hazardous material endorsements to their commercial driver's license, as well as new applicants, must submit their fingerprints to their state motor vehicle department for a criminal background check. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies will run the fingerprints against criminal, immigration and terrorist watch list databases to identify persons that pose a potential security threat.
A TSA official said the cost of the program over a 10-year period is estimated at $633 million, with applicants paying an as-yet-to-be determined, one-time fingerprint fee that will be less than $100.
Any applicant convicted of a violent crime, drug violation, identity threat and related felonies during the past seven years will be disqualified from hazmat transportation. Individuals found to be mentally incompetent also will be prevented from carrying a hazmat endorsement.
A companion rule issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration orders states not to issue the hazmat license unless TSA has certified that an applicant does not pose a security risk. FMCSA also will require hazmat licenses to be renewed every five years. TSA has set up an appeal process for those who feel they have been misidentified and a waiver process for drivers who can show they have been responsible drivers.
Within the next three months the TSA will collect the names of all drivers with hazmat endorsements and query law enforcement databases to see if anyone represents a security threat, TSA officials said during a press briefing Friday. Operators that know they would be disqualified by the new rules will be asked to surrender their hazmat license beginning 120 days after the rule goes into effect.
TSA officials said the background checks would also help trucking companies assure customers of the security of their goods during transport. They said the agency is working on developing similar rules governing the movement of hazardous material by rail.
A TSA official said the agency worked closely with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to make sure the rule covers persons disqualified from transporting explosives and ceding ATF authority over commercial truckers back to FMCSA and TSA.