Advocacy group Public Citizen has sued the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) over its alleged failure to disseminate information on its one-year program to evaluate which Mexico-domiciled carriers would be permitted to operate beyond the commercial zones along the southern border. The lawsuit is intended “to compel the production of [those] records,” according to the court document.
The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (AHAS), a nonprofit alliance of consumer, health and safety groups and insurance companies and agents, requested the information in a letter dated October 17, 2006. A Freedom of Information Act officer acknowledged she received the letter on October 27, 2006. FMCSA in a letter dated December 20 said that its response would be delayed.
“More than 20 working days have passed and [Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety] has not received a determination from [FMCSA] concerning that request, nor has FMCSA produced any materials,” the complaint filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia said. This violates the Freedom of Information Act, the complaint alleges.
“FMCSA has been stonewalling us by not supplying the information on this program,” said Jackie Gillan, vp of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “We’ve been forced to sue because the agency has been trying to keep this material out of public domain.”
Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen told FleetOwner she isn’t surprised that FMCSA is implementing the Mexico truck program.
“But we are surprised about the way they’re handling it,” Claybrook said. “It looks like it’s a fake pilot project and that in fact they’re not going to do an analysis and study. One year isn’t enough to collect that sort of information. We think this is a political decision.”
Claybrook pointed out that the Dept. of Transportation’s (DOT) February announcement of the project was timed closely with President Bush’s recent meetings with key leaders in Latin America. Claybrook added that the lawsuit is intended to get information from the agency; not as part of a broader initiative to block the program.
FMCSA told FleetOwner in an emailed statement:
“The DOT and the FMCSA have provided significant information to the public about the new U.S.-Mexico long-haul trucking demonstration program. In addition, Secretary Peters and other DOT officials have testified extensively in Congressional hearings on the specifics of the program.
FMSCA staff is working to identify and gather documents to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request by AHAS concerning the demonstration program. Because of the broad scope of the request, the search for responsive documents is a labor-intensive process. FMSCA is working in good faith to address AHAS’s request.”
Last week at a Senate hearing on Mexican trucks, representatives from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. (OOIDA) testified that federal transportation officials have been tight-lipped on the program.
“DOT’s effort has been almost entirely secret and beyond public view or scrutiny,” according to a prepared statement by Charlie Parfey speaking on behalf of OOIDA. “As recently as this past fall, when asked about rumors that a Mexican motor carrier pilot program was being established, DOT officials responded that there was no such plans currently in the works.”
“My first concern is the mystery and contradiction surrounding this pilot program. Secretary Peters was asked at her confirmation hearing about it and said she ‘had asked the question and there are no immediate plans to do so,’” Teamsters president James Hoffa said. He added that this statement is inconsistent with information on DOT’s website that essentially said the pilot program has been in the works since 2004.
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