TSA Extends Background Checks Deadline

Truckers renewing or adding hazardous material endorsements might not face fingerprint-based criminal history checks at their state licensing agency until April 1. But that doesn’t mean they’re off the hook.

The Transportation Security Administration extended the deadline to April 1 for states to comply with new regulations that will ultimately require all commercial drivers license holders with hazmat endorsements to undergo a fingerprinting and criminal background checks. But it left intact two other deadlines related to drivers who have been convicted of certain felonies or who have violated immigration laws in the past seven years.

The background checks were enacted to help keep hazardous materials out of the hands of would-be terrorists as part of anti-terrorism legislation. The agency amended its original fingerprint deadline, scheduled to start Nov. 3, because 23 states were unable to meet the deadline, the agency said. Instead states must begin collecting biographical and criminal history information for individuals applying for, renewing or transferring hazmat endorsements by April 1.

Truckers with current hazmat endorsements will undergo background checks as they renew or transfer after the new deadline. New applicants after Apr. 1 will undergo a background check. States may request an extension if they cannot comply with the new April deadline, but all states are expected to comply no later than Dec. 1, 2004.

Despite the extension, hazmat drivers must still surrender their CDL endorsements if they meet certain criteria well before the April 1 deadline. That’s because TSA did not delay a Sept. 2 compliance date for drivers to surrender their endorsements if they do not meet security threat assessment standards. And as of Nov. 3, hazmat drivers were required to report disqualifying offenses that would appear on a fingerprint-based criminal history records check.

Disqualifying offenses include mental incompetence, felony conviction for certain violent crimes like murder and kidnapping, and violations of immigration law.

The agency also promised to conduct name-based background checks this summer, but announced it would complete that search of databases containing information on terrorist activity by Dec. 4.

Once the background checks are fully implemented, TSA will decide who is a security threat. States will develop the fingerprinting systems, but the agency will administer appeals and decide waivers.

TSA has still not completed its rulemaking on the matter and is planning to propose federal standards for fingerprint collection, criminal history adjudication, appeal process for new applicants and potential costs for each portion of the background check.

The cost of processing each set of fingerprints was estimated to be $50 last May, but the TSA has said that estimate is too low. It also said it underestimated the time constraints. TSA had thought it would take 30 minutes for states to complete an FBI fingerprints card and forward it to the FBI at a total cost of $452 million over the next 10 years.

The background checks affect 3.5 million current hazmat endorsement holders. That number is expected to grow to a 10-year total of 4.5 million. During that time, 8.7 million fingerprint applications are expected to be collected through applications and renewals.

The American Trucking Associations is advocating a uniform security credentialing program instead of individual state programs. The association has asked TSA to let ATA act as a clearinghouse for driver background checks.

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