New security rules will challenge fuels distributors
Aug 1, 2003 12:00 PM, Editorial By Charles E Wilson
EACH NEW heating season brings its share of challenges associated with the seasonal drivers who account for the bulk of the delivery workforce for propane and fuel oil distributors. This year is no exception.
In fact, this winter will arrive with some added wrinkles compliments of the federal government. Drivers and other employees must receive newly mandated hazardous materials security training under HM-232 by December. Full details on this training can be found at the National Tank Truck Carriers web site (www.nttc.org).
Compliance with the security training requirements may be a piece of cake compared with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) background checks that are scheduled to kick in as of November. The FBI fingerprint-based background checks are mandated for all hazardous materials drivers, and that includes those handling propane and fuel oil.
The November deadline applies specifically to truck drivers obtaining a hazmat endorsement for the first time. Drivers renewing a hazmat endorsement will have to undergo the fingerprint-based background check starting in April 2004.
The FBI background checks were included in the USA Patriot Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush in 2002. Passage was quick, but implementation has been slow at best. Serious questions remain about the FBI's ability to handle the impending flood of background check applications and the preparedness of the federal and state agencies that are involved in the processing of commercial driver licenses.
With the November deadline approaching, several industry and government groups are calling for an indefinite delay in the background-check rule. These groups (including the Petroleum Marketers Association of America) are saying that more time is needed to enable the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to develop well-thought-out system specifications and credentialing procedures.
In a filing before the TSA in July, NTTC listed some of the problems that remain: TSA has yet to advise the public of the acceptable form and manner of the fingerprinting. It has not published chain-of-custody procedures detailing how fingerprint records are to be transmitted from the entity doing the fingerprinting to the state licensing agency.
State-level implementation is to be coordinated by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA), but that group has some serious concerns. The AAMVA is critical of the fact that the federal agencies have not yet issued crucial details, including the technical specifications needed to modify the Commercial Driver License Information System.
Peter Hurst, president of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, said at a transportation forum earlier this year that it would be a definite challenge for authorities to implement criminal background checks on hazmat drivers in time to meet the current deadlines. He warned that lots of planning still was needed.
So far, TSA and FMCSA officials have given no indication that a delay is in the works. There is still time for a delay, but it's possible that the background-check rule will take effect even though it is lacking adequate implementation procedures. It wouldn't be the first time the feds have done something like that.
What all of this means in simple terms for heating fuels distributors is that they may have difficulty finding qualified replacement tank truck drivers after October. Drivers with licenses coming up for renewal in the spring may lose their hazmat endorsements. Bottom line: It may be more difficult to keep customers supplied this winter.
Distributors would be well advised to encourage their current tank truck drivers to renew their licenses before the rule takes effect if at all possible. Finally, heating fuels distributors need to make sure their state and national trade associations know how their operations will be affected by a flawed and inoperable driver background check requirement. It's important to keep the pressure on the federal agencies to delay the rule or fix the problems quickly.
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