Screenshot: YouTube
Todd Spencer

OOIDA leader wants to head up Biden’s FMCSA

Dec. 1, 2020
In a letter to the Biden transition team, Todd Spencer lays out why he thinks he would make a good administrator overseeing the interstate trucking industry. The current FMCSA is led by its second acting administrator during the Trump administration.

The head of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association wants to run the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for President-elect Joe Biden.

Todd Spencer, the OOIDA president and CEO, formally notified President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team that he is interested in serving as the next FMCSA administrator. This position has been left open and officially unfilled since late 2019. The FMCSA is part of the federal Department of Transportation that has regulatory oversight of the trucking industry.

“My message to Congress in recent years has been that trucking is dysfunctional,” Spencer wrote in a letter to the Biden transition team. “Some of this dysfunction is a result of trucking regulations that have nothing to do with highway safety, many of which are mandated by Congress. They are often promoted and/or promulgated by people who have little or no industry experience and/or by people who have no real understanding of the actual impact these regulations have on big trucks and those who operate them.”

During testimony in February, Lewie Pugh, the OOIDA executive VP, told the Senate Subcommittee on Transportation Safety that Congress has been a big part of the dysfunction that Spencer sees in trucking. “Washington has allowed trucking policy to be overly influenced by executives looking to maximize profits, activists who’d like to regulate truckers to oblivion, state and local governments who view truckers as rolling piggybanks and self-proclaimed ‘experts’ who don’t even know what the inside of a truck looks like,” Pugh said at the time.

OOIDA has pushed Congress to repeal the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate and the overtime exemption for drivers in the Fair Labor Standards Act. The trade group also continues to push more truck parking as part of improvements to the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. During the same February testimony, OOIDA pushed Congress to abandon proposals requiring speed limiters, mandating front and side underride guards, raising insurance minimums and allowing under-21 drivers to engage in interstate commerce.

OOIDA represents more than 150,000 small-business truckers nationwide. Spencer, who started driving a truck in 1974, started working for the trade group in 1981. “Needless to say, trucking has changed quite a bit over the last 50 years. I have been around for all of it,” he wrote on Nov. 24 to the U.S. DOT Transition Team, which is led by Phillip A. Washington, CEO of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (L.A. Metro).

“Representing our nation’s small-business truckers has been my life’s work,” Spencer wrote in the letter. “I still aspire to do this for many years to come, but sometimes we are compelled to make a difference in other ways.”

FMCSA’s primary mission is to reduce crashes involving large trucks, which Spencer believes he can help accomplish. “There are more regulations in place today than ever, and there is more enforcement and compliance with those regulations, yet highway safety isn’t improving,” said Spencer.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than one in three long-haul truck drivers has been in a serious truck crash in their career. Between 2018 and 2019, non-commercial traffic deaths dropped by 2% despite a 1% increase in vehicle miles traveled, according to the NHTSA. But during the same period, crash-related deaths involving large trucks held steady at about 5,000 per year. 

Spencer, who still has his CDL, and has pointed out that regulations often exclude input from those who drive trucks for a living. He is also a critic of the regulatory regime, noting that rules are too rigid and not tailored to reflect the trucking’s functional diversity. "The system we have in place now simply does not work," Spencer wrote. "We have never had more regulations than we do today, and we have never had more enforcement of or compliance with those regulations, yet highway safety continues to trend in the wrong direction." 

With more than 500,000 interstate carriers and 4.7 million CDL holders across the nation, the FMCSA and its 1,100 employees have overseen significant changes for drivers and carriers over the past four years. During the Trump Administration, the FMCSA finalized the implementation of ELDs, enacted new hours-of-service regulations, and saw the trucking industry move to the front of the national consciousness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The FMCSA is currently led by Deputy Administrator James “Wiley” Deck, who has served as a senior policy adviser to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Deck replaced Jim Mullen, who stepped down from the FMCSA in August and took a job with TuSimple, a self-driving truck startup company. Mullen has been acting administrator of the FMCSA since October 2019, when Administrator Raymond Martinez resigned. Martinez, who was nominated by President Trump and confirmed by the Senate, served 20 months as head of the oversight agency.

The incoming Biden Administration has laid out some basic ideas of what it wants to do with transportation the next four years, including modernizing infrastructure, replacing roads and bridges, and keeping a focus on clean energy. “We’ve seen the need for a more resilient economy for the long-term, and that means investing in a modern, sustainable infrastructure and sustainable engines of growth — from roads and bridges to energy grids and schools, to universal broadband,” his transition team wrote. “Biden has a plan to meet the climate crisis, build a clean energy economy, address environmental injustice, and create millions of good-paying union jobs.”

Fighting climate change is among the top priorities for the Democrat administration. That will significantly impact the trucking industry as Biden is pushing for the U.S. to chart a path toward net-zero emissions by 2050. Part of the plan is to encourage more Americans to travel by mass transit, opening up the roads for freight. Among Biden’s goals is making federal investments in every American city with at least 100,000 residents to provide high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options — ranging from light rail networks to improving current transit and bus lines. 

One of the biggest challenges for the incoming administration is the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to more than 325 million Americans. The transition team is already planning how to distribute the vaccines (some of which will begin to be available before Trump leaves office). Biden wants to spend $25 billion in vaccine manufacturing and distribution in hopes of getting a free vaccine to every American.

The president-elect’s eventual nomination for FMCSA head would likely come after he nominates a transportation secretary to oversee the DOT. Among those under consideration is former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who also served in the Obama-Biden administration as the president’s chief of staff. 

About the Author

Josh Fisher | Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief Josh Fisher has been with FleetOwner since 2017, covering everything from modern fleet management to operational efficiency, artificial intelligence, autonomous trucking, regulations, and emerging transportation technology. He is based in Maryland. 

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