Hazardous Materials Training:

DOT and Private Sector Initiatives Generally Complement Each Other

RCED-00-190: Published: Jul 31, 2000. Publicly Released: Jul 31, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed Department of Transportation (DOT) and private sector initiatives on hazardous materials training, focusing on: (1) the funding sources and expenditures for the Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness (HMEP) grants program; (2) whether the HMEP program and private sector efforts duplicate each other; and (3) whether the private sector's training initiatives meet federal training regulations and national training standards.

GAO noted that: (1) the HMEP program has been funded, or self-financed, through registration fees paid by shippers and carriers of hazardous materials--however, Congress, through DOT's appropriations statutes, limited the amount of program funds that could be spent; (2) in February 2000, the Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA) issued a final rule, effective May 1, 2000, that increased by two-thirds the number of shippers and carriers required to register and raised the fees; (3) RSPA took this action to provide grants at the fully authorized level--$12.8 million annually; (4) according to RSPA officials, they expanded the program to ensure that a larger segment of the hazardous materials response community will receive training at all levels; (5) since 1992, when the program was first funded, through fiscal year 1999, RSPA has spent an annual average of about $8.1 million for the entire HMEP program; (6) over 80 percent of these funds were spent on training and planning grants, with the remaining funds spent on such grant-related activities as providing technical assistance to grantees for their emergency response planning and training; (7) in the seven states GAO contacted, HMEP-funded training to teach emergency responders about addressing hazardous materials emergencies and private sector training initiatives do not duplicate each other; (8) moreover, according to national representatives of major shippers and carriers of hazardous materials, such duplication does not occur nationwide; (9) rather, as part of a portfolio of training resources for the nation's emergency responders, these two types of training activities complement each other; (10) the HMEP-funded training addresses potential accidents involving a wide range of hazardous materials and containers; (11) much of this training teaches the emergency responders to recognize the nature and potential severity of a hazardous materials incident and the appropriate actions to take; (12) in contrast, the initiatives funded by the private sector focus primarily on how emergency responders should react to incidents involving specific hazardous materials; and (13) according to representatives of national associations of hazardous materials shippers and carriers, the private sector's training initiatives on responding to hazardous materials emergencies are not designed or intended to comply with federal regulations and national training standards on emergency response training for public sector employees.

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