- The Washington Times - Monday, January 31, 2005

Commercial truck drivers transporting hazardous materials soon will be required to undergo background checks and fingerprinting by the Homeland Security Department to protect against terrorist attacks.

The requirement, which takes effect May 31, is the final phase of a three-part plan by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to secure interstate trucking shipments. It is mandated by the USA Patriot Act.

“By partnering with states to ensure hazmat drivers have undergone a security threat assessment, we add another layer of security in the transport of hazardous materials,” said Rear Adm. David M. Stone, assistant secretary of homeland security for the TSA.

After the September 11 terrorist attacks, the TSA performed an initial security check on nearly 3 million hazardous-materials drivers to determine whether any were linked to terrorist organizations. The second phase of the project added criminal-history checks through the FBI and an immigration status check.

On May 31, drivers who wish to renew or transfer their hazmat endorsements on their state-issued commercial driver’s licenses must undergo the fingerprint-based background check.

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) is opposed to the new rule and has appealed the decision, citing potential security concerns for trucking companies and unfair costs to drivers.

The fees vary from state to state and range from $25 to $99 per driver, said Richard Moskowitz, assistant general counsel for the ATA. Some states will use a TSA contractor to collect fingerprints and perform background checks, but at least 17 states will conduct their own fingerprint checks.

The ATA says too few places are available for fingerprinting.

One fingerprinting station has been established in Montana, and some drivers will have to travel 300 miles to be fingerprinted. No fingerprinting station has been opened in the District of Columbia, forcing drivers to go as far as Delaware or West Virginia, Mr. Moskowitz said.

The TSA will perform the final criminal vetting before the five-year licenses are reissued.

Furnishing the information to the TSA is voluntary, but “failure to provide it will prevent the completion of your security threat assessment, without which you cannot be granted a hazardous materials endorsement,” a TSA Web page says.

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