Getting a hazmat endorsement on a commercial driver’s license takes more than just completing entry-level driver training and passing a knowledge test. Drivers seeking a hazmat endorsement (HME) are also subject to a federal background check. State driver’s licensing agencies cannot issue, renew, upgrade to, or transfer an HME until the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) determines that the individual does not pose a security risk. TSA draws its conclusions through a security threat assessment. It can take up to 60 days for TSA to complete the required background check. You can help minimize the wait time by understanding the steps in the process.
The first thing you need to do is confirm the need for an HME. For the hazmat requirements, consult the FMCSA regulations, as commercial driver’s licenses are a federal requirement. Section 383.5 defines hazardous materials as “any material that has been designated as hazardous under 49 U.S.C. 5103 and is required to be placarded under subpart F of 49 CFR part 172 or any quantity of a material listed as a select agent or toxin in 42 CFR part 73.” The key phrase in this definition is “required to be placarded.” If a hazardous material is required to be placarded, then the HME is also required.
There are two situations that often need clarification when it comes to HMEs. The first is transporting Class 9 materials, which do not require placards for domestic transportation. Therefore, an HME is not required if the driver is transporting only Class 9 materials. Even if Class 9 placards are displayed, the HME is still not required. The other situation is transporting diesel fuel in non-bulk packaging. Whether diesel is regulated largely depends on the type of packaging. Generally, combustible liquids such as diesel are not subject to hazardous materials regulations when in non-bulk packaging. So, when diesel is transported in non-bulk packaging (119 gallons or less), placards are not required, and the HME is also not required.
The second thing you need to do is complete an application. The security threat assessment application is submitted in one of two ways based on the state licensing agency of the driver. A handful of states require drivers to visit the Department of Motor Vehicles for the application and fingerprinting information. These states include Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Texas, and Wisconsin. Check with these states for additional details. All other drivers are required to complete an application either at an enrollment center or through TSA’s website. Drivers are instructed to schedule an appointment either online or by calling (855) 347-8371. The application centers accept walk-ins, but those with appointments will take priority over the walk-in clients.
The third thing you need to do is visit an enrollment center. When drivers visit an enrollment center, they must be prepared to provide approved documents to prove identification and citizenship, submit fingerprints, and pay an application fee. Once the application is submitted, drivers can check their status online. After that, you just need to wait on TSA for their assessment.
TSA investigates the following when determining eligibility: 1) The driver’s citizenship or immigration status; 2) Disqualifying crimes; 3) Mental capacity (as determined by a commission, court, board, etc.); and 4) Terrorist watchlists, Interpol, and all other government databases. Drivers may also be deemed ineligible due to incomplete or false application information. If TSA finds any potentially disqualifying information, it will send the driver a letter with instructions on how to proceed.
Lastly, you need to follow up with the state. When a driver passes the investigation, TSA notifies the state (not the driver). The state verifies a driver’s eligibility when it issues a CDL with a hazmat endorsement. But each driver should check with his or her state licensing agency on how exactly it handles the issuance process and status of the HME once TSA provides the results.
A driver is ineligible from holding a hazmat endorsement if the security threat assessment process reveals specific criminal offenses. The TSA permanently disqualifies an applicant if the assessment finds the applicant was convicted, plead guilty, or was found not guilty by reason of insanity for any of the following felonies, regardless of when they occurred: espionage or conspiracy to commit espionage; sedition or conspiracy to commit sedition; treason or conspiracy to commit treason; a federal crime of terrorism or comparable state law, or even conspiracy to commit such crime; or a crime involving a transportation security incident (a transportation security incident results in a significant loss of life, environmental damage, transportation system disruption, or economic disruption in a particular area).
The list of permanently disqualifying crimes goes on to include: improper transportation of a hazardous material; unlawful possession, use, sale, distribution, manufacture, purchase, receipt, transfer, shipping, transporting, import, export, storage of, or dealing in an explosive or explosive device; murder; a threat or maliciously knowingly conveying false information concerning the deliverance, placement, or detonation of an explosive or other lethal device in or against a place of public use, a state or government facility, a public transportations system, or an infrastructure facility; or any violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act or a comparable state law.
Some criminal convictions will only disqualify an applicant temporarily. With the passage of time, a criminal history no longer restricts them from holding a hazmat endorsement. These offenses disqualify the applicant if they were convicted, plead guilty, found not competent to stand trial, or found not guilty by reason of insanity within seven years of the date of the application, or if the applicant was released from incarceration after conviction within five years of the date of the application.
Following is a list of interim disqualifying criminal offenses: unlawful possession, use, sale, manufacture, purchase, distribution, receipt, transfer, shipping, transporting, delivery, import, export of, or dealing in a firearm or other weapon; extortion; dishonesty, fraud, or misrepresentation, including identity fraud and money laundering, where the money laundering is related to a permanent or interim disqualifying crime; bribery; smuggling; immigration violations; distribution, possession with intent to distribute, or importation of a controlled substance; or arson.
The list of interim disqualifying criminal offenses continues with: kidnapping or hostage-taking; rape or aggravated sexual abuse; assault with intent to kill; robbery; fraudulent entry into a seaport; violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act or a comparable state law, other than any permanently disqualifying offenses; voluntary manslaughter; or conspiracy or attempt to commit any crimes in this section. An applicant will also be disqualified if he or she is wanted or under indictment in any civilian or military jurisdiction for a felony listed under the permanent or interim disqualifying crimes until the want or warrant is released or the indictment is dismissed. Good luck!