ATA, Teamsters criticize hazmat background checks

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The Transportation Security Administration should perform only name-based driver checks until a coordinated nationwide security credential program is in place, The American Trucking Associations told a U.S. House subcommittee.

A unified check system database would save time and money and not force carriers to go through multiple state and local check programs, said Dan England, CEO of C.R. England, based in Salt Lake City, in his testimony May 11 on ATA’s behalf.

Hazmat background checks are required for hauling everything from guns and toxic waste to paint and nail polish, England noted. Truckers are subject to additional federal background checks at airports, seaports and the Canadian and Mexican borders, as well as Pentagon checks if hauling arms or ammunition for the Department of Defense, England said. Now states and local governments are beginning to layer on their own background check requirements, England said.

Since Jan. 31, the trucking industry has borne the costs of fingerprint-based background checks federally mandated for the relatively small number of new hazmat applicants, England said. But on May 31, the fingerprint-based checks will be mandated for the estimated 2.7 million drivers seeking hazmat renewals as well.

The same day as England’s testimony, the House subcommittee on highways, transit and pipelines also heard criticism of the background checks from the Teamsters union. The increased costs are unfair to drivers, and the new qualifications will make it difficult, if not impossible, to qualify enough drivers to haul America’s hazmat loads, said Teamsters official Scott Madar.

U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, D-Wis., seemed to agree with both ATA and the Teamsters when he aired his own complaints. “In all my years working with transportation issues, I have never seen such a lack of communication and coordination between agencies as I have with this program,” Oberstar said.