NEW requirements for FBI driver background checks will add to the already heavy burden in recruiting and retaining qualified drivers, says Cliff Harvison, National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC) president.
Harvison referred to the approximately 3.5 million commercial drivers with hazardous material endorsements, as well as new applicants, who now will be required to undergo a routine background records check. The Transportations Security Administration (TSA) issued the interim rule that became effective May 5.
NTTC has asked the TSA to schedule a stakeholders meeting to discuss implementation of the rules. In a letter to the TSA administrator, Harvison noted that the regulations would require fingerprinting of applicants for both new endorsements and renewals by November 3, 2003.
“At the minimum, the stakeholder meeting should include representations of your staff, state licensing agencies, the trucking industry, local law enforcement, service providers with knowledge of fingerprinting methodologies and technologies, and other federal agencies as appropriate,” Harvison wrote.
He added that state motor vehicle licensing agencies and offices, particularly those at the district and/or local level, are largely unaware of the TSA action, and “haven't a clue” as to either implementation or what's expected of them.
“The efficiency of implementation of these regulations will have a direct impact on the nationwide distribution of hazardous materials,” Harvison wrote. “If drivers are presented with burdensome requirements, they will move to jobs where the hazmat endorsement is not required.
“Naturally, NTTC is disappointed that the new rules don't cover all holders of commercial driver licenses (CDLs),” Harvison told Modern Bulk Transporter. “I can understand the reasons in terms of the volume of individuals that might be impacted, but the reality is that tank truck carriers will face new challenges in terms of attracting and retaining drivers.”
Existing holders of hazmat endorsements might determine that the requirements and fees for the fingerprinting and background checks just aren't worth the hassle, and look elsewhere for employment, he says.
“Frankly, while the new regulations are termed interim by TSA, I view them more as transitional,” Harvison says. “It's clear that TSA is kick-starting the process with a so-called name-based system. However, it's also clear that they want to move to a fingerprint-based system as quickly as possible.
“Also, I'm surprised that, with the exception of drivers involved in transportation of explosives, there's no mention of the applicability of the regulations to Canadian (or Mexican) nationals. Authorities in Canada have held that criminal background checks infringe on a Canadian's civil liberties. There might be a huge problem here.”
The rule, which goes into effect May 5, does not apply to applicants for CDLs without a hazmat endorsement. If disqualified from hazmat, drivers may continue to transport all other non-hazardous cargo.
CDL applicants will be subject to a name-based FBI criminal history records check and a check of federal databases. Beginning in 180 days or less from May 5, current truck drivers applying to renew or transfer their hazmat endorsements, as well as all new applicants, must provide fingerprints. After the 180-day-period, no state may issue, renew, or transfer a hazmat license unless the TSA has notified the state that the individual holding the endorsement poses no security threat.
The check includes a review of criminal, immigration, and FBI records. Any applicant with a conviction (military or civilian) for certain violent felonies over the past seven years, or who has been found mentally incompetent, will not be permitted to obtain or renew the hazmat endorsement. The checks also will verify that the driver is a US citizen or a lawful permanent resident.
The rule provides an appeal process for cases in which database information is incorrect to ensure that no driver loses the hazmat endorsement due to inaccurate records. Also, drivers who committed a disqualifying offense, were found to be mentally incompetent, or were committed to a mental institution may apply for a waiver if they prove that they are rehabilitated and capable of transporting hazmat safely.
Disqualifying crimes include acts of terrorism, murder, assault with intent to murder, espionage, sedition, kidnapping or hostage taking, treason, rape or aggravated sexual abuse, extortion, robbery, arson, bribery, smuggling, and immigration violations.
Also unlawful possession, use, sale, distribution, or manufacture of an explosive, explosive device, firearm or other weapon; distribution of, intent to distribute, possession, or importation of a controlled substance; dishonesty, fraud, or misrepresentation, including identity fraud; crimes involving a severe transportation security incident; improper transportation of a hazardous material; or conspiracy or attempt to commit any of these crimes.
In addition, a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) companion rule amends the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations to prohibit states from issuing, renewing, transferring, or upgrading a commercial driver license (CDL) with a hazmat endorsement, unless TSA has first conducted a background records check of the applicant and determined that the applicant does not pose a security risk warranting denial of the hazmat endorsement.
FMCSA is also requiring states to establish a hazmat endorsement renewal period of at least five years to insure that each holder of a hazmat endorsement routinely and uniformly receives a security screening. The five-year renewal cycle was established in close coordination with TSA, based on its security risk determination requirements.
Another rule from the Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA) clarifies the regulatory authority for hazmat products, including explosives in transportation, to make clear that DOT regulations address security risks associated with such transportation. Shippers and transporters of hazardous materials must comply with the security regulations of TSA, FMCSA, and the Coast Guard that are being incorporated into DOT's hazmat regulations.
The rules in their entirety can be read on the Internet in the “Federal Register” by going to access.gpo.gov, scroll to the bottom of the page and under “executive resources” click on the “Federal Register” button.