No one is thinking of the driver,” says Cliff Harvison, president of the National Tank Truck Carriers. “This could lead to drivers dropping out — not getting their hazmat endorsement — and even one driver leaving is one too many in this environment [of shortages.]”
He's talking about the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) Interim Final Rule on how drivers with hazmat endorsements will be fingerprinted and their backgrounds checked. (See Federal Register, November 24, 2004.).
Although Harvison's group supports the concept of fingerprint-based background checks for hazmat drivers, he says TSA's timeframe is too tight and the cost is too high. Drivers requesting a hazmat endorsement for the first time must be fingerprinted and checked by January 31, 2005, a date that Harvison claims is almost impossible to meet. The agency was scheduled to accept comments up to December 27, 2004, leaving drivers less than a month to complete their paperwork if new changes are made by TSA in response to comments.
Those who currently have the have the hazmat endorsement may operate without a fingerprint and background check for now. But beginning May 31, 2005, they will have to undergo the fingerprinting and background check as part of the renewal process.
TSA officials estimate that it could take “several weeks” to check fingerprints and a person's background but that could vary based on how fast the fingerprints are transmitted, as well as the person's history. Harvison says that it is unreasonable to expect an employer to put a driver on the payroll and then wait weeks for the background and fingerprint checks to be completed. “They'll find other employment,” he says.
To further exacerbate matters, TSA gave state motor vehicle agencies a choice to either take the fingerprints themselves or have a TSA vendor do it. Early indications suggest that about half of states will opt to have TSA do it, mainly because they don't feel ready or able to do it.
With more than half of states using a TSA vendor, this will be an extra burden on drivers who must locate the vendor for fingerprinting and then travel to the motor vehicle agency for licensing. “Coordination will be a nightmare,” says one tank truck executive. “Our drivers are already complaining. Then there's the cost.”
TSA vendors will charge around $100 for their services, according to officials. States may charge whatever they like.
This high cost has ATA officials concerned. “By failing to establish a nationally implemented background check and instead allowing the states to establish their own collection systems, TSA has squandered a real opportunity to meet the Patriot Act's security objective and lower costs to the industry,” the group wrote in its petition opposing the rule. ATA suggests that CDLs with hazmat endorsements be rolled into the proposed Transportation Worker Identification Credential program.
Industry officials also point out that it would be inconsistent to allow Canadian or Mexican hazmat drivers into the United States without fingerprint identification — when it's a requirement of U.S. drivers — but the TSA rule does not address this loophole.
The CDL hazmat endorsement is shaping up to be a bureaucratic and logistical nightmare for the nation's 2.7-million hazmat drivers: About 400,000 drivers annually must get fingerprinted at one site, possibly go to another site for their license application, wait several weeks to a month while a check is made and, if there are no problems, return for a photo and final processing.
“While we like the idea of fingerprint-based checks,” Harvison says, “it's not ready for prime time.”