U.S. truckers question antiterror basis of fingerprinting
U.S. trucking companies told lawmakers this week they see no point in fingerprinting U.S. citizen drivers just because they transport hazardous materials.
The Transportation Security Administration, under the Patriot Act, requires a fingerprint-based check for all U.S. hazmat-endorsed drivers. Fees collected by states or TSA’s contractors at the time of application and fingerprinting range from $94 to $134.
“Everyday that my truck is not rolling with a paying load, my business is losing more than $1,000 in revenue,” testified Michael Laizure, a member of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, before the House Economic Security, Infrastructure Protection and Cybersecurity Subcommittee Tuesday.
“With the best-case scenario for going through the security threat assessment process that TSA has developed, I will lose two days of income — a day for application and fingerprinting, another for testing,” he said. “Delays in response from the TSA or any other bumps in the road that are somewhat common for this process will increase the potential loss of income.”
Stephen Russell, chairman and chief executive officer of the Celadon Group, an Indianapolis-based trucking company, told the subcommittee that the TSA’s new rules for hazmat background checks are “a glaring example of government’s failure to adopt a risk-based approach to security regulation.”
He added: “Companies are beginning to see their numbers of hazmat-endorsed drivers go down, which diminishes their ability to haul hazmat.” The Transportation Department estimates that more than 800,000 hazmat shipments are transported by truck each day.
Russell said there’s a misconception about which hazardous materials pose a terrorist risk. There are many household and consumer products deemed hazardous when transported over the road, such as paint, perfume, nail polish, soft drink syrup, batteries and matches. Trucks with these cargoes must be placarded for emergency and cleanup purposes.
“These products do not represent any more of a threat to our homeland than carrying a truckload of bread,” Russell said. “They cannot be used as weapons of mass destruction and are unlikely to be attractive to terrorists.
“Nevertheless, a driver seeking to transport these products must now undergo an expensive, time-consuming fingerprint-based background check,” he said. “As presently administered, the background check would apply to the 2.7 million hazmat endorsement holders — well over two-thirds of the estimated active over-the-road drivers,” Russell said.
Many truckers also complain that they have to drive more than 100 miles to reach a processing center, and in some cases may have to make return trips to finish the process.
Truckers told lawmakers a blanket fingerprint-based hazmat endorsement program for will not stop terrorists from carrying out their acts.
“A terrorist intent on obtaining a truck containing hazardous materials will have a much easier time and spend fewer resources in stealing a truck than he will bothering to get a CDL (commercial driver’s license) and hazmat endorsement,” Laizure said. “This problem remains entirely unaddressed by TSA and FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration).”
The trucking groups recommend a narrower hazmat background check program to cover only security-sensitive hazmat, such as explosives and volatile chemicals, to protect against terrorism.
“Moreover, developing a list of security-sensitive hazmat would also provide a rational foundation for other current and future regulation of hazmat transportation security,” Laizure said.