The best defense?

April 8, 2014
FMCSA’s drug clearinghouse, electronic log efforts could halt CSA reform

In recent months, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has absorbed some serious blows over its Compliance, Safety, Accountability program and related activities, but the agency might have stumbled onto a winning—or at least delaying—strategy by redirecting everyone’s attention elsewhere.

The trucking industry continues to fight CSA as it stands today.  A federal appeals court is still mulling over a challenge by the Alliance for Safe, Efficient and Competitive Truck Transportation (a group of carriers, shippers and brokers) to what it says is FMCSA’s attempt to delegate safety fitness determinations to shippers and brokers by publicizing Safety Measurement System data.
The American Trucking Assns. has become increasingly vocal about its concerns, and this includes a white paper on CSA published in December.  And the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. is fighting some related battles, as well as FMCSA’s policies surrounding DataQs, which carriers use to correct data that feeds the SMS.

Now FMCSA is getting heat from within the federal government. In November, the National Transportation Safety Board faulted FMCSA’s oversight of motor carrier operations as ineffective in catching bad actors early and called for audits of FMCSA’s compliance review processes.  While not a direct indictment of CSA, NTSB implicitly called into question the program’s effectiveness.

The Government Accountability Office delivered the hardest hit to date in February when it questioned CSA’s effectiveness even as an internal targeting tool.  GAO cast even more doubt on publicizing SMS data or using it as the basis for fitness determinations as FMCSA plans.  Last month, the Dept. of  Transportation’s Office of Inspector General cited FMCSA’s failure to implement fully its planned steps to improve CSA data quality and noted that only 10 states had fully implemented CSA interventions.

CSA had put FMCSA on the defensive, but the White House Office of Management and Budget came to the rescue by completing its reviews of two proposed rules: a national drug and alcohol test results clearinghouse and mandatory electronic logging devices (ELDs).  Those rulemakings give FMCSA an opportunity to go on the offensive by changing the subject.

The ELD proposal in particular threatens to slow momentum for CSA reform because it pits ATA and OOIDA squarely against each other.  FMCSA didn’t set out to divide and conquer; that’s just a fringe benefit for the agency.

Ultimately, the courts may decide the legacy of the Obama administration’s FMCSA.  CSA is in shambles.  OOIDA certainly will challenge a final ELD rule.  The drug clearinghouse is wildly popular, but you can count on a legal challenge from someone.

What remains is an FMCSA that defines itself mostly by the number of carriers and drivers it shuts down in response to the serious safety deficiencies it discovers—usually after a tragic accident already occurred.  It’s not much of a legacy, and it serves to highlight the very weaknesses NTSB, GAO and others have identified.

Beltway Briefs

  • FedEx Ground CEO Henry Maier urged Congress to increase the national standard for twin trailers to 33 ft. from the existing 28 ft. in testimony before the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s subcommittee on highways and transit.
  •  OSHA issued an interim final rule protecting whistleblowers against businesses involved in the manufacture, processing, packing, transporting, distribution, reception, holding or importation of food.
  • The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill (H.R. 4076) that would extend until May 31, 2014, the U.S. DOT’s temporary emergency declarations allowing tank truck operators delivering propane and other home heating fuels to drive for longer hours to speed up deliveries to states affected by winter weather.
  • The Congressional Budget Office concluded, based on limited data on public-private partnerships in highway construction, that P3s have built highways slightly less expensively and slightly quicker than the traditional public-sector approach.
About the Author

Avery Vise | Contributing editor

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