Despite assurances from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration that the ‘i’s are dotted, the ‘t’s are crossed and everything’s copacetic, 36 members of the House want the regulator to put the brakes on its proposed revision to the way trucking companies are officially rated as safe—or, rather, not safe—to operate.
In a May 4 letter to FMCSA Acting Administrator Scott Darling, the congressmen—including many who serve on the House transportation committee—continued to question whether the proposed Safety Fitness Determination (SFD) rule relies on the “flawed” data that Congress, in the new highway bill, ordered to be reviewed.
“While we support an easily understandable, effective safety fitness standard, we have great concern that the new proposed methodology utilizes flawed Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA)/Safety Measurement System (SMS)/ Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs) data and analytics,” the letter reads.
The letter goes on to spell out the FAST Act restrictions on the CSA system, which uses roadside inspection data to compare carrier safety performance, based on a peer-group analysis. The data-focused program was designed to be a key component in a more effective, computer-based way to rate carriers. But, in addition to concerns from the trucking industry, federal government reviews have noted a number of flaws in the CSA methodology—and Congress wants those issues addressed.
“Incorporating misleading safety data and analysis into a new safety fitness determination will not provide the desired safety to the travelling public,” the letter concludes. “We are hopeful that the FAST Act reforms will result in more reliable safety metrics for the agency and for carriers. We urge you to allow the Congressionally-mandated CSA reform process to be fully-completed before finalizing a new safety fitness rating methodology rulemaking.”
The letter echoes one sent by many of the same members to the leadership of the House appropriations subcommittee on transportation in March. That letter asked that the 2017 FMCSA budget include language that prohibits funding the agency’s work to finalize the SFD proposal. The subcommittee has yet to act on a DOT funding package.
From the time the new SFD rule was proposed, however, FMCSA has gone to great lengths to explain how the use of “raw” inspection data—without the problematic peer comparisons—does not violate the FAST Act restrictions. An FMCSA spokesman declined to comment on Wednesday's letter, but in response to the previous funding matter, the agency then referred to Darling’s confirmation hearing testimony in January.
Darling's time 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.
The Commerce committee on March 3 recommended Darling, who has served the agency's top attorney, to be the next FMCSA administrator. The full Senate has yet to vote on the nomination.
The SFD proposal is open for public input through May 23. Full details and instructions for submitting comments are on the regulations.gov website.