Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Deputy Administrator Robert Jamison recently provided an update on the agency’s biometric-based vetting programs for commercial drivers in testimony before a U.S. House subcommittee. The testimony came after the introduction of a House bill—the SAFE Truckers Act of 2006—that would require commercial drivers to obtain a security sensitive material (SSM) permit to transport certain freight.
TSA completed the rollout of its biometric-based hazardous material endorsement (HME) program for commercial drivers on Jan. 31, 2005. The program vets CDL holders seeking to transport hazmat freight against federal terrorist and criminal databases.
According to Jamison, in the 16 months after the rollout, TSA processed nearly 310,000 applications. Currently 33 states and the District of Columbia utilize a TSA-approved vendor and collect fingerprints at 170 enrollment sites. There are 17 states that opted to administer their own fingerprint collection sites, but one of those states is going to switch to a TSA vendor.
The HME process is becoming speedier. “Since initiation of the program, the average processing time for all applicants is approximately 17 days, but for the past three months, the average processing time has been reduced to 10 days, even as the average number of applicants received has risen from 10,000 in the first months to 24,000 per month today,” Jamison said.
“TSA has received 308,018 applications, 3,509 appeal requests, and 385 waiver requests,” he continued. “To date [June 16, 2006], the total number of applicants disqualified is 2,386, less than one percent of all applicants.”
On May 22, 2006, TSA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register to vet transportation workers (including truckers) who require unescorted access to maritime facilities and vessels under an identical background check. This is known as the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program.
For previous coverage, read TSA readies port trucker screening
Both the HME and TWIC programs have identical vetting processes but aren’t interchangeable. In other words, a driver with a HME could not have unescorted access to maritime facilities and vessels without a TWIC and vice versa, although they “will not be required to undergo a new threat assessment.” The SAFE Truckers Act, if it passes, would add another endorsement for truckers to consider applying for.
“Today [trucking] companies often require all their drivers to have an HME on their CDL because of the unpredictable nature of the shipment drivers may transport,” stated Jamison. “Under a potential SSM permit system, a company would still need to match specific drivers with a specific short list of security-sensitive materials. TSA should have the opportunity to consider whether establishing a list of SSMs would reduce shipper options for transporting certain commodities.”
The HME program was developed and implemented to fulfill a section of the USA Patriot Act, which was enacted October 2001, to limit the issuance of hazmat licenses. The TWIC program was developed to fulfill the Maritime Transportation Security Act, which became law in November 2002.
Jamison said TSA is considering revising its rules to avoid redundant checks for “drivers transferring among states, increasing interoperability with other federal agencies that conduct comparable checks, and improving operational processes.”
For the full text on the SAFE Truckers Act of 2006 (H.R. 5604), introduced on June 14, 2006, go to http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:h.r.05604:
To read the TWIC notice of proposed rulemaking, go to http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/01jan20061800/edocket.access.gpo.gov/2006/06-4508.htm
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