"As you may know, immediately after Sept. 11, FMCSA refocused the efforts of its field staff from conducting compliance reviews to visiting all carriers of high consequence hazardous materials," Joseph Clapp, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said Friday during remarks at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
Originally, FMCSA planned to visit 32,000 carriers, but the list expanded to 38,800, including companies identified through roadside inspections, driver training schools, leasing companies, shoppers and other operations that could potentially be at risk. In the past four months, he said, the agency has completed well over 36,000 contacts, resulting in 126 referrals to the FBI because of issues such as false names or false personnel information, suspicious inquiries or inappropriate comments, unexplained disappearances, and citizenship irregularities.
"FMCSA has received overwhelmingly positive feedback and outstanding cooperation from the industry during this effort," Clapp said. FMCSA will incorporate a security component into its compliance reviews on hazmat carriers, he said, and will continue to do enhanced security sensitivity visits on very high consequence hazmat carriers (explosives, radioactive materials and highly toxic substances).
FMCSA is also working to implement the provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act that call for drivers to be certified as a non-threat by the DOT before receiving or renewing a commercial driver's license with a hazardous materials endorsement. The agency is working with the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American Assn. of Motor Vehicle Administrators to develop procedures for performing a security risk review process.
In accordance with the act, states will submit requests for a background records investigation to the Department of Justice before licensing an individual to haul hazardous materials. Based on the results of the background records check performed by the Department of Justice, the DOT will make a security risk determination and notify the state of the result. FMCSA expects to issue an interim final rule to implement this process "very shortly," Clapp said.
"Between the issuance of new licenses and renewals, we estimate that, on average, close to 1 million checks will need to be done each year," he said. "What this means is that license issuance and renewal will certainly take longer than it has in the past. However, this is part of the new normalcy in which we all must learn to live."
The agency also has developed a training course to raise awareness of law enforcement officers to the threats that commercial vehicles may pose as terrorist weapons and is working to develop an outreach program targeted at educating truck drivers on how to protect themselves against possible terrorist hijackings.