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Security Threat Assessments for Hazmat Drivers

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Abstract:

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is gradually implementing Section 1012 of the USA PATRIOT Act (P.L. 107-56). This provision seeks to reduce some of the security risks associated with hazardous materials (hazmat) transportation by requiring a security threat assessment of drivers with a hazmat endorsement on their commercial drivers license (CDL). This process, which includes immigration and database checks, may deter a terrorist from obtaining or keeping such an endorsement; nevertheless, the hazmat transportation system remains vulnerable to attack. Members of Congress are overseeing implementation of TSA's program, reviewing its financial impacts, and deciding whether to explicitly require in law a comparable review of Canadian- and Mexican-domiciled drivers transporting specified hazmats into the United States.

During 2004 TSA screened 2.7 million drivers with a hazmat endorsement by comparing their names to those on databases. These checks generated more than 100 leads that were sent to the FBI. TSA recognizes that the reliability of this process will be improved by incorporating a fingerprint-based criminal background check. For each of the next five years, TSA will put roughly 1/5 of the drivers with, or seeking, a hazmat endorsement through a more comprehensive threat assessment process, including a fingerprint-based records review. This complex process is underpinned by detailed federal regulations and state procedures that pose costs or uncertainties for drivers or carriers. Federal program fees will likely cost each affected driver roughly $100 every five years or so plus any additional state licensing fees. For the first five years of the effort, TSA estimates that the total of its start-up and recurring program costs will be about $72.4 million, but this figure is likely to change. Through its adjudication process, TSA will face the difficult task of quickly responding to many drivers appealing TSA's initial decisions effectively denying their hazmat endorsement or seeking waivers from program standards.

TSA and the states have faced many challenges in the development and implementation of this initiative. The complete program was originally planned to start in 2003, however, it has been delayed several times. Starting January 31, 2005, TSA will not permit a state to issue a new hazmat endorsement with a CDL until a determination has been made that an applicant does not pose a security threat. Starting May 31, 2005, this TSA rule also applies to drivers seeking either to renew a CDL with this endorsement, or, in some cases, to transfer his/her license from one state to another.

Congress might consider whether to: help the states pay for their costs to implement TSA's program by specifying that any fee collected by TSA also must reflect state costs and must be shared with the states, conduct additional oversight on TSA's hazmat threat assessment process, evaluate whether TSA should be required to combine its hazmat security threat process with its Transportation Workers Identification Credential (TWIC) program, or delay the fingerprint-based portion of the check until the TWIC is deployed. Each of these options poses its own set of unique costs and benefits that would need to be evaluated. This report will not be updated.