SPECIAL REPORT: Background checks could cost over $100 for many hazmat drivers

| 1/17/2005

Truck drivers who haul hazardous materials could pay close to $100 - or in some cases, even more - to undergo a fingerprint-based background check required by the USA Patriot Act, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

The fee structure was in the final rule published by the agency Jan. 13.

Fingerprint-based background checks for new hazmat applicants are scheduled to start Jan. 31, Deirdre O'Sullivan, a TSA spokeswoman, said. The checks for renewal applicants and to drivers transferring their hazmat endorsements from one state to another have been delayed until May 31.

The fee is made up of three parts: a fee for the collection of fingerprints and applicant information; a fee for threat assessment, during which the TSA decides whether the person is a security threat; and a fee for the FBI to run the fingerprints through its system.

The fee can vary, depending in part on whether a government agency or a private contractor performs the first step of the check. If TSA conducts the first step, the total of all fees would be $94.

As listed in the TSA's final rule, the fees are:

  • Collection - $38;
  • Threat assessment - $34; and
  • FBI fingerprint check - $22.

TSA noted that several individuals and organizations that commented on the rule protested the size of the estimated fees.

"Several commenters stated that the estimated total fee . is unreasonable," TSA officials wrote in the final rule. "They noted that the proposed fees are significantly higher than fees for security threat assessments in other transportation-related programs such as the security threat assessments TSA proposed for individuals requiring unescorted access to air cargo (air cargo handlers) ($39) and drivers seeking certification under the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program ($50).

Individuals and organizations "questioned why TSA is requiring the trucking industry to absorb higher fees," TSA officials wrote.

However, TSA officials contended that since the other programs have different congressionally mandated requirements, the fees correctly reflect the costs of those checks. For example, air cargo handlers - who load cargo onto airline flights - have to undergo either a name-based or fingerprint-based background check; hazmat drivers must undergo both.

Rick Craig, OOIDA's director of regulatory affairs, said the association objects to fees being charged to truckers at all, especially considering the organization's view that the whole background check process is unnecessary and ineffective.

"It's not going to stop a terrorist from using a truck to blow something up," Craig said. "They don't care about having a hazmat endorsement; they don't care about having a CDL."

Craig said the fee itself was not the only cost involved for truckers required to go through the background check process. For example, he said, truckers could have considerable downtime associated to go through the process.

If states do not set up enough check locations, truckers could be required to travel a great distance - and spend extra downtime - just to reach to a place where they could have the check conducted. Making sure that they are able to make it during limited office hours creates even more possibilities for unpaid downtime, Craig said.

"Several states still don't even know where these locations (where the checks will be conducted) are going to be," he said.

- By Mark H. Reddig, associate editor