Federal laws and regulations require that safety-related transportation professionals undergo screening to ensure that they can safely perform their jobs. Medical certification and background checks of selected pilots, vessel masters, and commercial drivers are part of the requirements for licensing these workers. Certification or licensing also includes testing workers' knowledge and skills required for the jobs. These checks are critical because physically or mentally unfit transportation workers pose a danger to themselves and to the public. Because of concerns raised by recent investigations of the reliability of pilot medical certifications, Congress asked us to first describe the requirements for medical and background checks for selected transportation workers. Accordingly, we addressed the following questions for (1) medical certification and (2) background checks: What are the regulations governing pilots, vessel masters, and commercial drivers and what role do government entities have in completing the certifications and background checks? A second report, which will be issued mid-2008, will provide information about the steps that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) takes to check the accuracy of pilot medical certificates. Federal regulations require that pilots have both pilot certificates and medical certificates prior to operating an aircraft and meet several requirements, depending on the level of certificate FAA issues the applicant. Coast Guard issues merchant mariner licenses and documents to officers such as vessel masters only after they meet certain regulatory requirements. For example, officers must meet physical requirements, pass written knowledge tests, and have specified amounts and types of experience and training, among other requirements. Vessel masters also must undergo certain background checks prior to obtaining a license or document to ensure they can safely assume the responsibilities of a credentialed mariner, do not present a threat to national or transportation security, and do not have connections to terrorism. Drivers of commercial motor vehicles must meet federal minimum requirements before operating a commercial vehicle. FMCSA develops requirements for operating commercial vehicles while states issue commercial drivers' licenses. Federal regulations also require that state driver licensing agencies check applicants' driving records for safety violations before issuing a commercial driver's license and that motor carriers check drivers' employment histories before hiring them. In addition, federal regulations require that TSA complete a security check for drivers seeking an endorsement to haul hazardous materials.
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