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Congressmen look to block carrier rating proposal

March 21, 2016
Funding language would hold Safety Fitness revamp pending CSA review

A group of 33 congressmen wants to block the recently proposed changes to the way the Department of Transportation formally rates trucking companies.

The House members have written to the leadership of the Appropriations subcommittee charged with developing the DOT’s budget for coming fiscal year, and they ask that the funding bill include language to prohibit the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration from finalizing the proposed Safety Fitness Determination (SFD) until the agency has completed the carrier safety data reforms mandated by the new highway bill, the FAST Act.

“Our greatest concern is that the new proposed methodology utilizes flawed Compliance, Safety and Accountability/Safety Measurement System (CSA/SMS) data,” says the March 17 letter, co-signed by many Republican members of the Transportation committee.

The letter notes that “the problems” with the scores have been highlighted by the Government Accountability Office, in “countless” hearings, and in previous language accompanying the DOT funding bill.

The FAST act requires FMCSA was to stop publishing the “misrepresentative” data and mandates the agency to complete “strictly outlined improvements.”

“While FMCSA is now working to reform this important safety program, it is irresponsible and inconceivable that FMCSA would use the same data and analysis Congress said is faulty in a new safety fitness determination,” the letter reads. “Common sense dictates that FMCSA should complete the reforms to the CSA/SMS system before proceeding to a new method of evaluating safety fitness of carriers.”

The request echoes the concerns voiced by some in the trucking industry and broker groups.

The agency, however, insists the data at the heart of the changes to the SFD is not subject to the review requirements in the highway bill. Asked about the letter, an FMCSA spokesman referred to the recent confirmation hearing testimony of Acting Administrator Scott Darling.

In the Jan. 20 Senate hearing, much of Darling's testimony was used to assure Commerce committee Republicans—led by Sen. Deb Fischer, a leading agency critic—that FAST Act-mandated reforms of the agency and its regulatory platform were well underway and that data used in the SFD proposal did not apply the "relative" measures that have prompted concerns about the CSA program.

Here are links to Darling’s official statement and to the post-hearing follow-up questions senators submitted in writing. The Commerce committee on March 3 recommended Darling to be the next FMCSA administrator. 

But some in House aren’t buying FMCSA’s distinction between which data is and isn’t permitted for the SFD.

“Safety remains our top priority and we support an easily understandable, rational safety fitness rating system,” the letter concludes. “However, incorporating misleading safety data and analysis into a new safety fitness determination will not provide the desired safety to the travelling [sic] public.”

The current DOT funding authorization expires at the end of the 2016 fiscal year, Sept. 30. FMCSA has recently extended the public comment period for the SFD proposal. Details and instructions for submitting comments are on the regulations.gov website.

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